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
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
"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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
Some reviewers also had concerns with how Wyoming planned
to classify wolves.
Fascione, vice president of species conservation with
the Defenders of Wildlife, said rejection of Wyoming's
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.