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Jan 11, 2007

 

 

JACKSON -- Wyoming officials are seeking assurances from the federal government that delisting of wolves will be prompt, and that the state will be able to limit damage to livestock and wildlife before then, as they eye a possible compromise on wolf management.

The state sent a letter Monday outlining more than 43 questions to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Mitch King. They ask if the government will reduce wolf packs to about 15 packs required after delisting, if the government will fund the state's wolf management, and if the government will compensate for livestock losses.

All this comes after King met with state officials in mid-December to discuss a possible compromise that would allow Wyoming to move toward removing the gray wolf from federal protection. The state is rushing to get answers in order to draft bills reflecting the proposed compromise in the current legislative session.

King said Wednesday the federal government will likely not compensate for livestock losses, and will likely not reduce wolf packs. He said his agency has crafted a formal response to Wyoming's letter, and it is in the nation's capital for final approval.

He said federal funding is "one of the real tough nuts to crack," as dollars for protected species come from a recovery account.

"Once we delist, then it's not necessarily appropriate for us to spend recovery dollars except for monitoring monies," he said. Funding may come through work with the congressional delegation, he said.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has estimated it will cost a total of $2.4 million per year to manage wolves and grizzly bears after they're delisted.

Wyoming's questions also address legal ramifications of the state's plan to classify wolves as predators in most of the state outside northwest Wyoming, allowing them killed any time, by any means and for any reason, and whether that classification would hold up in court. Federal officials had called that approach unacceptable until recently, offering to allow predator status for wolves outside an expanded "trophy game" area.

"What effect will (Fish and Wildlife's) reversal on the issue of dual classification have on the sustainability of the delisting rule?" the letter asks. "What efforts will (Fish and Wildlife) undertake to insure that their reversal of position on the predator issue will be adequately explained in the administrative record?"

Ryan Lance, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Dave Freudenthal, drafted the letter with help of Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, and Game and Fish Department Director Terry Cleveland.

Lance said the key question is who is authorized to negotiate with Wyoming on behalf of the federal government.

"From a practical standpoint, we want to know who is authorized to negotiate on their behalf, and bind the Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Interior to a particular course," Lance said.

King said he will be the person to negotiate, and the decision maker will be Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Some questions posed in the letter have already been answered. For example, the letter asks, "What management authority will Wyoming Game and Fish have within the trophy game area?"

Game and Fish Director Cleveland has said the agency will issue licenses to kill wolves in trophy game areas and will regulate killing there. Lance said there are "nuances" in that management the state wants to clarify.

The state also asked how it will be able to manage wolves in the period between proposed delisting and a final court decision upholding delisting. All parties expect wolf delisting to be challenged in court.

"During this period, what efforts (is Fish and Wildlife) willing to undertake to limit damage to livestock or wildlife herds?" the letter asks.

King said during that period, Wyoming would be governed by the rule that governs Idaho and Montana now. That rule allows for more liberal killing of wolves that prey on livestock, but does not generally allow for the killing of wolves suspected of harming big game herds, he said.

King was traveling to Cheyenne Wednesday to meet with lawmakers and representatives of agriculture organizations. Asked if he had met with environmental groups, King said he has met with Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. That group tends to be against high wolf numbers, saying the animals harm big game hunting opportunities.

King said there are other meetings planned to try to "cover all the bases we can."

Childers said the state is looking for more answers.

"The state of Wyoming needs a more clear offer from (Fish and Wildlife) as a proposed settlement on wolf management, and we do not have that now," he said in an e-mail. "The questions ... were sent to clarify the basis that we need to negotiate. Before we can even talk about a bill, we need that information."

Environmental reporter Whitney Royster can be reached at (307) 734-0260 or at
royster@tribcsp.com.

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Posted: Thursday January 11, 2007, 8:54 am
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