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Feds won't kill excess wolves

CHEYENNE -- Federal wildlife officials will not eliminate excess wolf packs in Wyoming after formal delisting is proposed later this month.

That notice came in response to a list of questions from state officials about a new federal wolf management plan introduced at a high-profile meeting last month in Cheyenne.

State officials, including Gov. Dave Freudenthal, received the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service letter at the end of the business day Wednesday and did not have any comment on the seven-page document.

State lawmakers considering changes to Wyoming’s wolf laws have said the federal response could play a significant role in that debate.

A chief concern from the state is how to handle the excess packs between federal approval of a Wyoming wolf management plan and actual removal of federal protection for the animals. Wyoming is currently home to about 23 wolf packs outside Yellowstone National Park, 16 more than required under federal wolf recovery guidelines.

“I do not think the service will be actively managing to limit wolves ... nor would we be managing to remove wolves causing only wildlife problems,” Fish and Wildlife Regional Director Mitch King wrote in the letter.

Instead, Wyoming would likely receive the same latitude to manage wolves as Montana and Idaho, whose wolf management plans have already been approved by the federal government.

King also indicated that the Fish and Wildlife Service does not have authority to provide funding for state management of wolves after delisting. State officials estimate it will cost about $2.4 million to manage the state’s wolf and grizzly programs during the year after delisting, and $2 million for each year after that.

Federal officials are willing to help seek federal reimbursement for those dollars from Congress, King wrote.

The letter also explains that the Fish and Wildlife Service is not authorized to compensate livestock owners for wolf-caused losses before delisting is finalized. However, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department will be authorized to issue landowner permits to kill wolves once a state wolf management plan is accepted.

King, in the letter, also indicated a willingness to make only slight changes to the proposed trophy-game area in northwest Wyoming. State officials want to exclude land inside the boundary used for ranching.

Thousands of cattle and sheep run on private and public lands inside the proposed boundary.

“We are willing to consider minor modifications in the boundary of this area that you may propose to avoid cities if you think that would be needed,” King wrote.

The proposed boundary runs from the Montana border along Highway 120 to Meeteetse, southwest to the northwest corner of the Wind River Indian Reservation, down to Pinedale, northwest on Highway 191 to Alpine and north to Yellowstone National Park.

King clarified that he is the federal government’s designated spokesman in the negotiations, and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall is responsible for the decision to delist. State officials have complained about a disjointed proposal from the federal government that lacked a designated point of contact.

King and Hall presented a revised Wyoming wolf management proposal to state officials last month that calls for the expanded trophy game area in northwest Wyoming. Outside that area and Yellowstone National Park, wolves would be classified as predators and could be shot on sight.

State lawmakers are crafting two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, to change existing wolf management laws. Key lawmakers have expressed some optimism about reaching a compromise with the federal government before the legislative session ends in March.

Reach capital bureau reporter Jared Miller at (307) 632-1244 or at jared.miller@casperstartribune.net.

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

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