GRAY WOLF

A gray wolf rests in tall grass. A bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso would support the lifting of federal protections for gray wolves.

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A bipartisan bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, would solidify the delisting of gray wolves in the state and expand protections for sportsmen while also reauthorizing several environmental protection acts.

“The HELP Wildlife Act promotes conservation based on sound science and provides needed protections for America’s sportsmen,” Barrasso said in a statement last week. The state’s junior senator is chairman of the Environment and Public Works committee.

A federal court lifted protections for Wyoming’s gray wolves in March. A lower court had previously agreed to uphold those protections, despite a 2011 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the wolves were no longer endangered in Wyoming.

The HELP Act would require the Interior Department to reissue that 2011 rule and would bar courts from overturning it.

It would also restore a decision delisting gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region.

The act is backed by a group of both Republican and Democratic senators. It will reauthorize five environmental laws through 2023, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Act.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said in a statement that the bill’s support for those acts shows congressional backing for environmental protections that President Donald Trump’s administration has expressed skepticism about in its federal budget proposal.

“I urge appropriators to take note of the bipartisan support for authorizing these programs, despite the president’s lack of understanding of their worthiness,” Cardin said.

But the Center for Biological Diversity harshly criticized the legislation, suggesting that the Democratic senators had effectively traded symbolic support for the wildlife acts for damaging changes to environmental protections.

CBD government affairs director Brett Hartl said that programs are regularly funded despite having expired and that reauthorization has no impact on whether Congress allocates money to the initiatives in any given year.

“This legislation won’t help conservation on the ground anywhere — not a single animal or plant will benefit from this horrible legislation,” Hartl said in a statement. “This is a disaster.”

Advocates of reauthorization argue that doing so provides certainty to relevant parties and is a better solution than relying on one-year authorizations provided by Congress when it crafts an annual budget.

Promotes hunting, fishing

The HELP Act would also change several laws meant to benefit hunters and anglers. It would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating tackle used in sport fishing under the Toxic Substances Control Act. While lead and other toxic substances can appear in fishing tackle, the EPA ruled in 2012 that states are sufficiently able to regulate the issue.

Public target ranges would also receive a boost under the HELP Act by increasing the percentage of land acquisition and construction costs that states can pay for from 75 percent to 90 percent.

“This bipartisan legislation will create greater opportunities for outdoor recreation, hunting, and fishing,” co-sponsor Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, wrote in a statement.

The HELP Act would also finalize partnerships between public agencies and other groups working on fish conservation and protect farmers from being held liable for bird baiting for hunting purposes.

The other bill sponsors are Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, John Boozman, R-Arkansas, and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin.

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Star-Tribune reporter Arno Rosenfeld covers local government, with a focus on Casper and Natrona County.

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