Fish and Wildlife Service denies state petition to delist wolves

Two black wolves in YellowstoneCHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has denied a petition from the state of Wyoming that had asked to remove the gray wolf population in the northern Rocky Mountains from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. The state promises a legal challenge.

Wyoming officials had proposed a policy of allowing wolves to live unmolested in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The state also proposes to allow trophy hunting for the animals in a large area immediately outside the parks while classifying them as predators that could be shot on sight elsewhere.

In rejecting the state’s petition, the Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday that it couldn’t remove federal protections for wolves in Wyoming until the state sets firm limits on how many could be killed. The federal agency also said the state needs to commit to maintaining a set minimum population of the animals.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Monday that the federal agency’s decision will make it easier for Wyoming to go to court and get a judge to decide whether the state’s plan is scientifically adequate.

Just hours before Monday’s announcement, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and state Attorney General Pat Crank released a letter in which they warned the federal agency that the state intended to sue to compel action on that petition and another petition the state had filed.

Ed Bangs, coordinator of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s gray wolf recovery effort in Helena, Mont., said Monday that his agency is satisfied with the number of wolves now roaming the hills in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

”We don’t want to see more wolves in the wild,” Bangs said. ”We think the population is fully recovered.”

But Bangs said Wyoming needs to change its state law to give the state Game and Fish Department authority to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 total wolves in the state in midwinter before the federal agency can agree to removing federal protections.

Bangs said the Fish and Wildlife Service wants to see regulated public hunting of wolves in the three states. However, he said, that in order for that to happen, the agency has to be assured that if it removed the protections of the endangered species act, the wolves would be adequately protected.

”Our conclusion is that Wyoming law, and its plan, really don’t provide enough assurance for us to move forward with delisting at this time,” Bangs said.

Crank said Monday the state is satisfied that its plan to manage the wolves by providing them safe haven within the national parks and decreasing protections outside the parks would conserve the population in the state.

Crank said having Wyoming wolves protected under federal law was ”having a detrimental impact on several areas.” He said elk calf numbers have dropped from as high as 30 per hundred population during winter months down to below 10 calves per 100 elk in areas where there are many wolves.

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said Monday he was disappointed, but not surprised, with the federal agency’s rejection of Wyoming’s petition to delist the wolves.

Magagna said his group is a member of the Wolf Coalition, an association of groups representing the agriculture industry, sportsmen and others. He said his group will encourage the coalition to join the state in litigating the federal agency’s decision.

Magagna said he lost 51 sheep last year in the upper Sweetwater River Drainage and has lost 12 so far this year.

”I think what we’re seeing is the wolves are disbursing more and more across the state,” Magagna said. ”We’re starting to see more wolves in the Big Horn mountains, for example.”

Rob Edward of Sinapu, a Boulder, Colo.-based wildlife advocacy group, applauded the federal decision.

”It means Fish and Wildlife is serious about holding the state of Wyoming accountable for managing wolves in a proactive, conservation-minded way,” Edward said. ”Wolves still have a long way to go before they’re actually recovered. The population in Wyoming is important to recovery of the species across a broad swath of the western United States.”

Franz Camenzind, executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, said Monday that he’s sorry that the state has been so ”Wyoming-headed.”

”We seem to think that the Wyoming way is the only way, and the science and certainly our neighbors would say that there is another way,” Camenzind said. ”This keeps getting verified with some of the Fish and Wildlife decisions.”

By BEN NEARY – Associated Press Writer
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