Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Governor supports Montana wolf plan

Montana’s decision almost identical to Otter’s

Express Staff Writer

Gov. Butch Otter supports a decision by Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer that would make it easier for ranchers and the state to kill that state's endangered wolves. The decision is very similar to one made by Otter in October.

"They're pretty much identical with one exception," said Otter spokesman Jon Hanian.

Schweitzer stated in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar dated Feb. 16 that he is directing Montana game wardens not to prosecute any rancher or other livestock owner who killed a wolf that was harassing stock.

In addition, Schweitzer stated he would order the department to remove whole packs that prey on livestock, as well as wolves that prey on elk in Montana's Bitterroot Valley near Missoula.

These actions are legal with federal approval in some circumstances, but not in this case.

The wolves Schweitzer is threatening to remove are north of Interstate 90, which means they are classified as "endangered" rather than "experimental."

Experimental populations can be managed under the Endangered Species Act's 10(j) provision, which allows landowners to kill a wolf caught in the act of attacking livestock or pets and allows Fish and Game to carry out approved control actions.

Hanian said the letter Schweitzer sent to Salazar was a "virtual carbon copy" of the one Otter sent to Salazar in October.

But while Otter relinquished all state responsibility for wolf management and directed the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to focus on protecting ungulates, Schweitzer's directions keep state agents involved in the management process.

"His sportsmen are still paying for management," Hanian said.

Schweitzer's decision may prove unnecessary in the upcoming weeks, as Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, has included a provision in the U.S. House of Representative's continuing resolution to remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act.

The House passed the bill early Saturday morning, with all of Simpson's provisions intact. Simpson spokeswoman Nikki Watts said the likelihood of the provision's remaining in the Senate and final versions of the bill is very good, as Simpson will be on the committee to draft the final version of the legislation.

"He will work very hard to keep his language in the bill," Watts said.

Katherine Wutz:

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