Gray Wolves to Remain on Endangered List

ALASKA UNAFFECTED: Feds won't de-list them until Wyoming can protect them

Becky Bohrer / AP / Anchorage Daily News / January 24, 2004

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service postponed a decision Tuesday on whether to drop federal protection for gray wolves, which were hunted nearly to extinction decades ago but have made a remarkable recovery since the 1990s. The agency said Wyoming has not submitted an adequate plan for protecting the animals if the federal government stepped aside.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not remove gray wolves in the West from coverage under the Endangered Species Act until Wyoming changes its state regulations to provide the predator with more protection, its director said this week.

"If Wyoming doesn't amend its management plan and present one with adequate controls to maintain wolf numbers, then we will not proceed," director Steve Williams said. "If they cannot do that, then we cannot proceed with de-listing at this time."

The agency evaluated management plans submitted by Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to determine whether they would adequately protect wolves in the region. It was one step in the process of moving toward de-listing -- removing the animals from the list of those protected by the Endangered Species Act in the Northern Rockies and some other Western states.

Williams said plans from Montana and Idaho "were actually quite good and provided us a lot of assurance that they would be able to exercise management controls necessary to maintain wolves, wolf populations above recovery goals."

But Williams said that his agency needed to consider the management plans by the three states together and that it had "significant concerns" with Wyoming's plan and state law.

A principal concern: Wyoming would classify wolves as "predators" in much of the state. In Wyoming, that classification would allow them to be shot virtually at will, as if they were coyotes. The Fish and Wildlife Service said that must be changed.

In other parts of the state, wolves would be considered game animals subject to regulated hunting to control their numbers. Wolves in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks could not be hunted.

In a letter to that state's Game and Fish Department, Williams said designating wolves as trophy game statewide "would allow Wyoming to devise a management strategy that provides for self-sustaining populations above recovery goals, regulated harvest and adequate monitoring of that harvest."

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freundenthal said he is disappointed with the government's decision but is prepared to work with the state Legislature and congressional delegation to develop a response.

Gray wolves have made a remarkable recovery since being reintroduced to the Yellowstone area in 1995 after being nearly wiped out by hunting and trapping across the West.

There now are about 760 wolves in the three states, where gray wolves are classified as "threatened" under the law in some areas and as an "experimental population" in and around Yellowstone and central Idaho.

If the agency had found all three state plans acceptable, it had planned to propose removing federal protections for the animals and eventually turning management over to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

Because the wolf reintroduction was focused in those three states, they need management plans. But Ed Bangs, the agency's wolf recovery coordinator in Helena, Mont., said a delisting proposal also would apply to any wolves in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and parts of Utah and Colorado.

It does not apply to wolves in Alaska, where the animals are plentiful, or to the Mexican gray wolf being reintroduced in Arizona and New Mexico, officials said.

Just last month, about a dozen wildlife managers and scientists, in individual reviews of the state plans requested by the federal agency, said the proposals should be enough to ensure the wolf survival once the animals are removed from federal protection. But some of the experts expressed concerns with such things as whether there will be enough money to properly manage the wolves and how the states plan to monitor the animals.

Some reviewers also had concerns with how Wyoming planned to classify wolves.

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, adding that she doesn't believe a delisting proposal will be forthcoming anytime soon.

Williams himself offered no timetable, saying that it was unclear how Wyoming would react to the agency's recommendations and that the process is not short term.

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