Wolves on agenda for Wyoming Legislature's final week

Wolves on agenda for Wyoming Legislature's final week

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Before the Wyoming Legislature wraps it up and goes home Thursday, many lawmakers hope the state will have a new plan for how to manage wolves.

The Senate has scheduled a hearing on a wolf bill for Monday. The bill calls for accepting, at least for discussion purposes, the federal government's recent proposal to designate a permanent wolf management area in the northwestern Wyoming.

The state and federal governments have been wrestling over wolf management since 2004. That year, Wyoming sued the federal government after officials rejected the state's original wolf management plan.

The bill pending in the Senate contains provisions that would specify the new state plan would expire in just one year unless the federal government takes steps that state officials say are unlikely. Those provisions include removing the wolf from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act and ending ongoing wolf litigation with the state.

Nonetheless, supporters of the bill say passing it would have value because it would give the federal government a clear word of the state's position. They say adopting a new plan would also allow the state to continue bargaining, rather than pinning all its hopes on the outcome of the court case.

"I hope it gets to my desk," Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Friday. He said passing the bill would give the state a "vehicle that continues the discussions."

Freudenthal said federal officials recently have expressed some willingness to talk about modifying their wolf management rule.

The state says the existing rule makes it extremely difficult for Wyoming to kill wolves that are killing too many of the state's wildlife. State officials say wolf depredation by growing packs could soon result in reducing elk hunting opportunities in areas of northwestern Wyoming.

"It's not just for Wyoming, it's created a huge problem in Idaho and it's created a huge problem in Montana," Freudenthal said of the federal government's current restrictions on allowing state's to kill wolves.

Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, is chairman of the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee. The bill up for discussion on Monday is a Senate substitute of his original wolf bill.

Childers said Friday he believes that it's possible the bill could clear the House if the Senate sends it over. He said House members would need to understand that the federal government isn't likely to meet all the conditions necessary for the wolf management plan to survive past next year.

"It's basically telling the federal government, 'we propose doing some things; you have to do some things,"' Childers said.

Sen. President John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, said Friday the wolf bill would give the state "at least the ability to manage wolves for both livestock and wildlife."

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