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Counties get wolf predator request

By BUDDY SMITH Staff Reporter

A Pray man's request that Montana's 56 counties adopt resolutions calling for a tougher stance on gray wolves managed by the federal government has reached Ravalli County.

Commissioners Tuesday morning briefly discussed an e-mail sent by the Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd, Inc.'s chairman Robert T. Fanning Jr. to Montana counties, in anticipation of a Feb. 20 meeting of county commissioners in Helena. In the letter, Fanning called on officials to adopt resolutions under the Endangered Species Act that, among other things, would ask the "Secretary of Agriculture for immediate and meaningful predator control."

He also cited a recent resolution adopted by Carbon County commissioners, declaring wolves under federal management as "problem predators" to establish controls to protect livestock there.

Fanning asked that Montana counties adopt resolutions in anticipation of protracted legal battles over removing wolves from the federal Endangered Species Act. He also wants them to intervene on behalf of the federal government in an environmental group's lawsuit, which Fanning contended is "blocking wolf delisting," and to have all Montana county commissions write to Gov. Martz asking her to request in writing to Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton that wolves be immediately taken off the endangered species list.

Ravalli County commissioners agreed to discuss it with members of the county's Right to Farm Committee "to digest" the issue.

"I don't want to put together a resolution at the moment until we understand this more fully, what the consequences are," Commissioner Alan Thompson said.

Thompson said Ravalli County seems to have "dodged a bullet" when it comes to livestock depredations, but he noted troubles with wolves and livestock in the Ninemile and Polaris areas.

Commissioner Greg Chilcott said he "certainly wants to protect our ag producers, our livestock," and would be willing to consider some sort of resolution, but he wanted to hear from the local agriculture committee.

Chilcott and Lund said during and after a morning discussion that their understanding of the resolution request by Fanning is "to delist wolves," though they both said they hadn't had time yet to fully consider the e-mail and multiple pages of accompanying text and become well-versed with it.

Asked about the "predator control" part of Fanning's letter, Chilcott said he wasn't interested in "making a national statement," but he was interested in addressing local issues and the county could decide to adopt its own resolution to address wolf concerns, if it so desired, though not necessarily what was urged by Fanning.

He said any conclusions are premature, though.

"I haven't made a predetermination," Chilcott said. "I'm going to get input from people who are impacted."

The predator tag for gray wolves is controversial, and that designation in Wyoming's plan for managing the species has kept the federal government from moving forward with lifting federal protections for the animals in the northern Rockies.

The plans - which say how Wyoming, Montana and Idaho would manage wolves once they're removed from the endangered species list and placed under state control - were approved for Montana and Idaho, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this month that delisting can't begin until Wyoming changes its wolf predator status, which officials said would allow unregulated shooting of wolves in some places of that state, much like coyotes.

Fanning, in an e-mail forwarded to the county, said he believes the Secretary of Agriculture has absolute authority superseding the ESA when states or counties "petition directly for predator control in defense" of wild game herds or livestock. He accuses the Fish and Wildlife Service of wanting control by rejecting the notion of predator status for wolves in Wyoming.

Fanning said he believes wolves could remain federally protected for several more years because of legal battles, but in the meantime their numbers and range will expand.

Reporter Buddy Smith can be reached at 363-3300 or bsmith@ravallirepublic.com