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WY: SF 41 ‘wolf bill’ ready for Senate

BY: Andrew Setterholm

Legislation to shift control of wolf management from the federal government to the state will be presented at the Wyoming Legislature’s budget session, which begins Feb. 13.

Senate File (SF) 0041 includes statute amendments that will replace the state’s current management plan, which has not been in effect since wolves were relisted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and given federal protections. The new law would then be in place for the FWS’ anticipated acceptance of its proposed final delisting rule, published in October.

If ratified by the legislature, SF0041 will have several implications for Sublette County residents.

The legislative session is the latest step in a long-fought battle by Wyoming lawmakers to delist the gray wolf. Last July, Gov. Matt Mead reached an agreement with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, following Congressional delistings of Idaho and Montana’s gray wolves, to return wolf management to the state. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (G&F) also worked to help create the management plan in accordance with the FWS requirements that is now the backbone of SF0041.

Steve Ferrell, the governor’s wildlife and endangered species policy advisor, said the legislative session’s action is “a critical step” in returning wolf management to the state.

“It’s the legislature’s chance to agree with, or ratify, the agreement that the governor has reached with the Secretary of the Interior,” Ferrell said.

One of the major elements contained in the bill is to set the boundaries that determine the state’s dual classifications of wolves. In the area around Wyoming’s national parks, wolves will be classified as trophy game animals. In the rest of the state, they will be classified as predators. There will also be a “flex area” where the wolves’ status will change seasonally between trophy game animal and predator zones, called the Wyoming Trophy Game Management Area (WTGMA).

In the bill’s proposed borders, Sublette County contains all three of the wolf classifications – the northwest part is in the flex area, the northeast section is a trophy game area and the rest of the county is a predator area.

A major concern of Sublette residents throughout the wolf’s 20-plus-year reintroduction and delisting process has been livestock producers’ ability to protect their animals. If the bill is ratified and the FWS then delists wolves, the state expects to have more flexible options in controlling wolves, especially in regard to livestock damage, explained Ken Mills of the Pinedale G&F office.

“In terms of management, a delisted population provides flexibility,” Mills said.

The three areas – predator, trophy game and flex zones – would have different ways of dealing with wolf damage to livestock and private property. G&F would be able to monitor these cases more actively, whereas the FWS has only been able to act responsively to damage-claim cases.

In the bill’s trophy game area and during the trophy season in the “flex” area, a person will be able to kill a wolf damaging their private property. This includes wolves biting, chasing or harassing livestock or domestic animals. Currently, a wolf may only be killed in the act of biting or killing a livestock animal on private property.

G&F would be responsible for reimbursement in cases of livestock damage in these areas. They could also issue “lethal take” permits any time there are two livestock-wolf incidents within two months of each other. A livestock producer would then have 45 days to take two wolves in the area and would receive the assistance of G&F in removing the problematic predator. The permit could also be reissued by G&F beyond 45 days if necessary.

“It’s an extra tool that we’ll have,” Mills said of the lethal take permits.

These are currently issued by FWS, which is also responsible for lethal control.

In the predator area and during the predator season in the flex zone, wolves could be killed on sight similar to other predators like coyotes. G&F would not, however, pay for livestock damage in the predator area. If wolf damage is a problem, residents of the predator zone could seek the assistance of the Predator Board.

Hunting seasons are another responsibility that the G&F Commission would be tasked with under the bill. Wolf hunting licenses would be issued by the G&F for trophy game areas that would overlap other fall big game seasons, though the wolf season could be extended if quotas were not met.

SF4001 contains appropriations totaling $500,000 to fund the statutes. The bill sets aside $300,000 for “funding damage payments for wolf depredation of livestock.” The bill also appropriates $200,000 to fund the animal damage management account. These appropriations would begin with the effective date of the act through June 30, 2014.