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Making ag pay the wolves' share

Jim Magagna

Wolves have been a front-page issue for Wyoming agriculture since discussion
first erupted on the concept of introducing wolves into Yellowstone National
Park. I served on the Wolf Management Committee created by the secretary of
Interior during the first Bush administration. The recommendations of our
diverse group were rejected almost as soon as they crossed the Potomac. The
Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation later led the legal effort to stop the
introduction. Until this year, each of the organizations representing
Wyoming livestock producers have had firm policy opposing wolves in Wyoming,
at least outside of Yellowstone Park.

Agriculture's opposition to wolves has several bases. Naturally, the killing
and maiming of our livestock is the primary concern. Second, the presence of
these and other large predators disturbs natural grazing patterns, impacting
both the management of our animals and our grazing lands. Third, the
protections afforded to so-called "sensitive species" by federal land
managers inevitably lead to decreases in our access to public land grazing.
Finally, ranchers join sportsmen in fearing the long-term impacts of wolves
on Wyoming's big game populations.

Wolf management legislation (House Bill 0229) adopted in the 2003 Session of
the Wyoming Legislature was carefully crafted to represent a consensus
reached by Wyoming agricultural organizations, leadership of the Wyoming
Game and Fish Department and other interests. In order to accomplish this
result, each of the agricultural organizations moved away from long-standing
policy opposing wolves outside of Yellowstone. For this primary reason, the
agricultural organizations cannot fully support a wolf management plan that
does not conform to the precise language of the legislation. We believe that
the Game and Fish Commission had both a legal and a moral obligation to
incorporate and implement the specific unambiguous statutory language. The
Wyoming Wolf Management Plan falls short in meeting our criteria and the
legislative mandate. While we accept the need to move forward with delisting
under this plan, we will continue to strive to assure that implementation of
the plan conforms

to the carefully crafted language of the Wyoming Legislature.

Several pro-wolf constituencies continue to advocate for statewide trophy
game status for wolves. This is unacceptable to agriculture for two reasons.
First, it fails to recognize the unique ability of this species to propagate
and disperse throughout the state onto both public and private lands.
Second, it would make our ability to control this predatory animal subject
to limitations imposed by the

current and future Game and Fish commissions. While agriculture strives to
maintain a strong working relationship with the commission, we recognize
that its responsibility to Wyoming wildlife is not always in harmony with
our need to protect our private property.

Wyoming should assume no greater burden in maintaining a recovered wolf
population than Idaho and Montana. This obligation is currently being
interpreted as 15 packs. Today, there are an estimated 14 packs located
primarily within Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and
the John D. Rockefeller National Parkway. Game and Fish has no management
authority over these animals. We believe it is reasonable to assume that,
with proper federal management, these areas can sustain a minimum of eight
packs. Therefore, an equitable burden for the state of Wyoming is management
for up to seven packs.

The original federal plan for introduction of wolves recognized that it was
in the best interest of sustaining a wolf population to select an area where
human-wolf conflicts would be minimized. The most frequent human-wolf
conflict involves the killing of livestock. Game and Fish management of
wolves should be focused on those areas where this conflict will be
minimized. For that reason, Wyoming agriculture has supported the
designation of those wilderness areas directly contiguous to the parks as
trophy game areas. The Gros Ventre Wilderness is not directly contiguous and
it was clearly identified during the legislative process as being excluded
from trophy game status. Game and Fish efforts to now designate this
wilderness with its high levels of livestock grazing as a trophy game area
would only serve to significantly increase human-wolf conflicts.

It is not difficult using current Yellowstone wolf population growth and
prey requirements to project the decimation of Wyoming big game populations.
This inevitable outcome is countered by some who maintain that it is
inherent in predator species to limit their propagation so as to sustain
their prey base. This statement ignores the reality that livestock
constitute a constantly replenished

source of prey. The presence of cattle and sheep clearly alters the
predator-prey relationship.

I have noticed that non-agricultural organizations in Wyoming have recently
purported to carry the mantra for livestock producers who will be denied
compensation for losses if the wolf remains a predator. This portrays their
lack of understanding of our industry. Compensation programs, whether
administered by the Game and Fish or the Defenders of Wildlife are a
substitute for the regulatory freedom to protect our private property. They
are, at best, a poor second choice.

While several of the wolf biologists selected by the U.S Fish and Wildlife
Service to review the three wolf plans have made statements that can be
viewed as reservations about the Wyoming plan, the overall consensus of the
reviewers has been that the three state plans collectively provide adequate
management to assure maintenance of a viable wolf population that meets the
established criteria of 30 breeding pairs. The time has arrived for the
USFWS to quit playing its cat-and-mouse game with the state of Wyoming.
Wyoming has long demonstrated an ability to manage wildlife far superior to
that of most other states. USFWS should demonstrate its trust in our
commitment to wolf management by first publicly expressing their support for
the Wyoming Wolf Management Plan; second, proceeding at once with the
delisting process; and third, assuring that the state receives full federal
funding to implement management.

Although the very firm positions taken by Wyoming agriculture on the content
of a wolf management plan may disturb some individuals and groups, I am
confident that our position represents a scenario that will protect both
Wyoming's wildlife resources and her agricultural industry. Wyoming citizens
have little to gain from simply delisting wolves and place them under state
protection. The common goal of Wyoming sportsmen and Wyoming agriculture
must be to assure the ability of the state to manage and control a viable
population of wolves.

Jim Magagna is executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers
Association (www.wysga.org).

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