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Firm wolf bill clears Wyoming Senate

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Attorney General Pat Crank says the latest incarnation of a wolf management bill would send a message to the federal government: “Put up or shut up.”

Unlike a similar bill that died in a House committee on Wednesday, this one cleared the Senate on its first reading on Friday, opening a way for the plan to be considered on the Senate floor in detail on Monday.

The bill would provide a way for Wyoming to kill more wolves before they are removed from endangered species protection.

But first, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would have to accept the state’s terms.

The delisting is tied up in litigation between the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and lawmakers say legal wrangling could last for years after the federal government formally removes wolves from protection.

In the meantime, lawmakers are concerned about the rapid increase in wolf numbers and the effect wolves are having on elk numbers. They want the state to be able to kill wolves not only to protect livestock, but also to protect big game.

Supporters say the bill would enable Wyoming to do that.

Crank told the committee that the bill, if approved, would be another tool for him in the litigation by showing where the Legislature stands on wolf management. He pointed to a provision that would cause the bill to go away after Feb. 29, 2008, if the federal government has not accepted Wyoming’s terms in the wolf litigation by then.

“This is really the put-up-or-shut-up part of the bill,” he told the committee.

The Senate passed the bill on its first reading with no discussion Friday afternoon. The state sued over the Fish and Wildlife Service’s rejection of Wyoming’s original proposal wolf management plan in 2004.

The federal agency already has approved state wolf management plans from Idaho and Montana, but the dispute in Wyoming has prevented removing wolves from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in all three states. Recently, the federal agency has said it would consider removing the wolf from federal protection in the other states while leaving that protection in place in Wyoming.

The bill initially called for maintaining 17 wolf packs in the state. That’s compared to 10 in the original wolf recovery plan, but much fewer than the 26 said to be in the state now.

Crank said he “shuddered” to think about wolves continuing to reproduce rapidly while the question of their management is tied up in court.