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Groups intend to sue over Wyoming wolf delisting

By Ben Neary
Cheyenne, Wyoming (AP) September 2012

Two coalitions of environmental groups filed notice that they intend to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s decision to end federal protections for wolves in Wyoming.

The groups oppose the state of Wyoming’s classification of wolves as predators that can be shot on sight in more than 80 percent of state when federal protections end Oct. 1. Wyoming also has scheduled a regulated trophy wolf hunt in the remainder of the state, an area around the eastern and southern borders of Yellowstone National Park, starting next month.

The environmental groups emphasize that Wyoming’s current wolf management plan is similar to an earlier version that the federal agency repudiated after initially accepting it a few years ago. They claim the federal government is stopping wolf management for political reasons, not because the current plan is any better than the last one.

“The Wyoming wolf plan and removing protections for Wyoming wolves is a disaster for wolf recovery,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity in Portland, Ore.

Both coalitions filed their notice to sue in federal court in Washington.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have worked closely together since Mead took office last year on an agreement to end federal wolf protections. The federal government already has turned over wolf management in Idaho and Montana to those states and both have held wolf hunts.

Wyoming has committed to maintaining at least 10 breeding pairs of wolves and at least 100 individual animals outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Indian Reservation. Wildlife managers say there are currently about 270 wolves in the state outside Yellowstone.

“We anticipated this lawsuit because these groups have shown that any management plan which allows for hunting is unacceptable for them,” Mead said.

Attempts to reach representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver and Washington weren’t immediately successful.

The Fish and Wildlife Service had accepted a similar delisting plan from Wyoming in 2007 only to repudiate it after a federal judge criticized it in response to a legal challenge from environmental groups.

Jenny Harbine, lawyer with Earthjustice in Bozeman, Mont., represents groups that filed legal notice: Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.

“We think that that current Wyoming law is a kissing cousin of the former law which both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the federal court found too extreme to justify delisting,” Harbine said.

Although Wyoming will take over wolf management on Oct. 1, Harbine said legal rules require the groups to wait 60 days after filing their intent to sue notices before they can take any legal action.

Groups in the other coalition that filed notice were WildEarth Guardians, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Conservation Congress, Friends of Animals, Friends of the Clearwater, National Wolfwatcher Coalition and the Western Watersheds Project.

Environmental groups maintain that Wyoming’s rising total elk population shows wolves aren’t having an unacceptable effect. But Sy Gilliland, secretary and treasurer of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association, said wolves are taking a steep toll on the wildlife herds in northwestern Wyoming.

“The numbers that they show when they talk about statewide statistics have nothing to do with the elk herds that are being impacted in northwestern Wyoming,” Gilliland said. “Those elk herds are being severely impacted. The moose, the Shiras moose, is all but extinct in northwestern Wyoming. Several moose areas have been closed to hunting. There’s virtually no moose population left north of Jackson, west of Cody, or north of Dubois.”