CHEYENNE-Wyoming and the federal government have reached "an agreement in principle" on a deal to remove the state's roughly 340 wolves from the endangered species list and put them under state control.
Following a meeting at the Wyoming State Capitol on Thursday, Gov. Matt Mead, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said they hoped to reach a deal by the end of the month and ratify it by the end of September.
Wyoming has been fighting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for years to accept the state's wolf management plan, which allows unregulated killing of the animals in all but the northwest corner of the state. Fish and Wildlife, on the other hand, wants wolves to be classified as "trophy game" throughout the state, meaning they could only be hunted with a license.
The three said they agreed on a deal under which Wyoming would be required to maintain 100 wolves, including 10 breeding pairs, outside Yellowstone National Park. That's about a third of current wolf numbers outside Yellowstone, Mead said.
They also agreed in principle on creating a wolf "flex area" in Sublette and Lincoln counties, in which wolves would be protected only during the winter months.
Working out exactly where the "flex area" boundaries will be the primary sticking point remaining in negotiations, Mead said.
Mead said he now will shop around two different flex-area boundary proposals to "stakeholders" - including ranchers and agricultural groups that have long opposed wolves.
In April, Congress voted to delist wolves in five other western states, though not Wyoming.
Salazar and Ashe met with Mead at the insistance of U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who demanded it as a precondition to lifting a month-long hold on Ashe's nomination as Fish and Wildlife director. Ashe was confirmed by the Senate to the post last Thursday, a few days after Barrasso lifted his hold.