By BEN NEARY
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- Some environmental groups say they intend to press the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand protections for wolves in Wyoming when the federal agency takes public comment next week on a wolf management plan.
The federal agency plans to hold a meeting Tuesday in Riverton to collect public comment on a plan that Gov. Matt Mead and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reached this summer that could see an end to federal protections for Wyoming wolves as soon as next year.
Under the agreement, Wyoming would classify wolves as unprotected predators that could be shot on sight in most areas. Wolves would be protected as trophy game animals in a flexible zone outside Yellowstone National Park.
Daryle Murphy of Riverton, conservation chairman for the Wyoming chapter of the Sierra Club, said Friday he intends to hammer on the point that the deal Mead and Salazar struck is very similar to a plan to delisting plan the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a few years ago.
"It's not really a wolf-management plan," Murphy said. "It's more of a wolf-killing plan from our perspective. Our concern is that almost 90 percent of the state, wolves will have no protection whatsoever, and are susceptible to killing by anyone at any time without even requiring a license since they'll be listed as predators for the most part."
Wyoming has been sparring in the courts with both the federal government and environmental groups for years as the state has struggled to take over wolf management. Many ranchers and state officials say they're concerned about wolves preying on elk, moose as well as on livestock.
Wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone and other areas in the mid-1990s. The wolf population in the Northern Rockies has rebounded since then to more than 1,600 animals, including more than 300 in Wyoming. The plan Mead and Salazar agreed on would require Wyoming to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves outside Yellowstone.
The Wyoming Game Commission recently endorsed the plan. A legislative committee also recommended approval of it earlier this week, setting the state for the full Legislature to consider it next year.
Although Mead and Salazar announced their agreement on how to delist wolves in Wyoming without taking public comment beforehand, Murphy said the Sierra Club takes the Fish and Wildlife Service at its word that it will consider public comments at the Riverton meeting.
"I don't really think there has been sufficient airing of the issues," Murphy said. He said the federal wildlife agency should consider that wolves draw tourists who spend millions of dollars a year in the state.
Sophie Osborn, wildlife biologist and wildlife program director with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, also said her group intends to tell the Fish and Wildlife Service that it would prefer to see wolves across Wyoming managed as trophy game animals.
The public hearing is from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 15, at Central Wyoming College. There will be an informational meeting beforehand, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said his group has urged members to attend Tuesday's meeting to support the deal between the state and the federal governments.
Magagna said his group believes Wyoming needs to take over wolf management to benefit its wildlife. While he said government agencies have been responsive in killing wolves that prey on livestock, he said the state has been helpless to respond to wildlife depredation.
An attempt to reach a Washington spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service was unsuccessful on Friday, a federal holiday.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.