Wyoming Governor Mead signs off on state Wolf Management bill
“This has been a long journey and while we are not at journey’s end yet, we are closer than we have been in years to having Wyoming control wolves,” stated Wyoming Governor Matt Mead on March 7, as he signed a bill passed by the Wyoming Legislature earlier in the week for managing wolves within the state.
Wolves are currently managed as an experimental non-essential species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) across Wyoming, and the new plan passed in the bill is the result of months of negotiations between Governor Mead and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
“There were two main points of significance that were changed in the bill. The first one is the requirement that the state of Wyoming manage for 10 breeding pairs, or 100 wolves, outside the Yellowstone Park area. Up until now, we were to manage for seven breeding pairs, or 70 wolves. This 30 head increase means more wolves than the state initially agreed to manage, but in exchange for that increase, it was also agreed that Wyoming’s management won’t change based on wolf numbers within the park. If they should crash, or spike, within Yellowstone, that won’t alter how many wolves the state has to manage for,” explained Wyoming Farm Bureau (WyFB) Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton of the first major change to the bill.
“The other significant change is that while we basically kept the same part of the Northwest Wyoming as a trophy game area, where wolves are protected, we’ve added what is being called a flex area along the southern end of the trophy game area. In this area wolves will be considered a trophy game animal from the end of October through February 29. They will be considered a predator the remainder of the year, which covers the time frame when livestock are in the area, of which a large percentage is national forest land,” added Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Executive Vice President Jim Magagna of the second major change to the bill.
Both men agreed that they are cautiously optimistic this is a big step toward management of the wolf being handed over to the state.
“We generally think that the changes made were satisfactory, and something we can all work with if allowed to do so. Our big hesitation is that we’ve gone through this type of process twice before with the Fish and Wildlife Services in an effort to develop a wolf plan. The first time they wouldn’t accept it based on the opinions of a biologist, and the last time they wouldn’t defend it after working with us to make it. I don’t think we’ll be willing to come back to the drawing board on this issue for a fourth time if it falls through again,” stated Magagna.
“We will see if this plan results in wolf management being handed to the state of Wyoming. We still maintain that between 80 and 90 percent of the state is outside of suitable wolf habitat as a predator, and that’s always been an issue for Wyoming. We’ve always felt the wolf introduction was supposed to be in just northwest Wyoming, not into central, southern and even southeastern Wyoming. Hopefully this plan allows our state to manage the wolves in all areas, and especially those where they are starting to have significant impacts on wildlife numbers,” added Hamilton.
The WSGA and WyFB are both hopeful Congress will provide Wyoming with the same protection from litigation that was awarded to Idaho and Montana in their wolf management plans.
“The problem Wyoming will have if challenged is that prior to now, the wolf debate took place in the 10th circuit court in Wyoming because that’s the circuit Yellowstone Park is located within. The environmental groups may be able to get future challenges moved to outside the 10th circuit, and into a more favorable venue for them; possibly the 9th or D.C. circuits. The location of any future court dealings could really give one side or the other the upper hand in how the wolf issue pans out in the legal arena, and I expect the environmental groups to shift into overdrive upon a decision being released because wolves are a huge fundraising item for them,” commented Hamilton.
Magagna explained that Fish and Wildlife Services is currently slated to release a final decision on Sept. 1, 2012. Following its release, there will be a thirty-day window before it becomes effective. The days following the final decision being released are when lawsuits are expected to be filed if Wyoming isn’t provided federal protection from litigation by that time.
“That timeline may be fairly optimistic, as I’ve never seen the federal government actually meet a timeline, so it may be late October before we see the wolf delisted. But, that would still be in the heart of several major hunting seasons in areas where wolves would be considered trophy game animals,” noted Hamilton on the future timeline of the wolf plan in Wyoming.
“We met with people from many diverse viewpoints and not everyone is in love with the plan, but it is grounded in science and ensures wolves stay off the endangered species list. I believe this plan is in the best interest of Wyoming,” stated Governor Mead while signing the bill.