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County considers wolf suit

CODY, Wyo. - Get involved in the wolf-driven State of Wyoming lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - that's the intention of the Park County Board of Commissioners.

But the level of involvement remains to be seen, as the three members held off on official "intervention" until County Attorney Bryan Skoric examines their legal options.

"Park County is on the front lines of this thing," said Commissioner Tim French, referring to the hotly contested debate on state management plans for the wolves after they're dropped from Endangered Species Act protection.

Wyoming's plan was rejected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January. Management plans in the other Greater Yellowstone states of Montana and Idaho were approved because of their willingness to limit wolves to "trophy game" status, which restricts hunting them to a season. Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank filed the lawsuit last month saying the state has a right also to consider the wolf a "predator" that can be shot on sight.

Commissioners met this week to consider Park County's options in joining the state to challenge the federal decision.

"We need to have the flexibility to control the numbers of wolves under both predator and trophy game status," Commissioner Marie Fontaine said.

"The numbers of wolves have grown drastically."

An estimated 770 wolves live within the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

The commissioners unanimously sounded their support for intervening on behalf of the state and are looking at three options. The first is to allocate $225 as members of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, which will intervene on behalf of the state through the Wolf Challenge Initiative.

The Initiative is a nonprofit organization made up of groups like the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, Wyoming Stock Growers and the Wyoming Outfitters dedicated to dual-status wolf management. The group's $5,000 dues will be divided among the 23 counties.

Commissioners also showed interest in putting up an additional $5,000 to be an entity of their own with the Wolf Challenge Initiative. They will likely formalize both of these actions at May 18-19 meeting, French said.

However Park County might want to take it one step farther and intervene on its own behalf.

"Wolves are threatening the customs and culture that people have held in this state for the last 100 to 150 years," Commission Chairman Tim Morrison said. "Some people think these wolf sightings are a great thrill. Others think they're looking death in the face."

County Attorney Bryan Skoric said he would analyze all three options to ensure that there wouldn't be any county liability if the lawsuit went south. According to the Wolf Challenge Initiative, funding needs may be as high as $500,000.

Cody resident Dewey Vanderhoff was skeptical of the county's time being spent in this manner.

"I think the county should focus on county business instead of meddling in Cheyenne," said Vanderhoff. "This lawsuit is estimated to cost 1 to 3 million dollars and continue for up to three years."

"Not everyone is going to agree with our thought process or the thought process of most of the people in the county," French said. "But this wolf population has to have human control."

The next meeting of the Park County Commissioners will be May 18-19 in the Commissioners Room in the Park County Courthouse.

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