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WY: Barrasso pushes rule to quash wolf lawsuits

Wildlife groups say it’s an end run around their federal rights.

By Mike Koshmrl

Wyoming is already in charge of its wolves, but U.S. Sen. John Barrasso has set out to ensure that the courts can’t ever jeopardize the state’s jurisdiction.

His congressional counterparts, so far, agree.

A delisting provision prohibiting legal challenges of wolf delisting in Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan is bundled with Barrasso’s Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation for Wildlife Act, dubbed the HELP Act. The legislation passed committee 14-to-7 on July 26, but not before Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., failed to quash what some call an end run around the Endangered Species Act.

“I have a strong interest in preserving the publicly informed, science-driven process that currently exists for making endangered species determinations,” Carper told fellow legislators at a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works meeting last week. “And I’m not sure that legislatively delisting species is consistent with that interest.”

Carper’s amendment was shot down.

In addition to prohibiting legal challenges, the HELP Act also automatically returns wolf management to the Great Lakes states, where about 3,500 of the large canines roam.

The 300-some wolves in Wyoming have been under state jurisdiction since a U.S. Court of Appeals decided this spring to overturn a 2014 decision that sided with environmental groups.

Barrasso pointed out that his bill has bipartisan support, including that of Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

“The Obama administration’s Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the gray wolf in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes only to be dragged through seemingly never ending court processes,” Barrasso said. “These sections [of the bill] put those species’ management back where they always belonged, in the hands of the state.”

The provisions, Barrasso pointed out, do not prohibit Fish and Wildlife from promulgating future rules listing the gray wolf as threatened or endangered.

Some wildlife advocacy groups have staunchly opposed the HELP Act and criticized the delisting rider. Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark dubbed the HELP Act a “misnomer.”

“No matter how many sweeteners are added,” Clark said in a statement, “defending the integrity of our bedrock environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act should be the number one priority in a Congress marked by chaos and attacks on our most basic environmental protections.”

Barrasso’s camp said in a press release that over 50 conservation groups, including the National Wildlife Federation, support the act.

The wolf stipulations are packaged in legislation to reauthorize and fund the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Act, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act and Chesapeake Bay restoration programs. It backs expansion of public shooting ranges and clarifies baiting rules for waterfowl hunters.