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Wyoming wolves at the center of controversy

By Paul Stout

Do you remember back to your childhood when you were read the story, Little Red Riding Hood? Do you also remember the tale about the boy who cried wolf? From our earliest days, we were taught about the predatory instincts of these animals. As adults involved in the business of farming and ranching, we know all too well that the cry of ‘wolf’ is a very serious and financially devastating problem.

Several years ago, certain species of wolves were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Now that there are 3,500 Canadian Gray Wolves in the United States, the delisting process has begun. The process is, however, embroiled in controversy when it comes to the Wyoming farmer and rancher.

The controversy with the Canadian Gray Wolf centers around its removal from the ESA listing and the various state wolf management plans. For delisting to occur, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) called upon affected states to develop wolf management plans. Wyoming’s has been rejected. Nationwide, five states have approved plans, including Montana and Idaho.

The Wyoming plan removes protections from wolves outside of the national parks and wilderness areas. FWS has deemed the plan unacceptable because wolves are classified as both trophy animals and predators in the remainder of the state at large. This, along with other objections regarding pack size and legal defense for people who shoot wolves, formed the basis of the FSW’s rejection of Wyoming’s plan. This is despite the fact that the Wyoming proposal had previously been approved by 10 of 11 federally appointed wildlife biologists.

Through legislative means and negotiation, Wyoming has tried to address concerns to keep the ESA delisting moving forward. In April, however, the state filed a lawsuit asking the United States District Court to order the FWS to accept the Wyoming plan. In a counter action in July, the United States Department of the Interior filed documents claiming that the state of Wyoming does not have the legal right to sue, contending the court has no jurisdiction on the matter and that Wyoming failed to exhaust all administrative remedies.

What does this all mean to Wyoming economically? Based on data compiled in 2002 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), losses of sheep in 2001 to predators was 47,000 head, with an estimated value of $2.25 million. In 2000, the loss of calves to predators was reported at over $3 million. Of these totals, depredation was also attributed to coyotes, bears and mountain lions.

This debacle is just another example of federal agencies caving in to and becoming willing accomplices of environmental special interests at the expense of farming, ranching and the general public. Whether it is the ESA or grazing permits, the FWS has historically taken a hard line position and demonstrated little or no effort in working with agricultural groups and individual producers to achieve a balance that will serve the interests of all concerned. Most Americans would reasonably expect that 3,500 Canadian Gray Wolves nationwide is well more than adequate for preservation.

The real problem lies in a state’s right and responsibility to protect its citizens and their property from death and destruction by predatory animals. It also is about mandates being placed upon state governments (at their expense) by federal agencies through regulation without legislative oversight or approval. Who votes and pays taxes here? It isn’t wolves, coyotes and bears. When are we going to put people, economic security and representative governance as guaranteed in our constitution above protecting animal rights and populations?

RMFU, along with 26 other groups representing agriculture, sportsmen and outfitters divisions of local government, are members of the “Wyoming Wolf Challenge Initiative.” The coalition is pursuing a separate lawsuit from the one filed by the state of Wyoming. This not only addresses the plan rejection but related issues. I would ask our Wyoming members if they could support this effort with a financial contribution, as there is considerable expense for the member organizations involved. My challenge to Colorado and New Mexico members is to be alert to similar efforts by FWS that has or will be coming. Please call the RMFU office, 303-752-5800, if you would like to contribute to this effort.