Fed. judge keeps Wyo. gray wolves on list
A district court judge who last week ruled against part of Wyoming’s 2012 wolf management plan, upheld that decision this week, denying the governor’s swift efforts at appeasing her concerns.
On September 23, Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that because the state plan wasn’t codified, it wasn’t dependable enough, and she effectively placed Wyoming’s gray wolf population back on the Endangered Species list.
Governor Mead quickly penned and signed an emergency rule, putting the state plan into state law, hoping to alleviate the judge’s worries, but on Sept. 30 she denied those efforts.
The judge’s ruling was in response to a 2012 suit filed by a coalition of conservation groups against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service challenging the state management plan on three points. The groups claimed that wolf numbers could still decline below the agreed-upon level, that there was not enough genetic exchange with other populations and that the gray wolf is still endangered in some of its range.
One of those groups, the Center for Biological Diversity, in a Sept. 23, news release titled “Victory for wolves in Wyoming,” said “With Wyoming allowing wolves to be shot on sight across more than 80 percent of the state, there is no way protections for wolves should have ever been removed.”
“Sound management will ensure that we can continue to reap the benefits wolves bring to the region,” said Bonnie Rice of the Sierra Club’s Greater Yellowstone Our Wild America Campaign.
Executives for both the Wyoming Woolgrowers and the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association said last week that the ruling, while disappointing, actually favored livestock producers and the plan in several areas, mainly taking issue with the fact that the state was not legally bound to uphold the plan.
Pinedale, Wyo., rancher and state legislator Albert Sommers takes offense to the claim that Wyoming might not uphold their promises. “The state has given its word and has said that we’ll manage for a delisted population of wolves and that’s not sufficient. I don’t understand how that is possible,” he said. “By that judge’s own admission we have a population of wolves that is de-listable.
“Where the state goes from here, I don’t know. I hope they appeal or find some resolution to this.”
“I am disappointed in Judge Berman Jackson’s ruling,” said Governor Mead in an e-mail statement. “Overturning the USFW delisting decision on a technicality highlights Wyoming’s concerns with the Endangered Species Act.”
The governor’s office will work with the Attorney General and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to examine the best way to re-establish Wyoming’s management of wolves.
Moorcroft area rancher Judy McCullough hopes the governor “sticks to his guns” and continues work to ensure the original plan is implemented. “If he sells out on the predator distinction which is what the environmentalists want, the wolves will get thicker and thicker.” McCullough said. “The only way he might be able to do that is to stop taking federal money for programs and that would end the chokehold the federal government has on us. That is pretty radical but it is what needs to be done if we want to keep our freedoms.”
The Montana and Idaho state management plans don’t give the wolf predator status and allow hunting only during set seasons. The number allowed to be hunted keeps shrinking and the number of wolves keeps growing, said McCullough. “That is why Oregon got wolves,” she said.
Sommers said he realizes he might be dealing with the issue during legislative session.
He also points out that while wolves are native to some parts of the country, they were introduced into Wyoming. That state’s wolves carry a special “non-essential, experimental population” designation which means they are managed, even on the federal level, under a different set of guidelines than the run-of-the-mill endangered species.
“What obviously this judge forgot is that this is a reintroduced nonessential population. Even when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managed the wolf as it relates to livestock [before the state got jurisdiction in 2012 and assumed management] when there was predation of livestock they managed wolves, we were able to get take permits on private land.”
According to Wyoming Stockgrowers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, the state had managed the wolf for the last two years under their plan, giving hunters the ability to shoot them and giving livestock owners the ability to control them when necessary.
And still the wolf population grew, according to the state. “Wyoming has been successful in its management of gray wolves. There were more wolves in Wyoming at the end of 2013 than in 2012. Wyoming has managed wolves well above the minimum and buffer population numbers,” Governor Mead said.
Magagna explained that the state committed to maintaining even more than the minimum required 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs, in an effort to be pro-active in ensuring the population didn’t drop too low and trigger a re-listing.
“Within the trophy game area, which encompasses much of Northwestern Wyoming, excluding Yellowstone National Park, which was identified by the state as the prime wolf habitat, we all agreed we’d manage for 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs and that way we’d have a cushion.”
Sommers, whose cattle graze the U.S. Forest Service-managed Upper Green River cattle allotment, said he and other ranchers who turn cattle in to the common pastures expect a 10 percent calf loss every year.
Wolves have killed cattle in that allotment every summer since 2001, Sommers said.
Six range riders stay through the summer with about 2,000 pairs and 3,000 yearlings owned by a number of independent ranchers. In the early 1990s and before, ranchers expected to lose about two percent of the calves and yearlings on the summer grazing permits, due to sickness, poisonous plants and other normal issues, he said.
After the first grizzly kill in about 1994, losses have increased to an average of 10 percent per summer, Sommers said, with most of the confirmed predation losses – 70 this year already- being caused by grizzlies. Six this year have been blamed on wolves. Those losses are confirmed by the state game and fish department. Many calves and even older animals disappear so total numbers of lost animals are not known until the cattle are gathered off the allotment at the end of the grazing season, when an accurate count can be taken. But on 2,000 cow-calf pairs it will likely be around 200 again this year.
While he said the state provides pretty fair compensation for confirmed grizzly and wolf kills, the biggest problem caused by wolves and grizzlies is fear and anxiety in the cattle, Sommers said. Appropriate grass management is becoming increasingly difficult as predators pressure livestock one direction, then another.
Sommers said that the range riders have seen a wolf on occasion but while they could legally shoot them under the state plan, they’ve have never been in a position to do so. Most, if not all of the wolf kills in the state since the plan went into effect were done recreationally, he believes.
But that won’t happen this fall. “The Game and Fish has suspended all sales of gray wolf licenses and will establish a system to refund hunters who have already purchased a 2014 gray wolf license. Hunting in the trophy game area in northwest Wyoming was scheduled to begin Oct. 1,” said an official news release.
Sommers worries that the state will get tired of the fight. “The state is spending a lot of money to manage this and the feds are doing nothing but providing less and less reason for Wyoming to want to manage these predators.”
Montana and Idaho maintain control of their non-essential experimental populations of wolves and hunting is allowed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently released a proposal to delist wolves in the rest of the nation except for the small population of Mexican wolves in the Southwest.