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Subject: Wyoming lawmakers back to square one on wolf plan

 Norton needs to be hammered over this. I hope the Gov does not back down. Shades of Babbitt. 
Wyoming lawmakers back to square one on wolf plan

By SARAH COOKE

Associated Press Writer

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - With the Legislature looming and an angry public demanding answers, state lawmakers scrambled Tuesday to respond to the federal government's rejection of a wolf management plan they struggled to hammer out last year.

The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee was scheduled to meet Thursday in Laramie to hash out the decision with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representatives and determine a course of action.

Whether that will include compromise, litigation or nothing at all remains to be seen.

Rep. Mike Baker, R-Thermopolis, was tightlipped on a possible response, only saying he expects that Fish and Wildlife will want the committee to address its objections. He and committee co-chair Sen. Delaine Roberts, R-Etna, planned a news conference after the meeting.

Many state lawmakers were surprised and hurt by the delay of dropping federal protection for gray wolves.

''I personally think there's nothing wrong with the plan we have, as well as probably the majority of state legislators, but I probably don't have to tell you that the federal government has forced us into a number of things,'' Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, said.

Some also claim they got mixed messages from Fish and Wildlife while drafting the proposal last year, adding the plan recently passed muster with several wildlife experts and wolf biologists.

''(Fish and Wildlife) knew what was going on, but then through their counsel we didn't hear any of their concerns,'' Rep. Monte Olsen, R-Daniel, said.

Gray wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act. They were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995 after being nearly wiped out by hunting and trapping across the West.

There are now about 760 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, where they are classified as ''threatened'' in some areas and an ''experimental population'' in and immediately around Yellowstone. Until last April, some gray wolves in Montana were listed as endangered, a higher level of protection.

In proposing the lifting of federal protections, the government asked the three states to draw up plans for monitoring and maintaining the wolf population. Montana and Idaho's plans were found to be adequate.

But Fish and Wildlife objected to Wyoming's plan to classify wolves in part of the state - away from national parks and wilderness areas - as predators, which would mean they could be shot with few restrictions. The agency also said the Wyoming plan did not provide for adequate monitoring, and it objected to the boundaries outlined by the state.

Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., said the federal government had indicated to him that Wyoming's plan was adequate. Gov. Dave Freudenthal added the decision was ''based on little more than Potomac politics.''

''I am certainly disappointed in the Bush administration, but I believe that the executive and legislative branches of state government, working with our congressional delegation, can arrive at the appropriate steps to take in response,'' Freudenthal said.

Nina Fascione, vice president of species conservation with the Defenders of Wildlife, said rejection of Wyoming's plan ''should not be a news flash to them.''

''I am pleasantly surprised and encouraged that the service doesn't think open season on wolves is a decent management plan,'' she said.

Wyoming ranchers and outfitters argue wolves are killing too many cattle and state wildlife, putting their livelihoods in jeopardy. Giving the state control over wolves, they add, would give them more of a say.

''I still maintain that the federal government does not have the legislative or regulatory authority over wildlife in the state of Wyoming,'' Grover outfitter Maury Jones said. ''And if they believe they do I would like them to put up or shut up.''

Rancher Jon Robinett, who lost about 8 percent of his 400 cattle near Dubois to wolves last year, supports delistment but didn't like Wyoming's plan and thinks a Fish and Wildlife recommendation to designate wolves as trophy game statewide is the better route.

''(Wyoming's plan) didn't have any accountability for maintaining the wolf population and it didn't have any controls in place to guarantee what Fish and Wildlife wanted,'' he said.

The government also wants Wyoming officials to clearly commit to managing at least 15 wolf packs across the state and conform its definition of a wolf pack with those of Idaho and Montana - at least six wolves traveling together in the winter.

Some state lawmakers indicated a willingness Tuesday to compromise and fix the government's concerns, saying that is the only way Fish and Wildlife will step aside and remove federal wolf protection.

Others want the federal government to step up and help with tracking and other costs.

''We have an opportunity to still draft some legislation to hopefully ease the pain that (the government) doesn't seem to understand,'' state Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, said. ''But it's very, very discouraging. ... I think they missed it on this one.''

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On the Net:

Gray wolf information: http://endangered.fws.gov/i/A03.html

Gray wolf recovery information: http://midwest.fws.gov/wolf

Yellowstone wolves:

http://www.nps.gov/yell/nature/animals/wolf/wolfup.html


AP-WS-01-13-04 1951EST


[copyright] by the Casper Star-Tribune published by Lee Publications, Inc., a subsidiary of Lee Enterprises, Incorporated 

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"All laws repugnant to the Constitution are null and void." Marbury v Madison, 5 US 137 (1803)