Wyoming Lawmakers to Meet on Wolf Issue

By Beacon Staff

CHEYENNE – Wyoming lawmakers, many openly expressing frustration with the federal government, plan to meet this week to discuss how the state should proceed on wolf management.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Montana on Tuesday signed an order reinstating federal endangered species protection for gray wolves in the northern Rockies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed federal protections for the wolves in March, but reversed course last month in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental groups.

The groups charged that wolves wouldn’t be protected adequately under state plans adopted by Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Molloy had singled out Wyoming’s wolf management plan for particular criticism. Under the Wyoming plan, wolves would have been classified as predators that could be shot on sight in most of the state.

Wyoming’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee has scheduled meetings on Thursday in Cody and Friday in Riverton to hear from state and federal experts as well as from the general public on the wolf issue.

Rep. Patrick Goggles, a member of the committee, said Tuesday he senses that people in the state are increasingly frustrated with the federal government over the wolf issue. He said he’s heard from ranchers who have experienced long delays in getting reimbursed for livestock lost to wolves.

“Hopefully, all parties can find some common ground, especially the feds — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Goggles, D-Ethete. “They’ve not been very truthful with the state of Wyoming, not very truthful at all, and they can take that the way they want to. Because right now we’re back to square one.”

Committee members say they can’t judge in advance what the state will decide to do. But co-chairman Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, said he believes it’s likely the state Legislature will have to consider legislation to create new wolf management rules when it convenes in January.

“I think we’re obligated to try and do something,” Burns said. “We’ve got a whole new paradigm, so I think we’ve got to look at new answers and new directions.”

Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, the other committee co-chairman, said many lawmakers are upset with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the issue.

The Fish and Wildlife Service had helped Wyoming draft its wolf-management plan before approving it last year. The federal agency had previously rejected an earlier Wyoming plan, prompting a lawsuit.

After Molloy blocked the states from taking over wolf management this summer, the Fish and Wildlife Service asked him to approve listing the wolves as endangered again. With the federal agency asking to quit the case, the states didn’t object to ending it either.

Childers said lawmakers are reluctant to move forward with new wolf rules considering the federal government reversed its earlier position.

Steve Guertin, regional director of Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver, is scheduled to address the committee at Thursday’s meeting in Cody, his office said Tuesday. Attempts to reach Guertin for comment were unsuccessful.

Wyoming Attorney General Bruce Salzburg last month wrote a memo to state lawmakers saying that Wyoming needed to be prepared for the Fish and Wildlife Service to say that Wyoming’s existing wolf plan is inadequate.

He said Wyoming’s options included suing the Fish and Wildlife Service to try to force it to accept the state’s existing management plan, accepting continued federal management of wolves in the state, or having the Legislature draft a new wolf management law.

In addition to hearing from Guertin, Childers said officials from the Attorney General’s Office and the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish will address the committee.

Rep. Colin Simpson, R-Cody, said he believes state lawmakers are frustrated to have to address the wolf issue again. He said it’s impossible to say before the committee meetings how the state should respond.

“There’s just uncertainty out there about where do we stand now, and what are the options,” Simpson said.