Lawmakers turn sights on wolves

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Lawmakers turn sights on wolves

Postby ~jeff~ » Mon Oct 04, 2010 9:36 am

Western lawmakers turn sights on gray wolves


10/03/10
The Associated Press
BILLINGS, Mont. -- Two decades after the federal government spent a half-million dollars to study the reintroduction of gray wolves to the Northern Rockies, lawmakers say it's time for Congress to step in again -- this time to clamp down on the endangered animals.

To do so, they are proposing to bypass the Endangered Species Act and lift protections, first enacted in 1974, for today's booming wolf population.

Critics say the move would undercut one of the nation's premiere environmental laws and allow for the unchecked killing of wolves across the West.

But bitterness against the iconic predator is flaring as livestock killings increase and some big game herds dwindle.

And with state efforts to knock back the predators' expansion stalled in court, senators from Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah want to strip wolves of their endangered status by force.

"When they brought wolves to Idaho, the Legislature voted against it, the governor didn't want it and the congressional delegation didn't want it," said Idaho Republican Sen. James Risch. "We didn't want them in the first place. But we are prepared to deal with them as we see fit."

1,700 IN SIX STATES

Following the reintroduction study, 66 wolves were brought from Canada to central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. The population hit the original recovery benchmark of 300 animals a decade ago, yet they remain officially endangered.

At least 1,700 wolves now roam six states.

Yet wildlife advocates warn the attempt to strong-arm a public hunt through congressional action would set a dangerous precedent for other endangered species -- and unravel a wolf recovery program that has cost $30 million to date.

"It's comparable to throwing an individual species off of Noah's ark," said Doug Honnold, a Montana attorney representing groups that won an Aug. 5 court ruling that returned wolves to the endangered list.

No state has proposed getting rid of wolves entirely, despite calls to do so by individual ranchers. Montana and Idaho have plans to reduce their populations by 15 percent and about 40 percent, respectively.

Those states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appealed the August ruling last week. A final ruling could take years.

There also are proposals to hold wolf hunts with the animals still listed as endangered. That idea has gotten a cool reception from federal wildlife officials.

State officials say intervention by Congress may be the only viable option remaining.

KILL BILLS

Environmentalists have vowed to lobby hard against several wolf bills introduced in the past two weeks. And the measures face another hurdle: Lawmakers are split along party lines over which states should be allowed to hunt wolves.

A measure introduced by Montana Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester would leave wolves endangered in Wyoming, which has a shoot-on-sight law for wolves across most of the state.

"If Wyoming doesn't want to put forward a management plan that works, that's Wyoming's fault," Baucus said.

Tester added that Wyoming "hasn't wanted to play" and suggested that Montana could not wait for its southern neighbor to change its mind given ongoing livestock losses from wolf attacks.

Republicans have sponsored more sweeping measures that would de-list wolves across the Lower 48 states, including Wyoming. Idaho's delegation has yet another bill, described as a fallback plan, that includes only that state and Montana.

Senators from both parties and across the region met last week in part to resolve the Wyoming issue. But a common front has yet to emerge.

MANAGED HUNTS

Wolves were off the endangered list for more than a year before the latest court ruling. In that time, hunters in Montana and Idaho killed 260 of the animals.

Environmentalists decried the shootings as unprecedented for a species just off the endangered list.

Yet those managed hunts were a far cry from the days when bounty hunters poisoned, shot, trapped and burned the species to near-extinction early last century.

A count at the end of 2009 showed the region's wolf population rose slightly last year despite the hunts. Wildlife officials heralded the increase as proof the states could show restraint.

Even without public hunting, government wildlife agents regularly retaliate against wolves that attack livestock, typically by shooting them from aircraft.

About 270 were shot last year under the program and more than 1,300 have been killed since Congress' initial involvement.

"Government agents killing wolves with shotguns from helicopters -- that's not the model of conservation we had in mind," said Carolyn Sime, the head of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' wolf program. "It took an act of Congress to direct the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study reintroduction. Maybe that's fitting as a way to resolve this."
~Jeff~
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Pro-Wolf Groups Blew It

Postby ~jeff~ » Wed Oct 06, 2010 10:42 pm

Pro-Wolf Groups Blew It

By Bill Schneider , 10-06-10
Everybody following the wolf issue knows how bad it is, politically. About the only way it could get worse would be a wolf breaking into an urban backyard and biting a child.

Federal District Judge Donald Molloy's Aug. 5 ruling putting the Big Dog back on the endangered species list and stopping hunts in Idaho and Montana was that proverbial last straw for a lot of people, even fence sitters who like wolves and supported reintroduction.

I've written frequently urging stakeholders to sit down, outside of a courthouse, and work out a compromise. But in all these years, at least as far as I know, there has never been even one meeting. Now, I have to think the pro-wolfers blew their chance to cut the best deal they could have gotten. I bet they could have locked in a much higher minimum population level and won other concessions from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the state wildlife agencies, at least Idaho and Montana, but they didn't even try. Instead, they kept going to the courts, and now, they'll be lucky to salvage the integrity of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

So, we move onto the next chapter in the neverending story. The plaintiffs (list at end of column) might think that's the next round in the courthouse brawl, but not the defendants. They're going to Congress.

As we languish in this ridiculous ego-centric impasse where neither side wants to show a sign of weakness by making the first move, anger has swollen to a point where some agencies and sporting groups refuse to even say the words, "settle" or "settlement" because they fear it might imply they gave into the pro-wolfers. Even if the plaintiffs had a sudden change of heart, it probably wouldn
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