for Tri-State Livestock News
On both the national and state level, grey wolves have insired several pieces of legislation recently. From delisting, to reintroduction, wolf depredation compensation to “wolf-free zones,” wolves continue to prove themselves controversial. Soon though, Washington law makers are hoping that management will be turned back to states and tribes.
In 2019, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to remove the wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act, as the service says they are stable and healthy throughout their current range. The ruling has not yet been finalized, but the service is expected to release a final ruling in the next few months.
A press release by the USFWS says that the proposal to delist gray wolves is based on sound science and the ongoing commitment and proven track record of states and tribes to manage for healthy wolf populations once delisted. After delisting, the USFWS would continue to monitor the species for five years. Should numbers decline, the USFWS could relist the species and assume management again.
But lawmakers are not waiting for the USFWS to make a final ruling. In the past months, the American Wild Game and Livestock Protection Act, which would require the Secretary of the Interior to issue a final rule relating to the delisting of the grey wolf, turning management over to states and tribes within 60 days of the legislation’s passing, was introduced to the Senate in December by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. The companion bill was introduced to the House of Representatives in late February by Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-SD and Rep Ben McAdams, D-Utah. The Senate bill was turned over to the Committee on Environment and Public Works, while the house bill was turned over to the Committee on Natural Resources.
“This bipartisan legislation will allow states to protect the livelihood of their livestock owners and preserve a healthy balance of wild animal populations,” says Representative Peterson.
The language of the bill is similar to what was passed in 2011 when wolves in the Northern Rockies were removed from federal protection, stating that the decision is not subject to judicial review. If the USFWS delivers a favorable ruling, it is expected that activist organizations will file legal challenges, delaying or pushing back the decision.
According to Austin Hacker, Republican Press Secretary for the House Committee on Natural Resources, the legislation is awaiting a scheduled hearing, but all official business outside of COVID-19 relief has been put on hold.
“Though we are confident we can move through this step, the scheduling of official hearings really has been put on hold through essentially the end of April,” Hacker says.
Despite recent confirmation by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife that there is already a pack of wolves living in the northwest corner of the state, Colorado is allowing voters to decide at the ballot box in November whether the state will reintroduce grey wolves by 2023. The reintroduction would take place on public land on the western side of the state and include a fund to compensate livestock owners for any losses.
Many agricultural groups are advocating against the reintroduction. Colorado Farm Bureau is calling for the state to pull the reintroduction from the ballot.
“Just as predicted, wolves are making their way into Colorado on their own. This measure is pointless and will only lead to wasted taxpayer dollars and increased bureaucracy,” says Chad Vorthmann, Executive Vice President of the Colorado Farm Bureau. “The proponents should let mother nature work its magic, stop trying to impose their will on the natural world, and retract their ballot measure.”
Northwest Regional Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife JT Romatzke says that it is inevitable, based on known wolf behavior, that they would travel to Colorado from states where their populations are well-established. Neighboring state Utah has expressed concern, and Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Utah is sponsoring a resolution opposing the wolf reintroduction, should the Colorado initiative pass, fearing the economic impacts the wolves will have on Utah.
In January, a bill was introduced to the Idaho legislature that would create wolf-free zones in parts of the state and designate chronic depredation zones, defined as any unit where wolf depredation has occurred in the last four out of five years. The legislation would then allow year-round hunting, providing hunters held valid licenses in both zones.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Bert Brackett, a Republican rancher from Rogerson, who told Idaho Farm Bureau the proposed wolf free zones are zones where the state doesn’t have established packs yet, “and furthermore, we don’t want them.
The committee voted to print the bill, which means a public hearing on the legislation will be held later. The nine-member committee’s two Democrats were the only legislators to vote against the bill.
Although state wildlife officials removed wolves from Oregon’s endangered species list in 2016, and lawmakers passed House Bill 4040 backing that decision in 2016, wolves in over half of the state remain federally protected. In November, the Oregon Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit filed by environmental groups challenging the state’s decision to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves, ruling that that House Bill 4040 rendered the environmentalists petition moot.
In Wyoming wolves have been delisted since 2011 and management was turned the state in 2017. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department manages wolves only in the Trophy Game Management Area in the northwest corner of the state. Wolves are defined as predatory animals throughout the rest of the state. The WGFD only reimburses ranches who lose livestock to wolves in the trophy game area, which in 2019 totaled over 385,000 dollars.
A bill introduced to Wyoming’s legislature in January would have created a new compensation program consisting of a 90,000-dollar fund for ranchers who lose livestock to grey wolves outside of Wyoming’s trophy game zone. According to Rep. Albert Sommers, a rancher from Sublette County, the bill died upon introduction, but there was a budget amendment that partially passed, allowing 145,000 dollars to be used for wolf control and compensation in the predator zone.
Sommers says that producers are adequately compensated by the WGFD within the trophy game area, but this new budget allotment is a big deal for producers whose livestock are near the trophy game area, but still in the predator zone.
“You get areas where you have predators escaping the trophy game area and there are cattle allotments in the wilderness and that’s when wolf control is getting a little difficult,” Sommers says. “My thought and the sponsors thought was to try to provide compensation where there isn’t much control.” F
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