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For the week of December 10 - 16, 2003


Idaho pushes for local wolf management

State could control populations in one year

"Basically, the only reason wolves disappeared is people killed them all, and the only reason they would disappear again is if they were killed."

ED BANGS, USFWS wolf recovery program director

Express Staff Writer

Citing recent reviews of proposed state wolf management plans, Idaho’s governor said Dec. 1 that it is time to push for local management of gray wolves.

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne made the comments after 11 national wolf experts gave positive reviews to the validity of wolf management plans for Idaho, Montana and Wyoming—the three states where wolves have been managed for recovery by the federal government since 1995.

According to Ed Bangs, three-state wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wolves could be under the state purviews in about a year if the plans are approved this month by USFWS Director Steve Williams and the decision is made to remove wolves from federal protection.

"We’re leading up to a proposal to delist (the so-called experimental packs from Endangered Species Act protection). That’s the biggy," Bangs said. "That process would take about a year. It’s not a National Environmental Policy Act analysis, but a thorough analysis nonetheless."

But the peer reviews of the reports weren’t overall ringing endorsements of all three state plans.

In the documents made public Dec. 1, a number of the experts said they are concerned about whether there will be enough money to properly manage the wolves and how the states plan to monitor the animals.

A number of the experts found the states' reliance on federal funding troublesome.

"The success of the three state plans, or the degree to which they will be implemented, will be dependent upon the amount and annual guarantee of federal funding," wrote Bill Paul, assistant state director with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services in Minnesota.

Paul was one of 11 wildlife managers and scientists asked by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to review the three state plans as part of the agency's determination of whether the wolves should be removed from the endangered species list.

Gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho beginning in 1995, and the Fish and Wildlife Service considers their recovery a success. Wolves from Yellowstone have recolonized areas of Wyoming and Montana. Wolves from Canada also have moved into Montana.

When they are removed from the endangered species list, however, management will be passed to the three states that attempted to prevent wolf reintroduction from its beginning.

The 11 wildlife managers and scientists concluded individually that the states’ plans should maintain viable populations into the foreseeable future.

If the plans are deemed adequate for maintaining a wolf population, the agency will decide if it should propose delisting, a move Bangs said would affect wolves in other parts of the West and trigger another process of review and public comment.

Besides funding, reviewers also questioned how wolves would be monitored. At least one reviewer said Idaho's plan was vague on that point.

Officials with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Governor's Office of Species Conservation said the state plan’s "lack of specificity" was by design. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will provide management details "through normal process," they said in a Dec. 1 statement.

Additionally, some reviewers raised concerns with how Wyoming intends to classify wolves if they are removed from federal protection.

Under the Wyoming plan, gray wolves in some areas would be considered trophy game and subject to regulated hunting, while in others they would be classified as predators and could be killed with few restrictions. The wolves would be protected in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

Chris Smith, chief of staff with Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the state's plan will cost between $800,000 and $1 million a year to implement. He, like officials in other states, believes the federal government should help.

"We've said from the get-go, we believe that since this is a national initiative to restore wolves to the Northern Rockies, the people of the nation should share in the cost," he said. "We think it's appropriate that federal funding be made available and I'm fairly confident it will be."

Bangs said Wyoming’s plan has proven to be the most controversial approach presented.

"There was nothing really unexpected in these peer review comments," he said.

"Basically, the only reason wolves disappeared is people killed them all, and the only reason they would disappear again is if they were killed."



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