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WY: Gov pens wolf budget

Mead recommends $300,000 each for compensation and management, $200,000 to kill predators.

By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Gov. Matt Mead has budgeted more than $800,000 to manage wolves in the state during the next two years.

The $808,099 he recommended to the Legislature includes $608,099 for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to manage wolves in the state’s trophy game area in the northwest corner of the state. Another $200,000 would go to the Wyoming Department of Agriculture to kill wolves involved in livestock depredations in about 85 percent of the state where they are classified as predators.

Mead began presenting his budget to the Joint Appropriations Committee this week. The request comes after he and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came up with an agreement last fall that could result in Wyoming wolves being removed from federal Endangered Species Act protection by late next year.

The wolf management money would come from the state’s general fund. Typically, money for Wyoming Game and Fish comes from hunter revenues.

“The state is very committed and the governor is very committed to monitoring and managing the recovered population of gray wolves, and this budget is reflective of that,” said Mark Bruscino, a wildlife manager with Game and Fish. “It will fill our needs.”

Wolf management is expensive in part because of the monitoring that will be required to prove that populations in Wyoming outside Yellowstone National Park remain above the 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs required by the federal government.

“We’re going to collect information more intensively than has been done to date,” Bruscino said. “We need to show we have a recovered population and that it’s doing well.”

The Wyoming Game and Fish portion of funds includes $300,000 to compensate livestock owners for wolf kills, Bruscino said Tuesday.

A federal appropriation matches some of that money, he said.

Wyoming has “the most generous livestock compensation system in the world,” according to one study, Bruscino said.

The new state wolf reparations program would compensate only livestock producers in the trophy game management area. Most of Teton County would be in that zone.

The department pays on a 1-to-1 basis, fair market value, for adult and yearling livestock or calves killed in a corral. For calves killed on open range, the department pays up to the equivalent of seven calves for each confirmed wolf kill.

Wolf compensation has been run through the state since the animals were temporarily removed from federal protection in Wyoming in 2008.

“It’s our best fix to try and make sure that the ranching industry is not disproportionately burdened by the recovery of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Area,” Bruscino said. “That’s important to successful recovery. You reduce animosity and build support.”

One conservation group says the state is paying too much to compensate livestock producers.

“There is no quantifiable justification for paying up to seven times the confirmed loss of livestock,” Defenders of Wildlife said in comments to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department on Wyoming’s wolf management plan. “This type of inflated compensation is extremely troubling and will likely encourage poor livestock husbandry as producers are better rewarded for losing livestock than taking preventative measures to avoid predation.

“The state of Wyoming does not compensate other species at such an exaggerated rate of loss,” the comments said. “Instead, [Game and Fish] should use these funds to create incentives for good management practices that help producers prevent livestock losses and pay compensation based on a fair market value for those losses that cannot be prevented.”

Defenders of Wildlife paid livestock producers a total of $1.5 million for losses in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Wyoming, beginning in 1987. Since 1995, the group has paid $360,000 to livestock producers in Wyoming.

In the state last year, livestock producers lost 26 cattle, 33 sheep and one “other,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

“That’s much ado about very little,” said Suzanne Stone, northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

Stone pointed out a section of Wyoming’s wolf plan that states that wolves cause more livestock depredations than any other large carnivore. But by far, coyotes, mountain lions and bears cause more livestock losses, she said.

“They should have said ‘the least amount of damage by large carnivore,’” she said.