Feds urged to change wolf policy
By MIKE STARK
Gazette Wyoming Bureau
With gray wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho on the brink of meeting
target numbers for recovery, state managers are worried about delays and
lawsuits that could bog down efforts to remove wolves from federal
With that in mind, wildlife managers in five Rocky Mountain states sent a
letter last week urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to abandon
plans to lump wolf recovery in the region around Yellowstone with the
situation in other Western states.
Otherwise, “we’re going to have a huge political and judicial fight that
will tie us in knots for years,” said Chris Smith, chief of staff for
Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
In summer 2000, FWS proposed a national approach to wolf recovery that,
among other things, divided wolf populations into distinct groups. The
Western population included Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Oregon,
Utah, Colorado and portions of Arizona and New Mexico.
Under the proposed plan, wolves in those states would be reclassified from
endangered to threatened, except for some that would be given
“nonessential experimental status.”
When looking at delisting, the FWS would have to determine that 30 or more
breeding pairs in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming would be sufficient to ensure
the viability of wolves throughout the nine-state Western population area,
At a conference last week in Dallas, state wildlife bosses from Idaho,
Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico signed a letter urging FWS
Director Steve Williams to scrap that approach.
Smith said the states want delisting in the three Northern Rockies states
to be considered on its own merits, without being linked to questions
about wolf recovery elsewhere in the West.
“If there are questions raised about whether having wolves in Wyoming,
Idaho and Montana is sufficient to declare them delisted across” the rest
of the West, Smith said, “there’s an absolute certainty there will be
John Baughman, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said the
letter is part of legal strategy to get wolves in the three states off the
Endangered Species List as fast as possible.
“Our feeling is, why take the risk of tying things up in court by
broadening the potential areas that might be litigated?” Baughman said.
“Virtually anyone can file a one- or two-page lawsuit and tie things up.”
The five states urged the FWS to take a regional approach to wolf recovery
“rather than trying to resolve every management question in all parts of
The so-called “national rule,” expected to be finalized this summer, has
few supporters and is ripe for lawsuits that could derail delisting for
wolves that have been restored, the letter says.
“Devising a strategy that leads to delisting in this region should be our
highest priority because it will both reward success and provide us with a
framework for moving forward in other parts of the country,” the letter
Greg Schildwachter, policy adviser for the governor’s Office of Species
Conservation in Idaho, said wolf populations in the three states have
exceeded all expectations “but they’re still managed under a rule that
treats them as the last of their breed.”
The wolves don’t need to be reclassified, he said, they simply need to be
removed from federal management.
“Basically the wolves have recovered themselves biologically and we need
to recover them bureaucratically,” he said.
He noted the elimination of a wolf pack in central Idaho last week.
Wildlife managers shot all 10 members of the Whitehawk Mountain pack for
killing local livestock.
“They’re getting accustomed to private lands and you know they’re headed
for trouble,” he said. Locals need more power to handle the wolves, he
Although conservation groups may have disagreements about how the states
might manage the wolves after delisting, the states should be applauded
for trying to keep the Northern Rockies wolf projects separate from other
states, said Tom France, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s
Northern Rockies office.
“I think it’s good advice to the Fish and Wildlife Service to stay focused
on the areas where you’ve had good success,” France said. “One lesson
we’ve learned is that the bigger the target, the harder it is to achieve
what you intended.”