Friday, July 27, 2007

Comments mixed on wolf rule proposal

Changes to 10(j) rule would allow dog owners to kill wolves attacking their pets


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

A gray wolf stands over an elk carcass near Stanley. Photo by Lynne Stone

Gray wolves roaming across a portion of the northern Rocky Mountain tri-state region of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming could be killed for an increasing number of reasons under a plan the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now considering.

Under the proposal, the federal 10(j) rule would be expanded to allow wolves to be killed for depredations on stock animals and dogs, and to achieve wildlife management objectives.

The controversial rule, which was first published in the Federal Register in 2005 and applies to areas south of U.S. Interstate 90 in Idaho and Montana, for now only allows wolves attacking livestock and herding and guarding animals to be killed under specific circumstances.

For the existing rule as well as the proposed new changes to apply in Wyoming, the state would have to produce a wolf management plan the Fish and Wildlife Service deems acceptable. The agency is now in the process of considering a new plan that Wyoming has drafted.

Under the proposed changes to the 10(j) rule, the rule would further allow the shooting of wolves that attack dogs on public and private land. The rule change would also make it easier for states having Fish and Wildlife Service-approved wolf management plans in place to kill wolves in areas where ungulate populations are not meeting the state's management objectives.

As the 10(j) rule now exists, states must prove that wolves are having an unacceptable impact on ungulate populations to be able to remove them by lethal means. In the 2005 rule, unacceptable impact is defined as a "decline in a wild ungulate population or herd, primarily caused by wolf predation."

Under the proposed new wolf rule unacceptable impact would be redefined to mean an "impact to a wild ungulate population or herd, with wolves as one of the major causes of the population or herd not meeting established state or tribal population or herd management goals."

In the existing wolf rule, "we set a threshold that has not provided the intended flexibility to allow states and tribes to resolve conflicts between wolves and ungulate populations," the Fish and Wildlife Service states in its notice in the Federal Register proposing the changes to the 10(j) rule.

At public hearing in Boise on Thursday, July 19, representatives from the federal agency listened to comments ranging from enthusiastic support all the way to downright hostility for the plan. The hearing was the last of three open houses held in different locations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The previous two hearings were held in Cody, Wyo., on Tuesday, July 17, and Helena, Mont., on Wednesday, July 18.

In Boise, comments seemed to be split fairly evenly between the "for" and "against" camps.

Voicing support for the proposed changes during the Boise meeting was Steve Nadeau, the large carnivore manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. More importantly, however, Nadeau said the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to continue along the path to full delisting of the gray wolf in Idaho, Montana and Idaho.

"Delisting is not as some would have you believe—the end of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains," he said.

Rather, Nadeau said it's a reflection that wolves are here to stay.

The states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming can not continue to have denser and denser wolf populations, Nadeau said. More wolves will mean more wolf-human conflicts.

"It's time to demystify wolves," he said. "Let's get on with it."

Standing in stark contrast to the views expressed by Nadeau was Suzanne Stone, the Northern Rockies representative of Defenders of Wildlife, which has dolled out thousands to ranchers whose herds were preyed on by wolves.

For the most part, elk populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are at or above population objectives state fish and game managers have established, Stone said.

"These changes are clearly unnecessary," she said. "We strongly oppose changes to the 10(j) rule."

Although the Fish and Wildlife Service will not hold any more public hearings on the proposed 10(j) rule changes, the agency will continue to take written comments by regular mail and email until Aug. 6, 2007. To mail comments, send them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, Mont., 59601. E-mailed comments can be sent to WolfRuleChange@fws.gov. Include "RIN number 1018-Av39" in the subject line of the email message.

A decision on the wolf rule change could happen as early as late 2007 or early 2008.




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