House kills wolf billWritten by Jennifer Womack
Cheyenne — Changes won’t be made to Wyoming’s wolf statutes this session following a 52 to seven vote on HB32 in the Wyoming House on Feb. 11.
Prior to the legislation’s failure Representative Keith Gingery (R-Jackson) attempted to amend the legislation to create trophy game classification statewide.
Representative Kermit Brown (R-Laramie) strongly opposed statewide trophy game classification. Brown said he is unwilling to compromise Wyoming’s system of dual classification through which wolves would be managed as predators in parts of the state and as trophy game in a defined area of northwest Wyoming. “Can we really visualize wolves frolicking in the corn fields in Goshen County?” asked Brown during floor debates. “Why would Goshen County ever be a place where a wolf would be afforded trophy game status?”
Gingery argued that statewide game classification would better position Wyoming to defend itself when the wolf issue returns to court. As Brown mentioned the need for agreement on the issue among constituent groups Gingery stated, “It doesn’t matter what they think, what matters is the law.” He said, “The ESA is the law. We’re supposed to write a plan that meets that law.” Gingery said he doesn’t believe Wyoming can prevail in the court of law given its current course of action.
Brown said a change to statewide trophy game classification wouldn’t make Wyoming’s plan more defensible. He also questioned whether it was the ESA or the most recent rule from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which was withdrawn by the Obama Administration before it could be published, that Wyoming would be responding to. “It’s the height of naivety to say we’d be permitted to do that,” said Brown of statewide trophy game classification under which the Game and Fish could designate special management areas. “The Game and Fish is not going to be able to designate trophy game statewide and then carve out areas.” He said the court case would continue but “the name of the defendant just changes in the lawsuit.”
Brown said Wyoming’s existing plan was peer reviewed by 11 scientists, 10 of whom supported its ability to maintain a viable wolf population long-term. “We can win in court and give away the farm, but I don’t think anyone wants to do that,” said Brown. He said Wyoming was winning in the courtroom prior to withdrawing its case and striking a delisting compromise with the FWS.
Moving forward Brown believes there are aspects of Wyoming’s plan that can be strengthened to better position the state for the inevitable lawsuit. “There’s no urgency,” he said, noting the recent change in administrations. “We don’t know what the standard is going to be.”
“It was the right thing to do,” said Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna following the defeat of HB32. “In one way it’s unfortunate that we can’t work with the federal agencies to pass legislation, but at this time to change our current plan is just shooting darts in the dark. We don’t know what the current administration is going to do. We don’t even know the players yet. It would be premature.”
Wyoming Wool Growers Executive Vice President Bryce Reece was thankful the legislature resisted statewide trophy game classification. He said it’s a decision “that would have put people out of business. The legislators understand the ramifications of what’s at stake.”
While Magagna said it’s inevitable that the wolf issue will return to the courts, he said, “I don’t believe it can at this time. Nothing out there at this time lends itself to litigation because there’s not a decision and the decision of the Bush Administration to partially delist has been pulled back. There’s nothing we can appeal on until there’s a new decision.”
“I think it’s a matter of patience right now,” said Magagna. “We need to sit back and see what direction the administration takes. There’s no doubt in my mind that at some point down the road we’re going to find ourselves in court again whether Wyoming makes that decision or others pull us into court. I think it’s just inevitable.”
Magagna said it will be interesting to see if wolf management becomes a topic of interim study. Until the decisions are made at the federal level he said there’s little to begin discussing.
Representative Pat Childers (R-Cody) said broader consideration for species beyond wolves on the part of the federal government is needed. “They are the Fish and Wildlife Service, not the Fish and Wolf Service as our Governor has stated,” said Childers. “They need to look at wildlife beyond wolves.”
“We have a right to sit down with them when they’re deciding what to do not after the fact,” said Childers. He said Wyoming has not had a seat at the decision making table for the past 10 years.
“I’m certainly appreciative of the many legislative leaders involved in this issue who were willing to work with us and hear our concerns,” said Magagna. “The process we have gone through the last four or five months since the Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee first started looking at wolf legislation, has been a good open process. I like the result and how the process had been handled in general.”