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Resolution to Rockies Wolf Management Issues soon?

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The director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition predicted Friday a solution to the wolf management stalemate in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

Speaking at the annual gathering of members of the Bozeman, Montana, -based conservation organization at Snow King Resort, Mike Clark reflected on his group’s recent victory in federal court that saw endangered species protection reinstated for wolves in Montana and Idaho.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had given those states authority to manage and hunt wolves, but didn’t accept a Wyoming plan, which it saw as detrimental to wolf survival.

Judge Donald W. Molloy determined a state-by-state approach wasn’t allowed under the Endangered Species Act, and so put federal wildlife managers back in charge of the species in all three states.

Since Wyoming has said it would not change its plan to control wolves outside of the national parks, the ruling presents a roadblock to the effort to turn management of the restored species back to state wildlife agencies.

But Clark said he saw some light.

”The lawsuit we won gives us some leverage,” he said. “I think over the next few months we will see a resolution.”

He also said he hopes to see “Wyoming joining the federal government and the other two states” in any new management scheme. He said his group sought a “fair and viable [plan] so the people who live here and the people who visit can find common ground.”

Clark did not specifically say the coalition was negotiating with federal and state officials about a new wolf management framework, or that any of the four entities had agreed to work on one. His comments, nevertheless, offer a perspective from a key player who is deeply engaged in the issue.

Clark also sought to dismiss the widespread Western notion that environmentalists are quick to sue.

“Where we have to, we will use litigation to make sure we have a voice,” he said. Education is a better tool, he said.

“Every time we have to file a lawsuit, it’s an admission of political failure,” he said. “The message did not get across.”

Although Clark said he hoped Wyoming would accept a new proposal, state reaction to the lawsuit ruling has not been positive. Earlier this summer, Gov. Dave Freudenthal said if the federal government wants to dictate wolf management terms, it can foot the bill.

Time may help soothe emotions, as may the passing of an election season, Clark said.

“As peoples’ tempers cool, there is a new ensuing dialog that goes on,” Clark said. “The political system is such in election season that things get heated. We don’t mind the heated debate.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restored wolves to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995 with the goal of letting states manage the species — except in national parks — once they reached viable numbers. Some ranchers and outfitters, along with the Wyoming Legislature, contend that threshold has been reached.

Today, federal wildlife agents in Wyoming regularly respond to repeated wolf livestock killings by shooting wolves. They also have killed mothers and pups that have denned in areas where a pack appears to be destined to cause trouble with livestock.

Outfitters in Wyoming are increasingly vocal about what they say is the impact wolves are having on elk calves; however, the state’s overall censused elk population is 34 percent above objective according to latest Wyoming Game and Fish numbers.

Lawsuits, among other factors, have stymied efforts to turn authority over to states. Those suits have contended either that state plans won’t ensure that a viable population of wolves will persist, or that authority was transferred improperly and not in accordance with the Endangered Species Act.

courtesy Jackson Hole Daily

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