State Scrambles To Fix Wolf Plan

Sep 26, 2014

This week a federal judge placed Wyoming’s wolves back on the endangered species list after ruling that the state’s management plan did not offer adequate protection for the wolves. The plan that the state and federal government negotiated would keep the number of wolves that are outside of National Parks to over 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs. But the Judge ruled that Wyoming’s plan was not binding.

In the order, the Judge generally supported Wyoming’s management plan. But since the population numbers were not legally binding, she agreed with environmental groups who argued that wolves are at risk long term. Especially since Wyoming’s plan says that wolves can be shot on sight in most of the state. 

“I think this is a significant indication that Wyoming’s wolf management program which was the most hostile of any of the states in the northern Rockies, is not a good prescription for compliance with the endangered species act.”

That’s Earthjustice Attorney Tim Preso who argued against the state plan. Preso admits that with a trophy game zone in northwest Wyoming that protects wolves, except at a time of year when they can be hunted,  Wyoming’s wolf plan did lead to a conservative number of wolf kills. But he also noted that the plan was under litigation. While the state behaved initially, he said there were no guarantees that the plan would remain in effect in the future.  He is hopeful that the state will move to protect wolves and not kill them.

“Wyoming’s law that treated wolves as vermin that could be shot on sight throughout 85% of the state is no longer in effect and wolves will be managed to conserve and recover them.”

But the state acted quickly and asked for a stay of the Judge’s ruling and then had the Game and Fish Commission adopt a rule that essentially puts Wyoming’s wolf plan into law. Wyoming Governor Matt Mead says the rule should address the concerns of the judge and he hopes she acts quickly because the state’s wolf hunt is looming. Mead says the facts show that the plan has worked.

“Even with the predator area, there’s not sort of this mass killing that some of those who opposed it had predicted.  In fact the trophy game area we didn’t fill all of the licenses last year and in the predator area it’s pretty steady but we are well above 100, in fact we are closer to 200.”

Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott says the state has shown that its management of wolves is more successful than federal management.

“If you look at the take of wolves by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service for damage and depredation and those types of things prior to state management, we have reduced that number significantly.”

Most of those who worked hard to get wolves delisted are trying to be patient. Ken Hamilton with the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation hopes the Judge does not delay too long, mostly because many ranchers seem to be confused about what they can and cannot do.

“Your are somewhat putting the folks in the state of Wyoming into peril legally if there under the mistaken impression that they can take a wolf harassing their livestock or something like that only to find out later that they just violated the endangered species act.”

Few have fought longer against having wolves in the state than Jim Magagna who heads up the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association.  ut he is resigned to the fact that wolves are here to stay and he likes Wyoming’s management plan. After reading the court ruling, Magagna is confident that the Judge will give management back to the state. 

But he also thinks the issue is far from over.

“I was looking at an article written several years ago yesterday that said for some of the environmental community the wolf is the cash cow, I think that after 20 years it continues to be the cash cow and I think there will be challenges in the future.”

Magagna adds that while ranchers, wolves, and even those who enjoy wolves can co-exist…the environmentalists may be another matter. 

“No doubt in my mind that others out there see the wolf and some of these other iconic species as a land use control mechanism or a way to get rid of livestock grazing on public land.”

In other words, no matter what happens with this case, Magagna plans on more legal fights in the future.