Wyoming has no plans to alter its stance on wolf management - classifying the animals as predators that can be shot on sight across most of the state - despite a court ruling that Wyoming's position means wolves are again on the endangered list and planned wolf hunting seasons are blocked in both Idaho and Montana, the AP reports. "I'm not going to change my position," Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal told the AP; click below for a full report from AP reporter Ben Neary in Cheyenne.
Wyoming officials not inclined to act on wolves
By BEN NEARY, Associated Press Writer
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming remains committed to classifying gray wolves as predators that can be shot on sight across most of the state despite complaints that its position will stop hunting seasons in neighboring Idaho and Montana.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula, Mont., early this month rejected the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's move to turn over wolf management to Idaho and Montana while leaving them listed as an endangered species in Wyoming.
Molloy's decision blocks wolf hunts that Idaho and Montana had planned for this fall.
And ironically, Molloy's decision also effectively leaves Wyoming — whose wolf management plan the judge excoriated two years ago — in the position of controlling wolf management in the entire Northern Rockies, at least for now.
Wyoming has stubbornly opposed the federal wolf reintroduction effort since it began at Yellowstone National Park in mid-1990s.
But now, unless Wyoming backs off on its plan to declare an open season for wolves in most of the state, the other states won't get to hold the controlled wolf hunts they want to protect livestock and keep their wolf populations steady.
And Wyoming is not about to agree to change its plan.
Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a popular Democrat now in the final months of his second and final term, said this week that Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter haven't bothered to ask him whether Wyoming intends to reconsider.
"It may be that they've known me long enough that I'm not going to change my position," Freudenthal said of the other governors.
Freudenthal also brushed off as "overly critical" a newspaper column that Assistant U.S. Secretary of Interior Tom Strickland wrote this month knocking Wyoming's position.
"The court's decision clearly shows that, for the gray wolf, recovery requires Wyoming to change its policy," Strickland wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "If Wyoming were to join its neighbor states and develop a wolf management strategy with adequate regulatory mechanisms on human-caused wolf mortality, including hunting, all three states would benefit."
Frustration over Wyoming's position is also widespread in Idaho and Montana.
Montana wolf program biologist Carolyn Sime said residents in her state believe they did everything right, and are frustrated that Wyoming can hold them back.
"It does not make sense for us that the actions and wishes of another state prevent something in our state," Sime said. "Wyoming's past prevents Montana from moving forward. That doesn't seem fair to us."
Yet Freudenthal and others in the state emphasize that the Fish and Wildlife Service itself helped the state write its wolf management plan in early 2008 and approved it at the time. Only after Molloy criticized Wyoming's plan in late 2008 did the Fish and Wildlife Service repudiate it, delisting wolves only in the other two states while leaving Wyoming behind.
Wyoming has its own federal lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service's refusal to delist wolves in the state.
Wyoming officials say their plan would assure enough wolves survive to maintain at least 15 breeding pairs and 150 total wolves in the state — the minimum number the Fish and Wildlife Service has said each of the three states needs to maintain. There are now more than 1,700 wolves in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and parts of Oregon and Washington state.
There's little desire among Wyoming lawmakers to change the state's wolf management plan. Many openly say they don't trust the federal wildlife agency.
Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, is chairman of the committee that hears wildlife issues. He said the state should wait and see what happens with its own lawsuit and said he doesn't see any reason the state should feel pressured to change its position.
It's unclear whether Wyoming's lawsuit will be judged moot in light of Molloy's ruling. Bruce Salzburg, Wyoming attorney general, said the state would object if the federal government tries to dismiss the state's case.
Doug Honnold, a lawyer with Earthjustice in Montana, represents a coalition of environmental groups that successfully argued against delisting wolves in the other states while leaving protections in place in Wyoming. He said he believes there's a strong argument that Wyoming's lawsuit should be dismissed as moot.
"Clearly Wyoming's intransigence has created all kinds of different problems for the Fish and Wildlife Service and for Montana and Idaho, I don't think there's any doubt about that," Honnold said. "But I think there are lots of different courses to get to recovery, and I'm hopeful that Wyoming will see the light about the importance of being involved in this recovery and delisting of wolves, rather than try to obstruct it."
Whatever happens, Honnold said it's clear that Wyoming can't be left out of the process this time.
"The law says that if a species is endangered in any significant portion, then the species, or the population in this case, needs to be listed," Honnold said. "So somehow, Wyoming has to be part of the picture."
AP Correspondent Matthew Brown contributed to this report from Billings, Mont.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.