CHEYENNE Gov. Dave Freudenthal says a conversation he had with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife director left him concerned whether Wyoming's wolf management plan will be accepted.
"I'm a little nervous about the tone of the comments," Freudenthal said Tuesday.
Freudenthal said he talked to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams in Big Sky, Mont., while attending the Western Governors' Association meeting Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
Wyoming, Montana and Idaho must have plans in place for managing gray wolves before the animal can be taken off the federal endangered species list. The plans must assure the wolf population will remain at sustainable levels, and all three states have adopted wolf plans.
The next step toward delisting is a peer review process, in which scientists and wildlife managers review the plans to determine if they meet their described goals and ensure the wolf population continues to thrive.
Concerns have been raised about Wyoming's plan because it has a dual classification of wolves as trophy game subject to regulated hunting in some parts of the state and as predators that could be shot with few limitations in others.
Williams, the federal government's official policy spokesman on wolf issues, did not say anything specific indicating that Wyoming's plan was not sufficient, Freudenthal said.
Still, he said, "I didn't come away optimistic."
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Williams inquired whether Wyoming would consider making its plan a little tougher to protect wolves to ensure that their numbers stay up, Freudenthal said.
The governor said he told Williams that strengthening the plan is unlikely, and there is actually pressure to weaken the plan.
Freudenthal said people on both sides of the wolf debate want the federal government to reject Wyoming's plan.
Some want the plan rejected because they think it protects wolves too much, while some hope the plan is rejected so the wolves will stay on the endangered species list with full protections.
Freudenthal said he is aligned with the crowd that doesn't want wolves in Wyoming.
But the wolves are here to stay, like it or not, he said, so the best thing Wyoming can do is develop a plan acceptable to start moving the wolves off the endangered species list.
Otherwise, the wolf population will continue to grow, and their range will expand as well, Freudenthal said.
The scientific peer review of the state proposals is likely to take a month or two, and officials have said a delisting proposal could then come as early as year's end if all three state plans pass review and promise the survival of the region's wolf population.
Freudenthal said Williams told him the panel of scientists and wildlife managers will be in place soon.
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