WY: Park County jumps into wolf litigation

Written by CJ Baker

Partnering with other groups

Rather than act as a lone wolf, Park County is joining a pack of sportsmen, agricultural and local government groups to support Wyoming’s wolf management plan in federal court.

In past litigation over the management of the controversial predator, Park County acted independently, having the Park County Attorney’s Office represent its unique interests as home to the bulk of the state-managed wolves.

This time, commissioners have chosen to partner with the Wyoming Wolf Coalition. It’s made up “of a variety of sportsmen, outfitting and agricultural organizations, as well as several counties,” said Harriet Hageman, a Cheyenne attorney who’s representing the group. Hageman said Wednesday that the coalition’s roster is still being finalized.

Park County will pay $3,000 for its membership; a minimum of $2,000 was being requested.

The Wolf Coalition intends to aid the state of Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in defending the state’s wolf management plan from environmental groups who say it fails to adequately protect the species.

The federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved Wyoming’s plan last August as a direct result of a November 2010 decision from District Court Judge Alan Johnson. That decision — fought for by a previous version of the Wyoming Wolf Coalition, Park County and the state of Wyoming — found the Fish and Wildlife Service had largely been wrong to reject Wyoming’s plan. A subsequent agreement with the state led to its first, regulated wolf hunt over the fall and winter in northwest Wyoming and allowed citizens to shoot the animals on sight in the rest of state. At the end of December, a total of 42 wolves were killed through hunting in the northwest “trophy game area” and another 31 had been killed elsewhere in the state as of late January, according to a report in the Jackson Hole News and Guide.

Some supporters of Wyoming’s wolf plan think “We fought and we fought and we fought and we fought and we’ve won,” said Park County Commissioner Joe Tilden. “But now we’ve still got one more big battle to fight.”

Two suits challenging Wyoming’s management — led by the Defenders of Wildlife and the Humane Society of the United States — have been filed in Washington, D.C., while another, initially filed in Denver by WildEarth Guardians and others, has been transferred to Judge Johnson in Cheyenne. The Wyoming Wolf Coalition is currently intervening only in the case before Judge Johnson, but hopes all the litigation ends up in Johnson’s court in one single, consolidated case.

To join the litigation on its own, Park County would have had to show the state of Wyoming and the Wolf Coalition weren’t adequately representing the county’s interests, said Deputy Park County Attorney Jim Davis. He suggested there might not be much of a difference between joining the coalition and going it alone.

“I guess, hypothetically, you would lose some identity in a big group like that, but it’s really up to you,” Davis told commissioners on Tuesday. “I don’t think it would make a significant difference this time around if we either went (by) ourselves, independently or as part of a different group — or (do) nothing, potentially rely on them (the coalition) or the state of Wyoming to carry the day for their own plan.”

Commissioners all felt Park County needed to jump into the fray.

“Wyoming has got to maintain control over these wolves,” Tilden said, calling it “imperative” for the county to stay involved with the issue.

“Park County’s been on the forefront, so we don’t want to stop now,” said Commissioner Tim French.

Mark Bruscino, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s large carnivore supervisor, thanked commissioners for their support of the state’s wolf plan. He said the recent hunt slightly reduced the population in the trophy game area as part of a plan to take things slow in the first year.

“We ended up just about where we wanted to be,” Bruscino said.

So far, none of the environmental groups challenging the state’s wolf plan have asked for an injunction to immediately block it.

“What the U.S. Attorney’s Office believes is they (the wolf plan opponents) are waiting for our annual report, which will come out about March 15,” Bruscino told commissioners.

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