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December 21, 2005

State to proceed with lawsuit over wolf management plan

CHEYENNE -- Wyoming officials say they will proceed with a lawsuit against the federal government over its rejection of the state's wolf management plan.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal met Thursday with Paul Hoffman, the Interior Department's deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. The governor said after the meeting he sees no sincere effort by the federal government to compromise with the state.

"I think this is all D.C. politics, not biology," Freudenthal said.

Freudenthal said the meeting convinced him that federal officials won't budge on their view of the minimum number of wolf packs that the state or federal government should be responsible for maintaining in Wyoming if the animals are removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

"Basically, their position hasn't changed from what it was," Freudenthal said. "It's not really clear why he came out."

Wyoming's plan calls for the state to manage at least seven wolf packs outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. But the U.S. Department of Interior says it wants the state to maintain at least 15 packs regardless whether they're inside or outside the parks.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials have said they're concerned Wyoming's plan would have allowed wolves that wandered beyond the greater Yellowstone area to be shot with little regulation. The federal government rejected Wyoming's proposed plan in January 2004.

Wyoming sued last year over the plan's rejection. A federal judge in Cheyenne dismissed the lawsuit in March, saying the federal government had not violated the Endangered Species Act by rejecting Wyoming's plan because the rejection didn't change wolves' status under the act. The state has appealed that decision.

Federal officials have suggested that the state consider legislation in the 2006 budget session to alter the state's wolf plan. They have sought legislation requiring more state-regulated hunting of wolves.

House Speaker Randall Luthi, R-Freedom, said he doubts any wolf legislation will be heard in the coming session, particularly as long as questions exist regarding the number of packs that Wyoming would be responsible for protecting.

"I don't think it would get enough votes to be introduced unless that issue is settled," Luthi said.




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