CHEYENNE — A coalition of environmental groups has dropped one of two lawsuits challenging last year's decision by federal officials to turn over management of Wyoming wolves to the state.
A notice dismissing the lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Cheyenne by lawyers for WildEarth Guardians and eight other groups. That leaves a similar suit filed by a different coalition of groups pending in federal court in Washington, D.C.
Both lawsuits generally claim that the state's wolf management plan doesn't provide adequate protection for the animals. The plan classifies wolves as predators that can be shot on sight in most of the state and allows regulated hunting elsewhere.
In dropping the Wyoming lawsuit, the groups decided that it wasn't an efficient use of anyone's resources to have two lawsuits over the same thing going on in two different places, said attorney Jay Tutchton, who represents WildEarth Guardians. "The way for us to fix that, within our own control, is what we did," he said.
Tutchton said his clients still believe in the merits of their case, and their action also stands as a vote of confidence in the lawyers pressing the parallel case in Washington, D.C.
Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips wasn't available for comment on Friday, his office said.
Renny MacKay, spokesman for Wyo. Gov. Matt Mead, said Friday the governor is reviewing the state's legal options. Mead believes it's premature to say the Wyoming litigation is finished, MacKay said.
In the Washington case, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied a request last month from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of Wyoming to transfer that lawsuit to the federal court in Cheyenne. The Wyoming case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson.
Tutchton initially filed his clients' lawsuit in Denver, but a judge there granted a request from the state and the Fish and Wildlife Service to transfer the case to Wyoming.
Asked if he dropped the case in Wyoming because an environmental lawsuit could be more likely to succeed in Washington, Tutchton responded: "I'm not going to say that. I suspect others would, to be honest. I think that federal judges do their jobs."
Cheyenne lawyer Harriet Hageman represents the Wyoming Wolf Coalition, which includes many county governments along with agricultural and sportsmen groups. Many hunters and ranchers in the state believe wolves have taken an unacceptable toll on livestock and other wildlife since the federal government reintroduced them in Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s.
The coalition has argued that the state's wolf management plans were adequate.
Hageman said Friday it's clear to her that the environmental groups decided to drop the case in Cheyenne because they don't want Johnson ruling again on the state's wolf plan. He heard an earlier lawsuit on the matter.
"In November of 2010, he pretty much upheld Wyoming's plan as it existed even at that time," Hageman said.
Wyoming took over wolf management from the federal government last October and promptly staged a wolf hunt in a zone designated for regulated hunting that borders Yellowstone National Park. State officials say there were about 300 wolves in the state outside of Yellowstone when the state took over.
The state game department has reported that hunters killed 68 wolves in the state from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 last year. Of those, 42 were killed in the trophy hunting zone bordering Yellowstone, while 26 were killed as unprotected predators elsewhere in the state.
Wyoming has committed to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs of wolves and at least 100 animals outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Indian Reservation. If populations fall below those numbers, it would trigger a return to federal control.
State wildlife officials have said they need to reduce the number of wolves killed by regulated hunting this fall to make sure that the number of wolves doesn't drop too low.