Posted: Friday, July 29, 2011 1:29 PM
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- Wyoming officials say they aren't getting behind a last-minute effort by Teton County to prevent wolves from being shot on sight there, saying they've all but reached a deal with the Interior Department on a plan to remove wolves in Wyoming from endangered species protection.
At issue is the proposed boundary of a year-round zone in northwest Wyoming where wolves would be protected and in certain areas classified as trophy game subject to regulated hunting. Outside that zone, wolves would be classified as predators that could be shot on sight.
Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park starting in the mid-1990s. There are now about 1,600 wolves in the Northern Rockies, including some 340 in Wyoming.
The core habitat zone for wolves in the Yellowstone region -- an area that encompasses Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks -- has been a key part of the discussion of wolves' status in Wyoming for years.
The proposed boundary of the zone runs through Teton County along Wyoming Highway 22. South of that line, in the southern end of Teton County, wolves could be shot on sight for part of the year.
Teton County commissioners asked Gov. Matt Mead in a letter last week to move the line to the county's southern boundary, saying wildlife including wolves are an asset that benefit the tourist economy in Jackson Hole.
"Classifying the wolf as a predator so it can be essentially a free-fire shooting zone in this county is fundamentally in conflict with the values and the basic economic interests of the community up here," Commissioner Hank Phibbs told The Associated Press on Thursday.
This past spring, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed wolves in Montana and Idaho from endangered species protection in response to legislation passed by Congress. The two states have taken over wolf management from the federal government.
Wyoming has been negotiating with the Interior Department to do the same.
The Legislature wrote the boundaries of the proposed wolf protection zone in northwest Wyoming into law years ago, noted Steve Ferrell, Gov. Matt Mead's policy adviser on endangered species.
Changing the line isn't on the table in negotiations with the federal government at this point.
"It's in state statute," Ferrell said. "To change it would require an action of the state Legislature."
What the two sides are still discussing, he said, is the extent of a proposed "flex" zone beyond the core wolf protection area. Wolves would be protected part of the year in the flex zone to encourage their migration.
The flex zone would extend south of Teton County to the Snake River.
That would protect wolves throughout the county for part of the year while allowing for them to be shot on sight in the southern end of the county for part of the year. The commissioners oppose that.
Jackson Hole hunters and outfitters blame wolves for declining game populations and have called for as much leeway as possible to control wolf numbers.
Environmentalists question the plan to change the wolf classification boundaries from season to season.
"Our biggest concern with this proposal is that the flex plan is not biologically sufficient, and it may not be legally sufficient for management of wolves in Wyoming," said Chris Colligan with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
Environmentalists also question a pending congressional proposal to exempt the plan from court review, saying such a law would undermine the Endangered Species Act.
On July 7, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe met with Mead in Cheyenne to discuss wolves. The three said at a news conference they were close to an agreement.
Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said Thursday the two sides are "right there at the end" of negotiations.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.