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Friday, April 16, 2004

 

Ranchers want feds to start killing wolves

LIVINGSTON -- Proposed rules giving ranchers far more flexibility to kill problem wolves still don't go far enough, angry ranchers and landowners told federal officials here Thursday night.

Although new rules under consideration would let ranchers kill any wolf spotted near livestock, several people said that wasn't enough. And several ranchers said the federal government should start killing wolves because the predators are overpopulated and constantly attacking livestock.
"The landowners need to be able to kill a wolf whenever they see it," Paradise Valley rancher and outfitter Randy Petrich said.

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 50 people packed the meeting at the city-county building, which was put on by Montana Sen. Conrad Burns. Ed Bangs, wolf recovery leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was joined by Clint Riley, special assistant to the director of the service.

A Park County sheriff's deputy sat off to the side of the room, a testament to the chilly atmosphere toward federal officials. Bangs was called a liar several times, and Lenny Gregorey, a former Livingston city commissioner, called Bangs "Frankenstein" and said he had "screwed" all the ranchers in the room.

Bangs put on a presentation about the proposed rule changes which would give Montana and Idaho officials a hand in managing wolves. Those two states could kill wolves in areas in which they determine the predators are killing too many game animals.

In addition to more authority for state officials, ranchers would have far greater latitude to kill wolves for just being around their livestock, even when their stock is grazing on public land. Under current rules, a rancher must catch a wolf actually attacking livestock.

And shoot-on-sight permits aren't issued until a wolf or pack attacks livestock more than once.

The rules would not apply in Wyoming because that state's plan, which allows wolves outside the national parks to be shot on sight, was rejected by FWS. Montana's and Idaho's plans have been accepted, but federal officials won't pull the wolf off the endangered species list until all three states have satisfactory plans.

Bangs said the FWS is eager to delist wolves, but realizes it might take time until Wyoming drafts a satisfactory plan.

"Until Wyoming does something different, I think wolves are going to stay listed for awhile," he said. "Local folks need some additional flexibility to deal with problem animals."

But Carbon County Attorney Kemp Wilson blasted the proposal, saying federal officials were playing politics by pitting states against each other.

"I do not appreciate the role of the federal government to strangle one state to the benefit of two others," Wilson said.

But Riley said politics weren't in play with the proposal which has been in the works for months.

"The point is not to penalize one state, it's to try to move forward where we can," he said. "We wanted to be delisting at this point, but we don't feel that we're ready to do that yet."

Public comment on the rules will be accepted through May 10.