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Baucus presses for state control over wolves

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Montana’s senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus yesterday called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move to allow all Montana ranchers to actively protect their livestock. Baucus pressed the Service to make the change now as he crafts legislation to put Montana wolves back under the state’s successful management plan.

“This debate on wolves has gone on long enough. I’m working to craft a bill that will put wolves in our state back in our control once and for all, because nobody knows how to better manage wolves in Montana than Montanans,” Baucus said. “In the meantime, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to do the right thing and allow all Montana ranchers protect their livestock regardless of arbitrary boundary lines.”

Prior to a recent court ruling, wolves in Montana were removed from Endangered Species Act protections and managed by the state. Baucus has announced plans to introduce legislation to codify the Fish and Wildlife Service’s previous rule that delisted wolves in states with federally-approved management plans, including Montana, and put wolf management back under Montana’s jurisdiction.

In the meantime, as a result of the ruling wolves in Montana are now back under federal management, which classifies wolves in northern Montana as endangered, meaning they cannot be harmed by landowners unless a human life is in jeopardy. Wolf populations in the southern part of the state, however, are classified as experimental, allowing landowners the right to kill them to protect their livestock.

Yesterday, Baucus sent a letter to Fish and Wildlife Service Acting Director Rowan Gould asking the Service to take action that will bring wolves in northern Montana under the same management rules as those in the southern half of the state and allow all Montana landowners to protect their property from wolves.

The text of the letter is as follows:

Director Gould,

As you know, I am drafting legislation that will return the Northern Rocky Mountain population of the gray wolf found in Montana to state management. Montana’s management plan was effective and responsible while in practice and should not be held hostage to the intransigence of policymakers in other states.

Until my bill is considered in Congress, I ask the Fish and Wildlife Service to take action that would result in a single classification status for all wolves in Montana. Under current dual classification and attendant federal regulations, wolves in southern Montana are classified as “experimental”. If they are seen in pursuit of livestock and other domestic animals, they may be legally killed by permitted landowners. Wolves in northern Montana are classified as “endangered”, and may not be killed or even harassed by landowners for any reason other than to protect human life.

This dual classification status, and the boundary that demarcates it, are arbitrary and confusing to ranchers, and unnecessarily complicate state wildlife agencies’ management activities. Until the matter of the wolf’s protection under the Endangered Species Act is settled, Montanans require the immediate application of consistent regulations throughout the state. I request the Service down-list wolves in northern Montana from endangered status to threatened and adopt special regulations consistent with the flexibility afforded livestock owners in the state’s experimental area.

I look forward to your response.

Max Baucus

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