CHEYENNE, Wyo. – 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 in August 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.
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 the 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 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.
Assistant U.S. Secretary of Interior Tom 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.”
Idaho and Montana appealed to the federal government this week for permission to hold “conservation hunts” to help control wolves.
Wyoming has a 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 says each of the three states needs to maintain.
More than 1,700 wolves inhabit 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.
Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, of the Senate wildlife issues panel, said the state should feel no pressure to change its position until its own lawsuit is settled.
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