CASPER, Wyo. — Hope may have triumphed temporarily over faith and experience Friday, when a legislative council approved Wyoming's one-third contribution toward continued negotiations about removing wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming from the federal endangered species list.
No one at the Legislative Management Council's meeting in Casper expressed any faith in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after their experiences with the agency's approved-then-disapproved wolf management plans, how the states' plans coincide or don't, and years of litigation.
Meanwhile, wolves continue to multiply at 10 percent a year, said Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee.
But Schiffer and Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, said they may have a solution.
“One of the biggest obstacles we have is the credibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Burns said. “I want to change the paradigm.”
He and Schiffer have met with legislators from Idaho and Montana to coordinate their respective plans for removing wolves from the endangered species list and putting states in charge of their management.
The legislators formed the approximately 14-member Tri-State Wolf Compact Commission after U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Montana reinstated Endangered Species Act protection for wolves in Montana and Idaho.
The entire Rocky Mountain wolf population, including the animals in Wyoming, either must be listed as an endangered species or removed from the list. Protections for the same population can't be different for each state, Molloy said in his August ruling.
Wyoming's plan, which had been accepted then rejected by the Fish and Wildlife Service, would have established areas near Yellowstone National Park where wolves would have trophy game status if they maintained 15 breeding pairs, but wolves could be shot on sight nearly everywhere else. The agency's rejection of the plan meant continuing federal control over wolves.
Burns and Schiffer have been working with Bill Myers, an attorney with Holland and Hart who was the solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
They hope a revised state plan, if approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service, would render moot Molloy's ruling.
It also may end Wyoming's lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior. That lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson disputes federal government claims that Wyoming's management plan would not ensure a sustainable minimum population of wolves.
Molloy's and Johnson's rulings invariably will be appealed to the 9th and 10th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, Burns said. If those rulings contradict each other, they'll be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take upward of a decade to resolve while wolves would continue to multiply, he said.
The revised plan, Schiffer said, would steer clear of using the word “predator,” extend the trophy game area to the Snake River so wolves could cross into Idaho to mate with wolves there, and add Wyoming Game and Fish Department authority over specific management zones such as counties in eastern Wyoming that would allow open season all year.
If the Fish and Wildlife Service accepts the changes, Burns and Schiffer said they would introduce a wolf-management bill to the Legislature.
Rep. Colin Simpson, R-Cody, questioned how far such a bill could go without approval from the executive branch.
Burns said he met with Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Attorney General Bruce Salzburg, and both panned the idea because of their experiences with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Burns and Schiffer have not spoken to Gov.-elect Matt Mead after his election on Nov. 2.
Bob Wharff, executive director of Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, was the only person who spoke during Friday's public meeting.
While he appreciated the efforts of the Tri-State Wolf Compact Commission to achieve delisting, Wharff said they also send the wrong message to Congress that states alone can fix wildlife problems instead of reworking or scrapping the Endangered Species Act altogether.
“Wolf reintroduction has proved to be a fiasco,” he said. “The Endangered Species Act is broke.”
Even so, the Legislative Management Council voted to pay Myers' first bill of $10,222.50, and agreed to pay up to $7,500 for his future work. Myers charges $375 an hour.
Despite the skepticism, Sen. Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, expressed some hope for a resolution.
“There doesn't seem to be any harm in doing discussions,” Ross said. “The more we learn, the better decisions we can make.”
Contact Tom Morton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-266-0592.