Wolves backdrop as Salazar speaks in Grand Teton
By MEAD GRUVER
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar planned to highlight the economic benefit of national parks and tourism Tuesday at two appearances in Grand Teton National Park, but wolves were on the minds of some who planned to attend.
Salazar's visit to Jackson Hole comes just a day before a scheduled public meeting there on a tentative deal to remove wolves from endangered species protection in Wyoming.
The deal between Wyoming and the Interior Department would allow people to shoot wolves in much of the state year-round without a license. It still must be approved by state lawmakers.
One environmentalist suggested tourism and the future of wolves aren't really separate issues considering how the deal would let people shoot wolves on sight in Jackson Hole during part of the year.
"That could be a huge blow to our tourism industry, and it doesn't help the hunting industry here, either, where the guides could be charging a significant amount for wolf hunts," said Trevor Stevenson, executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.
The plan agreed to by Wyoming and Interior officials earlier this month would classify wolves as trophy game subject to regulated hunting in northwest Wyoming and as predators that could be shot on sight elsewhere in the state. Non-Wyoming residents would need a guide to hunt wolves in the trophy game zone.
A "flex zone" in which wolves would be classified as trophy game part of the year and as predators that could be shot on sight the rest of the time would cover southern Jackson Hole.
If approved, the plan would remove wolves from endangered species protection in Wyoming. The state would then join Idaho and Montana in taking over wolf management from the federal government for the first time since the animals were reintroduced to the Yellowstone ecosystem in the mid-1990s.
The Teton County Commission last month asked Gov. Matt Mead to reconsider the flex zone, saying Teton County's economy was too dependent on wildlife -- wolves included -- to allow unregulated wolf shooting even part of the year.
The letter came late in negotiations, and state officials said changing the year-round boundary of the trophy game zone was never on the table.
A state legislator said his first priority will be to see that the overall plan gets implemented and not derailed by something like disagreement over the flex zone.
"I'd hate to see everything come apart across the state over this," Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta, said Tuesday.
Mead spokesman Renny McKay said the governor's office was invited to hear Salazar speak but didn't get enough advance notice for the governor to go or send a representative.
He said Mead isn't looking to change the state's deal with the Interior Department at this point and remains optimistic the plan will win approval from the Wyoming Legislature and Congress.
"It's a finished plan, and it's out for public review now," McKay said.
Wednesday's public meeting in Jackson is one of eight planned around the state between Tuesday and the end of August. Other meetings on Wyoming's tentative wolf deal were scheduled in Casper, Pinedale, Sheridan, Cody, Rock Springs, Cheyenne and Lander.
Grand Teton spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said Salazar's public appearances were planned only within the last few days and grew from plans for a low-key, personal visit to Wyoming.
Salazar was scheduled to speak to Grand Teton employees and then at an event for park concessionaires, congressional staff, local officials, environmentalists and other invited guests.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.