RIVERTON, Wyo. – Wyoming lawmakers considered their options in recent days about how the state could regain management authority over gray wolves, but they have not made any decisions yet on how to proceed.
The Legislature’s Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee met Thursday in Cody and Friday in Riverton to hear from government officials and the public on the wolf issue.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Montana recently ordered the federal government to resume management of wolves as an endangered species in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Molloy’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups that had objected state management wouldn’t preserve the species. The groups particularly objected to Wyoming’s plan to designate wolves as predators in most of the state that could be shot on sight.
Speaking at the Riverton meeting, Wyoming Attorney General Bruce Salzburg said Wyoming is now back where it was before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared an end to federal protection for wolves in the northern Rockies early this year.
“The plan going forward, as I understand it, is they will reopen the comment period for another 30 days, the Fish and Wildlife Service will look at those comments and publish a revised delisting rule,” Salzburg said. However, he said he expects the federal agency would likely reject existing Wyoming’s wolf management plan.
Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said recently that the agency could publish a new delisting rule as early as January.
Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, has proposed draft legislation calling for Wyoming to change its wolf management plan to declare the animals as trophy game animals throughout the state that generally could be killed only by licensed hunters.
Gingery said Friday that changing the plan would be the quickest way to achieve state management of wolves.
“I think our plan was a good plan,” Gingery said. “I think we all agree. But we’ll never get it through court.”
Representatives from several environmental groups said they supported Gingery’s proposal.
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, urged lawmakers not to change Wyoming’s plan until they see what happens with wolves in Idaho and Montana. The Fish and Wildlife Service has said it’s possible that wolves could be subject to state management in those two states while remaining classified as an endangered species under federal law in Wyoming.
“We’d like to put this to rest, but I don’t think we have a playing field where we can put this thing to rest today,” Magagna said.
Rancher Charles Price urged the panel to stick to its guns and sue the federal government to accept the existing Wyoming plan, and make them “do as was promised.”
Bud Betts, an outfitter in the Dubois area, urged the panel to draft a new bill addressing the judge’s concerns, to show the “state is acting in good faith.” He said the state could then use such a new bill as leverage.
Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, is co-chairman of the committee. He said the committee plans to meet again soon to consider its options.
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