CHEYENNE — Even with Wednesday’s announcement of a long-awaited agreement on Wyoming’s wolf management plan, there are still several steps — and a lot of time — remaining before the animal would come under state control.
The agreement, announced by Gov. Matt Mead and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, now has to pass a lengthy federal approval process.
Meanwhile, Wyoming lawmakers and officials have to approve the plan, possibly during a special session of the Wyoming Legislature.
And, perhaps most controversially, Mead and Wyoming’s congressional delegation are working to push a measure through Congress that would ban any lawsuits challenging the agreement.
“This is far from the end of this process,” Mead said in a media release.
The first step in ratifying the deal will probably come Sept. 7-8, when the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission will likely vote on whether to change state regulations to conform with the terms of Wednesday’s agreement, said Game and Fish Department spokesman Eric Keszler.
The commission has to approve those changes before U.S. Fish and Wildlife can publish a preliminary rule in the Federal Register delisting Wyoming wolves.
Last month, Mead and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said they set an Oct. 1 deadline to publish that preliminary rule.
Once that rule is published, a year-or-so-long federal approval process would follow, including a public comment period.
Finally, the Wyoming Legislature would have to vote to approve the new wolf management plan.
That could happen during the Legislature’s 2012 budget session, which starts in February. Or, if Mead wanted lawmakers to vote before then, he could call a special session of the Legislature.
Mead hasn’t yet decided whether to hold a special session, said spokesman Renny MacKay, nor does he feel rushed to decide.
“Because the proposed rule can be published [in the Federal Register], the urgency isn’t necessarily there on the special session,” MacKay said. “Because you can keep this process rolling with just meeting during the regular session.”
Observers on both sides of the issue will also likely pay as much attention to developments in Washington, D.C., as actions taken in Wyoming.
While federal lawmakers don’t need to approve a Wyoming wolf deal, Mead and other state officials have repeatedly said that congressional protection against lawsuits is vital to any agreement that’s reached.
Last month, U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., successfully inserted a no-litigation rider into a 2012 congressional appropriations bill, as well as a clause that would immediately put Wyoming wolves under state control.
The measure survived a legislative challenge last week and is still being considered on the House floor.
Congressional observers have said they expect Lummis’ wolf rider to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. However, they’re uncertain how the proposal will fare in the Democratic-controlled Senate.