Lots of time, money spent on wolves, grizzlies
By JEFF GEARINO
Southwest Wyoming bureau
GREEN RIVER — Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioners spent a lot of time,
effort and money in 2003 managing two federally-listed endangered species
– the grizzly bear and the gray wolf.
Both species are well on their way towards delisting, according to agency
Much of the commission’s efforts in 2003 dealt with trying to speed up the
process of removing the animals’ listing under the Endangered Species Act
(ESA), while at the same time searching for new funding sources to manage
Last year, the commission unanimously approved a final grizzly bear
management plan. Wyoming, Idaho and Montana must have U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service (USFWS) approved management plans for post-delisting of
the animal in place before a petition to delist can be submitted.
Wyoming’s plan calls for allowing grizzly bears to expand outside of
current recovery zones around Yellowstone National Park into biologically
suitable and socially acceptable areas.
The commission decided in late 2003 to seek the public’s help next year in
determining exactly where those biologically suitable and socially
acceptable areas will be within grizzly bear occupation zones.
Several criteria still need to be met before a delisting petition can be
submitted, according to Game and Fish Wildlife Division Assistant Chief
Six forest plans still need to be amended and incorporated into the
larger, federal grizzly bear conservation strategy. And the USFWS is also
working to complete a distinct population analysis, which should be issued
by the end of 2004, Emmerich said.
The commission also adopted a final gray wolf management plan for Wyoming
this year after successfully seeking legislation in February that changed
the state law to allow for a dual classification of the wolf as both a
predator and a trophy game animal under the plan.
The commission then sent its plan — along with Montana and Idaho’s wolf
management plan — to a USFWS-led team of scientists and wildlife managers
for peer review.
That 11-member team concluded last month that the three state plans should
be enough to maintain a viable wolf population into the foreseeable future
and ensure the animals’ survival in the Northern Rockies.
The commission’s delisting efforts on both species got a boost in October,
when Gov. Dave Freudenthal appointed Ryan Lance — an assistant attorney
in the Attorney General’s Office — as the state’s new endangered species
coordinator. He replaced Jody Levin, who left during the summer.
Here’s a month-by-month look at some commission moves in 2003 regarding
wolves and grizzly bears:
Grizzly bear actions
January: Commissioners grudgingly decided once again to stay in the
grizzly bear management business while the department searches for new
funding sources. Commissioners decried the lack of federal funding to help
the agency pay for the roughly $1.4 million in both direct and indirect
costs that were required in 2002 to manage the grizzly bear.
March: The commission held a telephone conference call in March so the
board can quickly sign off on the draft Conservation Strategy for managing
the bear after its protections are removed under the ESA. The commission
voted to approve the document sight unseen so the Yellowstone Ecosystem
Grizzly Bear Subcommittee may finalize the conservation strategy at their
July: The commission voted to file a petition to delist the grizzly bear
in hopes it might speed up the process of removing the animal’s federal
protections. Commissioners rejected another motion to get out of the
grizzly bear business and instead decided to continue funding grizzly bear
management while exploring whether the board has the legal authority to
submit a delisting petition.
In a related move, the commission approved a formula that nearly doubles
the percentage currently paid to western Wyoming ranchers for calves and
lambs missing in areas occupied by grizzly bears.
August: Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee members meeting in Cody said a
draft proposal to delist grizzly bears could be released in early 2005,
but cited reviews, lawsuits and funding concerns as potential delays.
November: The commission decided to seek the public’s help in 2004 in
determining exactly where the biologically suitable and socially
acceptable areas outlined in the state’s management plan will be within
grizzly bear occupation zones.
The department proposed allowing bears to expand into areas within the
Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) with an outer boundary running along
Wyoming highways at the edge of the ecosystem. The plan would not allow
bears in the Big Horn range, the Snowy Range or the Sierra Madre
Gray wolf action
January: The department presented the commissioners with a nearly
3,000-page report on the draft Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan. The
agency received more than 6,000 public comments on the plan and for the
first time, a great majority of the comments — about 92 percent — came
The commission also heard the results of a Game and Fish survey that found
that almost 80 percent of Wyoming residents want to see management of the
gray wolf returned to the state.
The commission decided after much discussion to not delay adoption of a
final wolf plan, despite recommendations from department officials that
the commission should wait for the state to change the law to allow for
dual classification of the wolf.
February: The commission reversed that decision and voted to delay the
final adoption of the wolf plan to allow the Legislature to change state
law before having the agency’s trophy game section write the final
management plan. The statutes are changed by lawmakers in late February.
March: The USFWS reclassifies wolves in all or portions of nine Western
states from endangered to threatened under the ESA. The downlisting begins
the next phase of the service’s plan — delisting, or the removal of all
federal protections and letting states manage gray wolves.
July: The commission approved a final gray wolf management plan for
Wyoming. The plan includes the controversial dual classification of the
wolf as both a predator and a trophy game animal. More than 20 residents
and parties testified on the state plan.
The commission also directed the department to prepare a budget regarding
the funding that will be needed for the transition of management authority
to Wyoming once delisting occurs. The plan was sent to a USFWS-led peer
review team for review.
August: In response to a request from Gov. Dave Freudenthal, the USFWS
named two people to act as liaisons to the state on wolf management
issues. Ed Bangs, the service’s wolf recovery coordinator, is named the
federal government’s liaison to the state on technical issues, while USFWS
Director Steve Williams is the official policy spokesman on wolf issues.
September: A coalition of 17 conservation groups filed a lawsuit to stop
efforts to reduce federal protections for gray wolves. The lawsuit asks a
federal judge to find the agency violated the ESA when it changed the gray
wolf from an endangered to a threatened species.
October: A select team of scientists and wildlife managers started work on
a peer review of the state plans of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to see if
the plans will meet USFWS delisting requirements and ensure the survival
of the region’s wolf populations.
November: A panel of 11 wildlife managers and scientists concluded in a
report that the states’ management plans for the wolf after delisting
should maintain a viable population. But the report said experts are
concerned about whether there will be enough money to properly manage the
wolves and how the states plan to monitor the animals.