CHEYENNE — Gov. Matt Mead said Wednesday he is pleased that wolves are coming off the endangered species list in other states and hopes Wyoming can get an agreement to do the same.
In announcing the Interior Department’s move to lift Endangered Species Act protection for 5,500 wolves in eight states, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar noted Wednesday that negotiations are continuing so the same thing can take place in Wyoming.
“I appreciate that Secretary Salazar would restate his commitment to working with Wyoming to get wolves taken off the endangered species list here,” Mead said in a media release. The governor’s office has been negotiating with Salazar’s staff for months in an effort to resolve the wolf issue.
“I am hopeful that we are close to an agreement with the [U.S.] Fish and Wildlife Service to move a proposal to Congress,” the governor added. “I continue to believe that wolves should be delisted and a proposal should move through Congress, preventing litigation. Otherwise, Wyoming loses as wolf numbers grow and more big game and livestock are killed.”
While wolves in Wyoming remain under federal protection and management, that’s no longer the case in Idaho, Montana, Utah, Washington and Oregon. As of today, wolves in those states are under state control. Public hunts for hundreds of wolves already are planned this fall in Idaho and Montana.
Meanwhile, about 4,200 wolves listed as threatened in the western Great Lakes also are slated to lose protection. That could happen by the end of this year, following the review of public comments received on the proposal over the next two months.
That will leave Wyoming’s 340 or so wolves as the only population still under federal protection. Wyoming was not included in an addition to the federal budget bill that delisted wolves in the other states because of the state’s dual-status law and management plan. The plan would allow protection of wolves in northwestern Wyoming as trophy animals but would classify the wolves as predators outside that protection area, meaning they could be shot on sight.
Mead is continuing to propose a plan to lower the minimum number of wolves outside the national parks to 10 breeding pairs and 100 individual wolves, press secretary Renny MacKay said Wednesday. The governor’s plan would also extend the protection area to include parts of Sublette and Lincoln counties during the winter months only.
The federal wolf program has stirred a backlash from agriculture and sporting groups angry over wolf attacks on livestock and big game herds. Interior Department officials said Wednesday the most suitable wolf habitat already was occupied.
The provision in the budget bill mandating the move to lift protection for the 1,300 wolves primarily in Idaho and Montana marked the first time Congress has removed an animal listed under the Endangered Species Act. The provision also shields the delisting, taking effect today with a notice in the Federal Register, from legal challenges.
“To be sure, not everyone will be satisfied with today’s announcement,” Salazar said. “Wolves have long been a highly charged issue. These delistings are possible because the species is recovered in these regions. That is a remarkable milestone for an iconic American species.”
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A pending petition before the Interior Department seeks to extend the government’s wolf recovery plan nationwide. But Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity, the sponsor of the petition, said Wednesday’s announcement made clear that the government has no such intentions.
“In our view wolf recovery is not done,” Greenwald said. “We’re disappointed with seeing the Fish and Wildlife Service attempt to get out from under it.”
Fish and Wildlife officials said they plan to review the wolf’s status in New England and the Pacific Northwest but did not foresee another reintroduction effort.
Idaho officials have said they want to reduce their state’s wolf population to about 500 animals, versus current estimates of more than 700. Rancher Royce Schwenkfelder said he feels more comfortable with wolves under state jurisdiction. But he was doubtful that wolves could be reduced to levels that will eliminate attacks on cattle that he runs on Indian Mountain. “The feds have filled us up with more wolves than we can handle,” he said.
Montana wildlife officials this week proposed a public hunt for up to 220 wolves this fall, out of a population estimated to number at least 566 animals. The state’s Democratic U.S. Senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, said Wednesday that turning over control of wolves to state wildlife agencies was the right thing to do.
“State biologists need to manage them like any other recovered species,” said Tester, who worked with Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson to get the provision in the budget bill.
No hunts are planned immediately for small populations of wolves in Oregon, Washington and Utah.
In addition to the hunts, officials say wolves that attack livestock will continue to be removed by wildlife agents. More than 1,500 wolves have been killed for livestock attacks since the animals were reintroduced to the northern Rockies from Canada in the 1990s.
Under state management, Idaho will continue to ask federal wildlife agents to take out problem packs, including in north-central Idaho’s Lolo area, where the state wants to kill dozens of wolves to help restore elk herds that officials say have been hurt by predators and poor habitat.
Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have plans meant to keep the populations at healthy levels while allowing government agents to kill animals that can’t be driven away. None would allow hunting or trapping for at least five years, although the states could revise those plans.