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Associated Press

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - The state's evolving wolf-management plan is under fire from both conservationists and ranchers, but for opposite reasons.

The conservation community said the latest plan does not go far enough to guarantee survival of the species. The agriculture industry believes the draft goes too far in protecting wolves, which sometimes prey on livestock.

About 660 wolves now roam Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, enough for federal wildlife officials to declare their recovery a success and move toward removing wolves from the endangered species list in those states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to propose delisting this year, with the goal of having the wolves taken off the list next year.

The three states first must prove to a panel of scientists and federal wildlife officials that gray wolves will continue thriving under their control.

Earlier this year, the Wyoming Legislature approved a bill that classifies wolves two ways.

The animals would be managed as trophy game in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and contiguous wilderness areas, subject to regulated hunting although no hunting is allowed by federal law in the parks.

Wolves would be classified as predators elsewhere in the state, subject to being shot on sight with few restrictions. That has environmentalists cringing.

A coalition of 10 conservation groups submitted a letter containing their comments on the plan to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which plans to release its final draft July 18 and begin receiving public comment.

The letter is brief, according to David Gailliard of the Bozeman-based Predator Conservation Alliance, who helped draft the comments.

"We're not going to tinker with the plan because it's flawed on a fundamental level," he said.

Franz Camenzind, director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, said areas where killing would be limited are too small to ensure the species' survival.

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said his group is disappointed because the draft deviates too much from the new state law.

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The law gives Game and Fish authority to expand protection for wolves if numbers fall below seven packs outside the national parks and contiguous wilderness areas.

The plan calls for expanding protection if wolf numbers "approach" seven packs, which Magagna said is not in keeping with the law.

Also, he said, the draft would expand protection areas beyond national forest lands east to Cody and Meeteetse and south along the Wind River Range to Pinedale. Those areas should not be designated trophy game areas until the packs fall below seven, Magagna said.

He also disputed the plan's inclusion of the Gros Ventre Wilderness in the protected area because it is separated from Grand Teton National Park by the National Elk Refuge and therefore is not contiguous as the law stipulates.

While the public comment period has not yet begun, the Game and Fish Department solicited reaction to the draft from conservationists through the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and from ranchers through the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.

Game and Fish Deputy Director Bill Wichers said the agency wanted the two sides' input but did not have time nor money for a public comment period before the final plan is released.

"We've gotten a pretty good feel for the range of comments and hot-button issues that certain segments of the public have," he said.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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