Will Wyoming negotiate on Wolves?

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A legislative council will consider Friday whether Wyoming should join Montana and Idaho in hiring a lawyer to negotiate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about removing wolves from the federal endangered species list.

However, the Legislative Management Council could move in the opposite direction and end Wyoming’s involvement with an unofficial commission of lawmakers from the three states looking for ways to get wolves delisted and put under state control.

During Friday’s meeting in Casper, management council members will hear a request by state Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, to allocate $30,000 toward hiring the lawyer, said state Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie. Brown said the understanding would be that Montana and Idaho would also each kick in the same amount.

Brown said the idea comes down to whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to negotiate in good faith about the issue.

“If he can find something and submit it, and all three states say, ‘Well, that looks like something we can support,’ then we’ll start through the process,” Brown said.

However, the time for negotiation could be very short. Because the $30,000 allocation would have to win approval from the Legislature and incoming Gov. Matt Mead, even if it’s quickly passed, there would only be a few weeks at most to negotiate an agreement before the Legislature stops accepting new legislation for the year.

And as Brown pointed out, any agreement that might be reached would have to be approved by the legislatures and governors of each of the three states.

The proposal came out of the so-called Tri-State Wolf Compact Commission, which lawmakers from the three states created in the wake of a federal court ruling in August that overturned wolf-management plans in Montana and Idaho on the grounds that protections for the same population can’t vary by state.

Wyoming is suing the Fish and Wildlife Service in a separate lawsuit to force the agency to accept its proposed management plan, which would allow unregulated killing of the animals over all but the northwest part of the state.

The commission, which includes at least 14 lawmakers from the three states, has met three times during the past month in Salt Lake City. Four Wyoming lawmakers, including Brown and Schiffer, have attended commission meetings; their travel costs have been paid for by the state.

However, many — though certainly not all — in Wyoming’s agriculture and hunting communities have criticized Wyoming’s participation in the commission, saying it’s a waste of time. There are also fears that Montana and Idaho lawmakers will pressure Wyoming to change its proposed state management plan.

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said he’s heard “real concerns expressed by a number of people and organizations,” though he declined to name any of the critics.

“We’re always nervous if we think there might be an effort to get Wyoming to change its position, because we are very strong in our commitment to the current Wyoming wolf management plan,” he said.

Officially, however, the Stock Growers Association hasn’t taken a formal stand on the commission, and Magagna said he personally sees nothing wrong with the three states simply talking.

Although the next Tri-State Wolf Compact Commission meeting is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 11, Brown said he doubted the commission would ever meet again in person.

“I kind of think we’re done going to meetings,” Brown said. “I think all three states know where each of the others is, and that was really the purpose of the meetings.”

More than one Wyoming lawmaker said the commission might have actually helped to bring Montana and Idaho legislators over to Wyoming’s point of view on wolves.

“I think they thought Wyoming was just an obstreperous bunch of cowboys,” Brown said. “And I think that we’ve convinced them that there’s some substance to our thoughts and our positions.

“That alone might be worth it,” he said.

Billings Gazette

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