Rep. Minnick says Wyoming law caused listing problem

By CAROL RYAN DUMAS

Capital Press

Frustrated that gray wolves have been returned to the endangered species list, Idaho's congressional delegation is ramping up efforts to return management of the wolves to the state.

Federal protection was restored Aug. 5 when U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, Missoula, Mont., ordered the wolves relisted under the Endangered Species Act. The ruling halted plans for wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana.

The gray wolf had been delisted in Idaho and Montana in April 2009, but remained listed in Wyoming, which refused to comply with the Endangered Species Act. In his decision, Molloy, ruled the wolf population "must be listed or delisted as a distinct population and protected accordingly," even as he acknowledged that the delisting was "pragmatic" and "practical."

Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are co-sponsors of a bill to return management of wolves to its status before the court order.

"It simply takes those very same segments Fish and Wildlife broke out and allowed to be managed by states out of the endangered species list," Crapo said.

It also grants the Fish and Wildlife Service the power to re-evaluate the situation and states' management in five years.

Crapo said he and Risch will be collaborating with colleagues in the Senate and House to build momentum for regaining states' control and if legislation is not passed in Congress' lame duck session, he expects something to passed early 2011.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and state legislators had earlier asked Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar to appeal the ruling and to work with them on a memorandum of understanding for state management.

"We're focusing on the fact the Interior Department itself recommended wolves be removed (from the endangered species list), that they consider wolves recovered," said Lindsay Nothern, press secretary for Crapo.

Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, said the problem isn't with Idaho or Montana, which are compliant in their management plans. It's with Wyoming. Wyoming legislators passed a bill that the state's Fish and Game Department would manage wolves in the Jackson Hole area, but those outside Yellowstone National Park could be shot on sight, he said.

The judge's ruling, which did not to address the Wyoming problem, is not logical, he said.

Interior Department lawyers are making that argument to the judge and asking that he come up with a remedy that addresses the problem in Wyoming. If the judge stands by his ruling, Interior will appeal, Minnick said.

"We're going to attempt to come up with legislation to remedy that," he said. "We'll make the judge's decision for him if he won't make it himself."

Interior lawyers are also trying to convince the judge that even under his ruling, hunting is an appropriate control measure, he said.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and his staff have been giving Interior a chance to respond to their requests, said Nikki Watts, Simpson's press secretary. Simpson is meeting with the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week on the issue of state management, and he and his staff are looking at some legislative proposals to see what would help.

Earlier this month, Otter met with Salazar and followed up with an ultimatum that if some agreement for state management isn't in place by Oct. 7, the state will no longer be a designated agent for monitoring, providing law enforcement support or investigating wolf deaths in Idaho.

"We've demonstrated successfully Idaho experts can manage (wolves) like any other big-game predator," said John Hanian, Otter's press secretary. "We remain engaged and hope eventually for an unemotional, thoughtful and apolitical review of the facts will end in what we're seeking."

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