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But legal challenges likely to continue
Gov. Matt Mead signed Wyoming’s wolf management bill Wednesday, following nearly unanimous support of the bill by both houses of the Wyoming Legislature.
Senate File 41 sticks closely to the agreement Mead hammered out with the federal government last fall. It would allow predator zones in much of the state and a trophy game area in a portion of northwest Wyoming, where a license would be required to hunt the canines.
“I’m obviously pleased with the progression of the wolf bill,” Mead said Monday.
But many Wyoming wolf management backers are not exhaling a sigh of relief just yet. They say it will be challenged in court as soon as the animal is delisted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this fall.
As wildlife advocate Chris Colligan noted, every wolf decision thus far has been litigated by one party or another. Colligan is with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition in Jackson.
Tim Hockhalter of Timber Creek Outfitters in Cody and others, including some Wyoming legislators, foresee more lawsuits contesting Wyoming wolf management.
They want Congress to step in.
In Idaho and Montana, where wolves are hunted, congressional protections are in place against wolf lawsuits. A similar safeguard is needed for Wyoming, Hockhalter said.
“Unless something gets done in Congress, I don’t think Wyoming is going anywhere,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo, patted Mead and the Wyoming Legislature on the back for getting the wolf plan done.
“As usual, Wyoming is holding up its end of the bargain,” Lummis said. “I realize that history does not provide us with many examples to instill confidence, but I do expect the federal government will at long last make good on their promises too.”
“Allowing never-ending litigation on this matter is not an option,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. “I will continue to look for opportunities to pass legislation that will ensure Wyoming’s wolf management plan receives the same level of protection given to Idaho and Montana.”
Still, there is no guarantee that Wyoming will be afforded the protections that Idaho and Wyoming enjoy.
“Isn’t it ironic that Wyoming would seek a federal bailout instead of coming up with a legally defensible plan?” Colligan said.
The plan outlined in the bill, with its dual classification and a predator zone in most of the state, is not legally defensible, Colligan said.
“That’s the real glaring issue,” he said.
The flex zone, south and slightly west of Jackson and bordering Idaho, will be managed as a trophy game area from Oct. 15 to the end of February to provide wolf dispersal. The rest of the year, it will be a predator zone. The problem, according to Fish and Wildlife, is wolves disperse year-round, Colligan said.
The bill states Wyoming will manage for 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves outside Yellowstone National Park. The state has nearly twice that number now.
In a Monday Game and Fish Commission addendum to the Wyoming wolf plan, a buffer to exceed the minimum population objectives is mentioned, but the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission did not specify how many wolves that would be.
If the department is authorized to manage the canines, Game and Fish will err on the side of caution with a 150 wolf population objective, Hockhalter said.
With that count, Hockhalter said he believes Wyoming can maintain a genetically healthy population.
Two and four-legged hunters and their quarry should be managed equally. The Wyoming Game and Fish is perfectly capable of managing wolves. All Wyoming needs is the chance to do just that, he said.
“There has got to be room in the equation for everything,” Hockhalter said.
Law firms filing suits are making lots of money in legal fees. “It’s a moneymaker for Earthjustice,” Hockhalter said.
But with millions of dollars spent on wolf recovery, Colligan said, it doesn’t make sense to be chomping at the bit to get wolves delisted.
“For all the work done,” he said, “we may be back on the drawing board.”