U.S. Agency Moves on Plan to Kill Wolves

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to make it easier to kill wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains to protect other wildlife and domesticated animals.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to make it easier to kill wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains to protect other wildlife and domesticated animals.

Terry Cleveland, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, calls the federal proposal a meaningful step that will help the state protect its elk herds. But Jenny Harbine, an environmental lawyer in Montana who tracks wolf issues, says the proposed rule could result in the slaughter of hundreds of wolves by aerial gunning and other means.

Sharon Rose, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver, said Tuesday that the agency intends to publish in the Federal Register this week proposed changes to the rule limiting how wolves can be killed in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The Fish and Wildlife Service plans public hearings in all three states this month on the proposal. In Wyoming, the agency also plans a public hearing on that state's recently submitted wolf management plan.

While the federal government has already approved wolf management plans from Montana and Idaho, action to remove wolves from protections under the federal Endangered Species Act in all three states has been delayed by the lack of an approved Wyoming management plan. Wyoming officials announced in May that the federal government had accepted a state plan and federal officials say wolves could be turned over to state management as soon as early next year.

Federal officials late last year estimated the wolf population in the three states at 1,300, almost three times the goal the federal government set for re-establishing the animals when it began reintroducing them in the 1990s.

Wyoming and Idaho have expressed concern in recent years that the growing wolf population is harming other wildlife. But the existing federal rule, established in 2005, required states to show that wolves were the primary cause of wildlife herds not meeting state or tribal management goals before any of the predators could be killed. But proving that wolves alone were the primary cause of wildlife declines has proven difficult for states.

Rose said that under the new proposal, states and tribes would have to prove only that wolves were only one of the major causes of wildlife herds not meeting goals in order to justify asking the federal government for authority to kill the wolves.

The proposed federal rule would require the state or tribal determination to be peer-reviewed and commented upon by the public before a final determination by the Fish and Wildlife Service whether to allow the wolves to be killed.

"This definition expands the potential impacts for which wolf removal might be warranted beyond direct predation or those causing immediate population declines," the Federal Register notice states.

Cleveland said Tuesday that he welcomes the federal proposal to ease the restrictions on killing wolves. He said the existing federal rule "set the bar so high for the state to be able to do wolf control that it's unachievable."

Cleveland said wolves exist in eight elk herd units and said that three of them are "experiencing significant impacts due to wolf predation."

While Cleveland said elk populations are above state objectives in all the units, he said, "We're sending up the red flag, saying that if the rate of wolf predation continues in the way we've see it in the last few years, it won't be long before we're below objectives."

But while the proposed federal rule calls for state and tribal applications to kill wolves to be peer-reviewed, Cleveland said he would prefer to see the federal government require a broad, programmatic peer review, not a review on each decision to kill wolves.

Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, is chairman of the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee in the Wyoming Legislature. He was among the legislators to push for wolf management legislation in the past session.

Childers also said Tuesday that it may prove difficult for the state to subject all decisions to kill wolves to protect wildlife to peer review. He said the state game department should be able to make management decisions on its own.

Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank, whose office is pressing litigation against the federal government over the wolf issue, said Tuesday that his office has not received a copy of the proposed new wolf management rules. He said he was disappointed that the Fish and Wildlife Service hasn't seen fit to share a copy.

Jenny Harbine, an attorney with Earthjustice in Bozeman, Mont., said her group is concerned that the proposed federal rule change could result in the slaughter of hundreds of wolves in Wyoming and Idaho because the states could be free to apply to kill off the population down to the minimum number of 200 in each state. She said she doesn't expect similar action in Montana, because the state hasn't asked for any change in the existing rule.

"We're deeply troubled by their proposal, which threatens to reverse more than a decade of recovery efforts for gray wolves in the northern Rockies," Harbine said. "Perhaps the most troubling is that the new rules would allow states to kill wolves that they determine are having any kind of impacts on wild ungulate (elk and deer) behavior."

The proposed federal rule would allow people to kill wolves that are in the act of attacking horses, mules, donkeys or llamas used to transport people or their possessions. It would also allow people to kill wolves attacking any kind of dogs. The earlier rule allowed people to kill wolves that were in the act of attacking livestock and herding or guard dogs.

Source: Associated Press

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