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Wolf complaint sent to Norton

CHEYENNE - As Wyoming prepares to sue over the federal government's rejection of the state's plan to manage wolves, Gov. Dave Freudenthal released a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton expressing his frustration over the department's apparent flip-flop.

In the letter, sent Wednesday, Freudenthal called the department's messages to Wyoming on wolves "contradictory."

He cited numerous occasions when he and other state lawmakers were assured the state's dual classification of wolves would satisfy the federal government's requirements to have the wolves removed from Endangered Species Act protection.

Wyoming, along with Idaho and Montana, must have wolf-management plans that are approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in place before management of the animals can be handed over to the states.

After approving the Montana and Idaho plans, the agency last month rejected Wyoming's plan, citing a provision that would have allowed wolves to be shot on sight in most of the state.

Wyoming proposed a "dual classification" that would have protected wolves in the national parks and adjacent wilderness areas of northwest Wyoming, while elsewhere in the state they would have been classified as ordinary predators and could be killed virtually at will.

Freudenthal told Norton he assumed the plan would be accepted after he and state lawmakers received assurances the plan followed federal policy.

"Wyoming's wolf statutes, and its wolf-management plan, were adopted following the express, written endorsements of senior DOI and Service officials," he wrote. "The Wyoming Legislature and I relied upon those representations in adopting the plan."

"We are now left in the untenable position of having relied to our detriment on an ever-changing federal policy which is not based on the best available science."

Freudenthal suggests in the letter the rejection of the plan may have been based more on image than science.

"Several comments have been offered by Interior officials to the effect 'we verbally told you (you) were warned about the word predator,' " he wrote. "In fact, we were advised that the word predator was a political or image concern. However, as a legal and scientific matter, the written words approved the Wyoming approach." 

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