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Wolf Crossings

A Rural Viewpoint On Wolf Reintroduction And Protection

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Updated 10-06



State blasted over wolves

Opponents highly critical of program management

By Nick Gevock of The Montana Standard - 08/12/2006

ENNIS — Ranchers and wolf opponents who packed a special meeting in Ennis Friday blasted state wildlife officials for the way they have handled wolf management since taking over from the federal government last year.

Officials with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks have been too slow to authorize the killing of problem wolves and at times have hampered federal trappers from lethal control on state lands, more than a dozen people told members of the agency oversight committee of the Environmental Quality Council.

“It’s like a guy’s robbing a bank and you have to go get an arrest warrant,” committee member Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense.” More than 50 people showed up for the meeting that drew FWP Director Jeff Hagener, agency biologists and several state legislators. The meeting also drew people from Idaho and Wyoming, ranchers and members of anti-wolf groups pushing for indiscriminate killing of the predators.

A few members of conservation groups also showed up and praised FWP for the job it’s done since taking over wolf management from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year.

“FWP is doing an excellent job balancing the needs of wildlife, livestock producers and sportsmen,” said Tim Border with the Montana Wildlife Federation.

But the majority of the crowd ripped FWP, saying the agency’s reluctance to decide to kill a wolf has let too many problem animals get away.

Shockley said when ranchers were dealing directly with federal officials, problem wolves could be taken care of quickly. But since the state has taken over, things take too long.

“It was working, why didn’t we just leave it the way it was?” he said.

Critics were particularly incensed by FWP’s policy of approving any control measures before they take place on state game ranges.

“We’re concerned that the wildlife management areas will become sanctuaries,” said sheep rancher Joe Helle, who lives near Dillon.

But Kurt Alt, FWP Southwest Montana wildlife manager, said that’s the last thing biologists want to happen. FWP, as the manager of game ranges, merely wants to inspect any potential livestock kills to ensure it can back up killing problem wolves when it’s needed.

Alt said that’s crucial because people have criticized grazing on the game ranges and would rather see cattle removed. But the rotational grazing is important for improving grass and he doesn’t want that jeopardized.

“We’ll be able to support our actions to our worst critics and our biggest supporters,” he said. “It does not mean that WMAs will become safe havens for wolves that kill livestock.” The misconception that FWP was banning lethal control on game ranges came about because of a misunderstanding between the state agency and Wildlife Services, said Carolyn Sime, FWP wolf program coordinator. She agreed both agencies need to communicate better.

But although FWP decides when a wolf can be killed, it can’t give Wildlife Services permission to trespass on other lands such as U.S. Forest Service or private lands, Sime said.

Larry Handegard, a trapper with Wildlife Services, said his agency has always had to have permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kill wolves and now needs it from FWP.

Some people criticized the entire wolf program and said it was illegal to begin with. They urged the committee to recommend the Legislature pass a bill to sue the federal government so wolves can be taken off the federal Endangered Species List.

“Fish, Wildlife and Parks has forfeited their right to manage these predators,” said Bob Fanning, president of Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd, an anti-wolf group. “We need this in order to get this out-of-control bureaucratic nightmare under control.” FWP is anxious to get wolves delisted so it can begin to use hunting and trapping to manage the population, Hagener said. The agency has been frustrated by the federal government’s unwillingness to delist wolves in Montana and Idaho, whose management plans have been accepted, because of Wyoming’s plan that was rejected.

But Hagener said even once wolves are delisted, biologists will manage them to keep a sustainable population.

“We view wolves as part of the wildlife of the state,” he said. “We’re going to have to learn how to live with them.” State Rep. Diane Rice, R-Harrison, said at the end of the meeting that she would like the EQC to pursue legislative action, which could include joining lawsuits to get wolves delisted in Montana.

Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached via email at nick.gevock@mtstandard.com



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