Mead won't follow Montana governor on wolves

2011-02-17T23:30:00Z 2011-02-19T11:29:22Z Mead won't follow Montana governor on wolves

By JOAN BARRON

Casper Star-Tribune

The Billings Gazette
February 17, 2011 11:30 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Gov. Matt Mead said Thursday that he still believes a “congressional fix” is the best way to resolve the legal issues over wolf management in the state and region.

Mead, in a brief interview, said he understands the frustration of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, which is shared by Wyoming and Idaho.

Schweitzer is defying the federal government by encouraging livestock owners to kill wolves that attack their animals even in areas where it is not currently allowed. He also plans to have state agents kill wolves that are harming some elk herds.

“I think you have to be cautious about telling people to go break federal law,” said Mead, a former chief federal prosecutor for Wyoming.

If there isn't a federal fix, he said, there are some things the state can do short of breaking federal law.

“What I'm doing right now is to take one more fresh approach with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Interior on whether there can be a permanent resolution of the wolf problem,” he said.

“I want to take a crack at this,” he said.

Mead said his sense is that the timing with federal officials is good.

During a meeting with Fish and Wildlife Service representatives, they were were asking what Wyoming wants, he said.

He said there had been tension between former Gov. Dave Freudenthal and the federal authorities over the long-standing wolf issue.

“I sense this is a new start,” Mead said.

A provision in a budget bill pending before Congress would revoke endangered species status for wolves in Montana and Idaho. Other measures introduced by lawmakers would lift federal protections across the lower 48 states.

Schweitzer told reporters Wednesday that he no longer is willing to wait for federal officials to resolve the lawsuits over wolves, which kept the animals on the endangered species list for a decade since recovery goals were first met.

“We will take action in Montana on our own,” he said. “We've had it with Washington, D.C., with Congress just yipping about it, with (the Department of) Interior just vacillating about it. What we see in Washington, D.C., is motion masquerading as action.”

Mead, Wyoming's new Republican chief executive, said he has seen Schweitzer's letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

In that letter, the Democratic governor said state game wardens will be directed to stop investigating wolf shootings north of Interstate 90, the part of the state with the heaviest protections for the animals.

Schweitzer also said he directed Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to begin removing packs in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula that have been driving down elk populations.

Wyoming officials also have complained that wolves are taking a heavy toll on some elk herds in northwest Wyoming. While federal agents regularly kill wolves that prey on livestock in the state, no such action is taken as a result of wildlife killed by wolves.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has no significant role in wolf management in the state, at least in part because the federal government doesn't approve of the state's plan to manage the animals once delisted.

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