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Wyoming House ready for wolf battle

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - After retreating a day earlier from a possible lawsuit against the federal government for its rejection of the state's wolf-management plan, the Wyoming House reversed itself again Wednesday and voted to bolster the case for a court battle.

With little debate, representatives voted 44-14 for a bill that aligns state law with the now-rejected Game and Fish Commission's management plan for gray wolves. Conforming statutes to the plan is seen as a way to strengthen the state's hand in a possible suit.

Before final passage, the House adopted an amendment by Rep. Mick Powers, R-Lyman, removing a provision adopted Tuesday requiring the state manage for at least 15 wolf packs statewide. The Powers amendment declares that Wyoming will manage for no more than seven wolf packs outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, the same as the commission's plan.

"This amendment just addresses the state's responsibility, that we're going to manage for seven packs," said Rep. Mike Baker, R-Thermopolis.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service turned down the state's proposal last month because it would allow wolves to be managed under dual classification, in which they would be treated as trophy game and subject to regulated hunting in areas in and near the national parks, and classified as predators - subject to unregulated killing - outside northwest Wyoming.

The bill the House approved Wednesday retains that dual system.

"I think this is very important to us," Powers said, adding that it would allow more flexible use of predator-control methods.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams told the House Travel Committee earlier in the session that Interior Department officials don't believe the state's plan - with its dual classification - is defensible in court.

Many House members and state officials, including Gov. Dave Freudenthal, say they believe that a review by a panel of scientists who supported the state's plan as capable of sustaining a viable wolf population buttresses the case for going to court.

Regardless of which plan is ultimately adopted, wolves would remain protected in the national parks, where the animal is an increasing tourism draw.

Wolves, eradicated in Wyoming in the early 20th century because of their depredations on livestock, were reintroduced in Yellowstone beginning in the mid-1990s and have since thrived.

The Interior Department is prepared to declare the recovery a success and remove the wolves from protection but only when it deems Wyoming's plan acceptable for maintaining viable populations in the Northern Rockies.

Management plans adopted by Idaho and Montana have been approved.

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