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Posted: Aug 22 2006, 01:46 AM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 10-July 06
By MIKE STARK - The Billings Gazette - 07/28/06
Wyoming may have been denied another chance to control its wolf population, but Montana and Idaho are still hoping they have a shot.
Earlier this week, the federal government rejected the state of Wyoming’s request to remove wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming from the endangered species list and pass management to those three states.
The federal government’s decision announced Monday may renew focus on a proposal by officials in Montana and Idaho last year to delist wolves in those two states while the dispute with Wyoming drags on.
“It affirms our resolve even more to continue our efforts to delist in Montana and Idaho separately,” said Carolyn Sime, head of the wolf program at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Chris Tollefson, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C., said the two states’ request was still being considered but the agency remained intent on finding a way to delist in all three states.
“Our focus is really on trying to work with the state of Wyoming to get changes made that we can sign off on,” Tollefson said.
Even if delisting is pursued in the two states, it’s doubtful whether it could ever be enacted, said Abigail Dillen, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental organization that opposed Wyoming’s plan in recent lawsuits.
It would be unusual for federal protections on wolves to be lifted based on state boundaries rather than the more typical “distinct population segments,” which lumps species together based on where they live, not state lines.
“I don’t think you can make the case that wolves in the Wyoming portion of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem are not part of the population,” Dillen said. “This is a Northern Rockies population.”
For now, she said, it looks like the three states remain tethered together as the disagreement between Wyoming and Interior continues.
Today, there are more than 1,000 wolves in the three states, far more than goals the government set for recovery.
But federal officials won’t delist the wolves until all three states have acceptable management plans in place.
Montana and Idaho have plans that have been approved, and both states have been given increased authority for managing wolves.
Wyoming’s plan has been rejected by Interior, primarily because it classifies some wolves as predators subject to unregulated killing.
The issue already has been to federal court and is apt to return. The state of Wyoming plans to file a lawsuit over this week’s decision, said Lara Azar, a spokeswoman for Gov. Dave Freudenthal.
Last fall, governors of Montana and Idaho sent a letter to the Department of Interior, which oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, requesting consideration for delisting wolves in the two states and outlining five options about how it could be done.
Then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho has since become the secretary of the Interior. Although Kempthorne has recused himself issues dealing specifically with Idaho, officials in Montana and Idaho hope his presence might help their case.
“We will press them to consider the five alternatives,” said Jeff Allen, policy adviser in the Idaho governor’s Office of Species Conservation.
Mike Volesky, natural resources policy adviser for Gov. Brian Schweitzer, said state officials haven’t heard much from Interior on their proposal but hope that could change soon.
“We’re still hoping to work with them as quickly as possible for delisting,” Volesky said. “Nobody thinks it’s not time. Let’s get on with it.”