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Wildlife

Region’s wolves federally protected, again

Written by Jennifer Womack
Casper – News that wolves in the Rocky Mountain Region are once again under the protection of the federal government has Wyoming livestock owners, leaders and the general public howling.
    A 40-page ruling issued July 18 by Federal District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula, Mont. establishes a preliminary injunction, returning wolves to listing under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and rolling back the clock on wolf management in Wyoming. Molloy uses the lack of genetic exchange between wolf populations in the Greater Yellowstone Area and northwestern Montana and central Idaho as partial justification of the preliminary injunction. Molloy also claims Wyoming fails to manage for 15 breeding pairs since a portion of the state’s agreed-to wolf population will reside within Yellowstone National Park.
    “The most disturbing part to me is it appears wolf management is being done by the judicial system and that’s not appropriate,” says Sublette County commissioner and rancher Joel Bousman. “The judicial system has no expertise to manage wolves.”
    “Apparently this judge needs a geography lesson because he doesn’t seem to realize that Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks are within the boundaries of Wyoming,” says WWGA Executive Vice President Bryce Reece. Upon reintroduction, he says it was stated that Yellowstone alone could maintain 14 packs, only one short of Wyoming’s agreed-to population.
    “Whether we manage the wolves under the state plan or whether the federal government manages them makes little difference to the wolf,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna of the judge’s claims that genetic exchange will not occur. “Wolves in northwest Wyoming, those that would naturally interact with wolves in Idaho and Montana, are going to be there anyway. Nothing in our plan diminishes that.”
    Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton sums up the situation as a “bait and switch,” through which the government originally asks for one thing but eventually requires much more. As Wyoming considers entering an agreement with the FWS while litigation plays out, Hamilton says he’s hopeful they’ll first consider the costly implications similar to what was seen with the grizzly bear.
    “I’m disappointed a judge would disregard the experts in this situation and go with some environmentalists who have clearly always wanted to use the wolf as a surrogate to get the agricultural community off the land in these areas,” says Hamilton.
    While environmentalists claim Wyoming’s management plan compromises hundreds of wolves, the few months that have transpired under state management do little to support that claim. Since Wyoming took over management on March 28 of this year, Wyoming Game and Fish Spokesperson Eric Kezsler says 17 wolves have been taken in the predator area and nine in the trophy game area. Had the agency been able to move forward with its proposed hunting season for this fall, up to 25 wolves could have been removed from the trophy game area.
    “Frankly,” says Magagna of the judge, “it appears that he knew what decision he wanted to issue and built a rational to justify it.”
    “As I understand it,” says Magagna, “the only party with standing to appeal the decision is the Fish and Wildlife Service, so step number one is to find out if they’re willing to appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Short of that the judge will schedule a trial on these issues.” Magagna says he can’t see any circumstance under which the judge would issue a ruling too much different than what he’s already put forth in support of his preliminary injunction.
    “There has to be a trial,” says Magagna. “Even if the judge is overturned, short of the plaintiffs dropping their case, there will be a trial. I would expect this is something that will extend out for a year or two.” In the meantime, the Wyoming Game and Fish has announced livestock producers in the trophy game area will continue to be compensated for losses to wolves using funds earlier allocated by the Wyoming Legislature.
    Hamilton points out that given comments already made by the judge and the July 18 ruling, a fair trial could be difficult to come by. A call made by the Roundup to Judge Malloy’s chambers on July 22 was refused on the grounds he is unable to comment on a case that remains open.
    “Wyoming people, ranchers, conservationists and the general public had set aside their differences and coalesced around the point that we were going to have wolves in Wyoming and put a reasonable management plan in place with reasonable assurances that Game and Fish would manage in the trophy game area and the legislature had come through with funding for management and compensation,” says Magagna, noting Wyoming was the closest it had ever been to a consensus since pre-introduction. “What this judge did destroyed this and put us back in a position of pitting ranchers against environmentalists and the state against the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. It disrupts the progress we’d made.”
    With many debates on the merits of trophy game areas, predator areas and the best management approach for Wyoming, Bousman says, “I think we were heading down the road to do as well as we could under state management.” He says if the judge believed wolf populations were going to be drastically reduced under state management he was operating under a faulty assumption.
    Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Roundup.