Feds to negotiate with Wyoming over gray wolves

Billings, Montana (AP) March 2011

The head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said last week that federal officials are resuming negotiations with Wyoming aimed at turning over control of endangered gray wolves to the state.

Federal officials have said for years that wolves were biologically recovered across Wyoming, but the species has remained on the endangered list there because of a law that allows wolves to be shot on sight across most of the state.

U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson in Cheyenne last year ordered the government to reconsider its rejections of Wyoming’s wolf management plan. The Fish and Wildlife Service recently dropped its appeal of the judge’s November order.

“We strongly believe that the recovered Northern Rocky Mountain (population of) gray wolves is most appropriately managed by states and tribes,” said Rowan Gould, acting director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “Rather than lose more time in court with an appeal that won’t help resolve the problem, the service looks forward to working on a plan that can meet the state’s needs.”

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said he was pleased with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision.

“I thought the judge’s ruling was a strong one and I think this action by the agency may be a sign that the service is willing to look at Wyoming’s plan in a real way and accept what Wyoming people want,” Mead said.

“We are trying to work in a spirit of cooperation and we are cautiously optimistic that we may get somewhere,” Mead said. “But, as I always say, this is a process and we’ve had our hopes dashed before. So we are moving cautiously, but in an optimistic fashion to see whether we can get something done.”

Wyoming U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both Republicans, issued statements calling the decision a step in the right direction.

“I was encouraged by Acting Director Gould’s comments on the appropriateness of state and tribal management of wolves,” Enzi said. “That’s a good place for the negotiations to start back up again. It’s also a good place for the negotiations to end. I hope both sides can swiftly reach agreement.”

Barrasso called on the government to immediately accept Wyoming’s plan.

“The administration is right to finally recognize Judge Johnson’s ruling that there is ‘no meaningful scientific explanation’ why Wyoming’s plan will not protect the state’s wolf population,” Barrasso said.

In his November ruling, Johnson had said the Fish and Wildlife Service was wrong to insist Wyoming change its management plan to give wolves more protection before it would end federal oversight of the species.

The government’s decision to drop its appeal does not affect a separate case before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involving wolves in Montana and Idaho.

The predators were taken off the endangered list in the two states in 2009, only to have their protected status restored last year by a federal judge in Montana.

Several bills now before Congress seek to override that ruling and strip wolves of their protections in Montana and Idaho. Other measures would lift protections for wolves nationwide.

The federal government said it wanted a population of at least 300 animals when it started its wolf reintroduction program in the Northern Rockies in the 1990s. Biologists last week announced that there are now more than 1,600 wolves in parts of five states, including at least 343 in Wyoming.



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