Ag execs question wolf planWritten by Jennifer Womack
The Wyoming Game and Fish (G&F) Department on Oct. 29 announced that it had revised the state’s wolf management plan. Two meetings are planned for next week to gather public comment and finalize the project by the time the federal agency’s public comment period on the new delisting rule ends later this month. The G&F Commission will address the plan when it meets in Jackson on Nov. 17-18.
G&F says draft revisions to the plan include language to clarify Wyoming’s commitment to maintain at least 15 breeding pairs of wolves and 150 individual wolves in Wyoming’s established Trophy Game Management Area. The draft also addresses actions the commission will take if numbers within Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the Rockefeller Parkway drop below eight breeding pairs.
Other revisions in the draft include shortening some reporting requirements for those who kill wolves, either through licensed hunting or through livestock depredation actions; further defining “damage to private property” and “chronic wolf depredation”; further restricting the Wyoming G&F Commission’s ability to change the boundaries of the Trophy Game Management Area; and restricting lethal take permits to no more than two wolves.
Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna said he has questions about the process and how public comments will be incorporated with an emergency rule already in place. Any significant changes have the potential to send the regulations back through the public comment process.
As far as the substance, he said, there weren’t numerous changes. “The unfortunate thing is that the substantive changes, with the exception of clarifying how the state will manage for 15 packs, are specifically directed at provisions in the current rule that are designed to protect livestock owners.” He offers the thresholds that must be met before a wolf can be taken in defense of livestock and tighter reporting requirements as two examples. “Those provisions are being changed to appease FWS or the judge and all are going to impact our industry,” he said.
“The thing that struck me the most,” said Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton, “is why the state is even doing this.” Changes in the requirements surrounding when a wolf can be taken in defense of property, he said, essentially leave the livestock community with a worthless tool. “It leaves a pretty wide opening in determining when a landowner is adhering to that section of the law and that concerns me,” said Hamilton. “If your livestock doesn’t have bite marks you’re in jeopardy. Even if it’s taken to court and you’re found innocent you’re out $13,000 to $15,000 in attorney fees.”
There’s also the question of whether the proposed changes will make any difference. Testimony from FWS agency personnel and the environmental community at the recent Wyoming Legislature Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee hearings reached beyond state statute to address the trophy game area and “genetic connectivity” between the three states.
“I’m not optimistic they will satisfy the FWS,” said Magagna. “I’m totally pessimistic they’ll satisfy the environmental plaintiffs.”
By Thursday morning, just one day after the G&F announcement, Melanie Stein with the Sierra Club had affirmed that belief saying the changes don’t go far enough.
“At the end of the day I’m real puzzled why the state is trying to do this,” said Hamilton. “The Attorney General testified before the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee that he sees very little the G&F Department could do within the statute to address Judge Malloy’s concerns. Why do it and do it on an emergency basis? It just doesn’t make sense.”
Prior to G&F’s announcement that it had amended the wolf plan author Cat Urbigkit, who just recently released a book on wolves in Wyoming commented, “I don’t think Wyoming should do a thing. Wyoming crafted a plan that was approved by the FWS. If that’s not good enough, fine, let FWS be responsible for them. They’ve done a good job responding to depredations for us. At least this way, someone has a responsibility to resolve conflicts. I am certainly tired of people feeling the need to cave in when it comes to resource issues.”
“The draft revised plan addresses many of the issues brought up in recent court decisions regarding removal of the Northern Rocky Mountain population of wolves from the federal Threatened and Endangered Species list,” said an Oct. 29 press release from the G&F Department.
“We see revising Wyoming’s plan to address the judge’s concerns as a necessary step toward getting wolves permanently delisted,” said G&F Department Director Steve Ferrell. “It’s clear that wolves are recovered in the Northern Rocky Mountains and doing well. We have more than five times the number of wolves called for in the original delisting proposal. It’s time for them to be delisted and for the states to assume management.”
The Wyoming G&F Commission last revised its wolf management plan in November 2007. That plan was subsequently accepted by the FWS. Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains were removed from the federal Threatened and Endangered Species List in March 2008, and were subsequently relisted in September 2008, after a federal judge in Montana granted a preliminary injunction against the delisting decision and the US FWS requested a remand of their delisting rule.