Coalition formed to change gray wolf status
A diverse group of wildlife and livestock stakeholders have formed a coalition to challenge a federal judge’s rule to put the gray wolf back on the endangered species list and to also lobby through Congress to remove the predator from mandated federal protection.
Called by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), the meeting on Aug. 20 in Helena, MT, brought together representatives from that state agency, Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Cattlemen’s Association, Montana Farm Bureau Federation, Montana Wool Growers Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Montana Bowhunters, Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association.
Joe Maurier, director of the FWP, said in opening remarks that a common interest in reclaiming state management of wolves brought the groups together.
He said that Montana, along with Idaho, was planning to appeal Federal Judge Donald Molloy’s decision to place wolves in both states back on the endangered species list.
On Aug. 5, Judge Molloy ruled that wolves could not be segmented on the basis of political boundaries. Because Wyoming doesn’t have adequate regulatory mechanisms to manage the predator, he said, wolves can’t be delisted in Montana and Idaho. His action caused the cancellation of wolf hunting seasons in both Montana and Idaho.
“We are here to give you our best ideas and to hear from you,” Maurier said. “We are in this together and want to discuss ideas. We want to come out with state management.”
Maurier said the state is also looking at what Congressional delegates can do to change the law so that states can manage the predator. Several bills are being written along those lines.
Bob Lane, attorney for FWP, said Judge Molloy had only addressed one issue in his decision and other valid points need to be addressed in the appeal.
Jim Brown, the director of Public Affairs for the Montana Wool Growers Association (MWGA), said his organization was not convinced that appealing Judge Molloy’s ruling would be the quickest avenue to get wolves in Montana delisted.
“MWGA is concerned that a lengthy appeals process will just draw out the delisting process – and may not be successful,” Brown said. “This is because we are only appealing the Wyoming issue – a win on that issue may result in remanding the case back to Judge Molloy for disposition of the other claims brought by the plaintiffs in the case.”
Brown said MWGA would support sending a joint letter to the congressional delegation in support of Congressional delisting of the northern Rocky Mountain wolf population.
Representatives from Congressman Denny Rehberg’s office and U.S. Senator Jon Tester were in attendance at the meeting.
Rehberg, a Republican, is backing legislation in the House that would remove wolves from consideration under the Endangered Species Act.
“MWGA believes a Congressional fix is needed because the delisting debate has become more about legal maneuvering and game playing than it has become a question of survival this species,” the association noted in a press release after the meeting. “There is no question that the gray wolf population in Montana is in no danger of extinction. It has become clear to the Montana Wool Growers Association that the wolf delisting issue has become nothing more than a fundraising tool for environmental groups and a means of controlling state land and game decisions; as opposed to what the question should be – which is ensuring the health of the species and proper state management of that species.”
The Wool Growers and other livestock organizations also supported asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to request that the 10(j) rules be extended to wolves north of Interstate 90 and that more flexible kill rules be promulgated under Montana’s state management plan during the period of relisting.
Brown said his association should follow what Wyoming is doing and once again classify the gray wolf as a predator.
“Gray wolves were reintroduced into Montana in 1995 as an experimental nonessential population. We were told that the State of Montana would take over management of the gray wolf when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recovery goal of having 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves in the recovery areas for a period of three consecutive years,” he said. “That criterion was met in 2002. MWGA has watched the courts, the federal government and so-called environmental organizations engage in game playing for 15 years. Trusting in those entities to properly manage wolves has gotten the state of Montana and agriculture in Montana nowhere. It is time for the state of Montana, including the governor and its congressional representation, to be more active and more aggressive in turning management over of the gray wolf to the State of Montana.”
Bill Merrill, state president of Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said the situation, however, was not just a two-state issue.
“Other states realize they will have problems. We feel an appeal will be fruitless and the only way to handle this is through Congress,” he said.
Kim Baker, president of the Montana Cattlemen’s Association said the situation in the endangered zone where she ranches near Hot Springs was impacting both livestock and wildlife.
Errol Rice, executive vice president of Montana Stockgrowers said the rule making process needed to be expedited through the Congressional delegation and the governor’s office.
Although elk populations are being impacted in some areas, other state elk populations are exceeding the carrying capacity, noted David Allen, president of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
“We are setting ourselves up for the other side to say we have all of these elk,” he noted.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the stakeholders agreed to keep the communications channels open and to work toward common goals.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Oct. 23, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News