News that some Wyoming lawmakers have begun meeting with their colleagues from Montana and Idaho to talk about wolf delisting is an encouraging first step toward resolving the long-running controversy over wolf management in the northern Rockies.

The fact that Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is sounding more and more like Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal on the wolf issue is a less consequential development that shouldn't affect the lawmakers' work.

The Star-Tribune first reported last week that some key legislators from Wyoming, Idaho and Montana met recently in Salt Lake City with an objective of getting wolves removed from federal protection and put under state control. The group -- unofficially named the Tri-State Wolf Compact Commission -- is scheduled to meet again today, along with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official. The lawmakers' efforts may be the best hope for crafting a wolf delisting plan that can withstand court challenges.

Meanwhile, Otter announced Monday that Idaho will no longer manage wolves as a "designated agent" of the federal government, in light of a federal judge's ruling that returned wolves in Idaho and Montana to the endangered species list. Otter's action was an expression of frustration that in spite of Idaho's cooperation with the federal government in developing an acceptable post-delisting management plan, the animals are still under federal protection there.

Otter's frustration may be better directed against Wyoming officials, who have refused to follow the lead of Idaho and Montana legislators in adopting management plans that provide at least some statewide protection for wolves. While Idaho and Montana want to manage wolves entirely as trophy game species, with regulated hunting seasons, Wyoming's plan allows for unregulated killing of the animals everywhere but the state's northwest corner. The lack of an acceptable management plan in Wyoming is the biggest obstacle in the way of the long-overdue delisting of wolves in the northern Rockies.

In fact, had Wyoming adopted a management plan similar to Idaho and Montana, there's good reason to believe wolves would be delisted today. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy's recent ruling to relist the animals in Idaho and Montana was based primarily on the idea that the species must be delisted in all three states or none at all.

The Tri-State Wolf Compact Commission is driven by the fact that the states must work in unison if they hope to comply with Molloy's decision.

"What it's about is trying to get this thing resolved, and Judge Molloy made it clear that the three states are in this barrel together," said state Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, one of Wyoming's representatives on the commission.

Other Wyoming members of the group are House Speaker Colin Simpson, R-Cody; Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee; and Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan. All four have been deeply involved in the wolf issue, and they're influential leaders who have the ability to persuade other legislators to go along with any agreement that may be reached with the other states.

The solution really isn't all that complicated. One of the commission members, Republican state Sen. Jim Shockley of Montana, told Star-Tribune reporter Jeremy Pelzer that it's basically a matter of drawing up a Wyoming wolf management plan that can win federal support.

Freudenthal has long said that if Wyoming can't handle wolves the way it wants, the federal government should foot the bill for managing the animals in the state. That's basically the approach adopted by Otter this week. But the bottom line is that Wyoming should be following Idaho's lead on wolf management. If that happens, the path to delisting will likely be much shorter.


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