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Counties try for consensus on wolves

LIVINGSTON -- Wolves are a problem in Montana, commissioners from several Montana counties agreed in a meeting here Thursday, and the federal government needs to come up with more money to compensate ranchers and control wolf numbers.

The goal of the five-hour meeting, organized by Park County Extension Agent Marty Malone, was to come up with a joint resolution calling for tighter management of wolves, a quicker removal from the federal Endangered Species Act list and keeping closer tabs on the big carnivores.


Commissioners from Gallatin, Park, Sweet Grass, Stillwater, Carbon and Madison counties attended. Beaverhead County commissioners sent Joe Helle, a prominent sheep rancher, to represent them.

Commissioners from all the counties spoke in favor of the resolution, although Gallatin County Commissioner Joe Skinner said such a resolution could be difficult to pass in that county.

The other two Gallatin County commissioners -- Bill Murdock and John Vincent -- don't seem interested in taking action, Skinner said. Unlike in other counties around Yellowstone National Park, Gallatin County ranchers have had few problems with wolves, Skinner said.

Gallatin County also is the most urbanized of the seven counties represented here, and is home to a number of pro-wolf organizations.

Plus, if the resolution is passed by all the counties, the document is only an expression of desire and has no force of law.

Sweet Grass County Commissioner Elaine Allestad, whose family runs a sheep ranch, said joining the voices of several counties grants all of them more authority.

"I do know a joint resolution has some power," she said.

A handful of counties around Yellowstone already have passed resolutions calling for rapid delisting and more intensive wolf management.

Janelle Holden, of the Predator Conservation Alliance, cautioned the commissioners that not everybody in their counties sees wolves as a problem.

Some people see them as "a valued predator that plays a key ecological role," she said.

Wolves also benefit a number of people through tourism, she added.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says wolves have met the biological requirements for delisting, but refuses to take that step until Wyoming changes its state wolf management plan.

The existing document would allow wolves to be shot on sight in much of Wyoming. The federal government says that is unacceptable and the wolves will remain on the ESA list until Wyoming changes its attitude.

Montana has a plan that calls for maintaining roughly the same number of wolves the state has now -- 10 to 15 packs. FWS officials have praised that plan.

Allestad, who has been involved in wolf issues for years, said a joint resolution gives members of Congress "more leverage" by showing them what local government wants.

She said the resolution would send a message both to the federal government and to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which this year took over management of wolves in the state, with federal oversight.

The resolution declares that wolves are "a predator species in need of management" and states these goals:

FWP should radio collar more wolves.

FWP should work with the federal government to better notify county government and citizens when wolves are in a specific area.

Congress and the FWS should "expedite the process to delist" wolves and give management authority and full funding to FWP and the Montana Department of Livestock.

The governor of Montana should appoint a board that will find ways to reduce livestock losses, implement a restitution program and fund it fully with federal money.

Scott McMillion is at scottm@dailychronicle.com




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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