Friday, September 24, 2010

Chess game persists in wolf management

Senators introduce bill to exclude Idaho wolves from ESA

Express Staff Writer

Hints of pending federal wolf legislation came to fruition on Wednesday, when Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both R-Idaho, introduced a bill that would exclude wolves in Idaho from the Endangered Species Act.

The bill, known as the State Wolf Management Act, calls for the delisting of all wolves in the Northern Rockies population, except for those in Wyoming, from protection under the Endangered Species Act. The act defines that population as including wolves in Idaho, Montana, northern Utah and parts of Oregon and Washington. Wolves in Wyoming would remain listed under the act until that state developed a federally approved management plan.

A similar situation occurred in May 2009, when most of the Northern Rockies population was delisted with the exception of Wyoming. However, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy ruled in early August that a distinct population segment such as that in the Northern Rockies could not be split along state lines and must be listed or delisted in its entirety.

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal said late last month that Wyoming is not inclined to change its plan, which defines wolves in much of the state as a "predator species" that can be shot on sight.

The Risch-Crapo bill is the first piece of wolf-related legislation to be introduced since Molloy's ruling, though others are reportedly in the works.

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., posted a draft bill on his website last week that calls for an amendment to the Endangered Species Act that would give the states of Idaho and Montana "exclusive jurisdiction" over wolf management there.

The bill has not yet been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Nikki Watts, spokeswoman for Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said Thursday that Simpson was working on legislation with Rehberg and fellow Idaho Rep. Walt Minnick, a Democrat.

Kyle Hines, spokesman for Risch, said there are numerous bills in development.

"Right now, there are at least four, maybe six of these bills kicking around," he said.

Only one other bill has been introduced, House Resolution 6028, brought to the floor by Rep. Chet Edwards, R-Texas, in July, before Molloy's ruling.

The bill is similar to the Senate's bill in that it is an amendment to the Endangered Species Act, but it would remove all gray wolves from protection, not just those in most of the Northern Rockies.

But the likelihood of passage of any of these bills is not good, contends Mike Leahy, spokesman for national wolf advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife.

"It probably won't fly," Leahy said of the State Wolf Management Act. "I just don't think the American people are going to go for letting Idaho eliminate 750 or so wolves."

The act places the minimum wolf population number at 10 breeding pairs or 100 wolves per state, which Leahy said is much too low.

"There will be a lot of pressure on Idaho Fish and Game to reduce wolves as low as they can," said Leahy, who is based in Montana.

As for separating part of a population, Leahy said such a move has no basis in "hard science."

"It shouldn't be done," he said. "Wildlife should be managed scientifically, not politically."

Previously, state wildlife managers indicated that a court appeal of the Molloy decision might be forthcoming. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission passed a resolution on Aug. 16 that called for an appeal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a defendant in the case.

Risch and Crapo had also called for an appeal prior to introducing their legislation, requesting in a letter that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, another defendant, appeal the court's ruling.

Hines said the legislative route seemed like the most effective way forward.

"The senator was looking for a quicker and more certain route to have this issue handled," he said.

Katherine Wutz:

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