Gov rebuffs wolf pleas
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: July 30, 2011
In spite of protests from Teton County commissioners, Gov. Matt Mead is moving ahead with a wolf management agreement with federal officials that would allow the unregulated killing of wolves in part of Teton County for several months a year.
In a letter sent to Mead earlier this month, commissioners said allowing the unregulated killing of wolves ignores the values of county residents and could put Teton County’s image and reputation at risk.
Mead, however, has not ceded any ground on the issue.
“It’s too late to include that,” Mead’s spokesman, Renny Mackay, said Friday. “It’s nothing that the governor or [U.S.] Fish and Wildlife Service have ever talked about.”
Mead is “very close” to wrapping up the terms of the deal with federal officials and needed to keep moving to ensure the negotiations end successfully, Mackay said.
Commissioners objected to unregulated killing, or predator status, that would allow wolves to be killed at any time by any means.
“If we don’t get this issue resolved as part of this settlement, I think it will be a terrible stain on the reputation and image of the county,” commissioner Hank Phibbs said Friday.
Phibbs spoke with the governor Thursday and commissioners sent a letter to him earlier this month, both times pushing to have the predator line moved.
Earlier this month, Mead and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar outlined a pending plan in which wolves would be designated as predators in the county south of Highway 22 for parts of the year. Predator status would allow unregulated killing of the animals.
In the rest of the county, save national parks and refuges where they would be protected, wolves would be considered trophy game and hunted only according to state seasons.
Under the pending plan, the trophy zone would expand south of Highway 22 to the Snake River during winter, allowing wolves to migrate to Idaho without the pressure of predator hunters.
In earlier interviews, the governor said he hoped to wrap up the terms of the deal by the end of July. It would allow Wyoming to gain control of wolves and see them removed from Endangered Species Act protection.
The deal would require 100 wolves in 10 packs living outside Yellowstone National Park.
While Mackay said the governor still is trying to close the deal as soon as possible, he doubted it would be complete by July 31.
Commissioners argue there should not be any deadline. Instead, state and federal officials should not stop working until they come up with the best management plan possible, they say.
“This has been going on for 10 years,” Phibbs said. “There’s no deadline. The date that was chosen is totally arbitrary. My board feels very strongly that we want to get this done right.”
In response to county commissioners’ contention that the line be changed, Mackay said they had their chance to raise their concerns. Staff from the governor’s office met with Teton County representatives in April to solicit their input for the wolf management issue and did not hear any objections related to the predator boundary, Mackay said.
“We did raise concerns then,” Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance Public Lands Director Louise Lasley said.
Lasley added one of the primary concerns of conservation representatives who were at the meeting in April was that a moving boundary would be confusing for everyone involved.
“What the alliance would like to see is the return of this process to Wyoming Game and Fish with standard public input to determine how they are going to reach the numbers that have been determined,” Lasley said.
In addition, county commissioners said the management plan directly conflicts with residents’ highest priorities.
“There have been efforts to establish the future economic base of this community as wildlife,” Phibbs said. “By sending a message that wolves are considered to be varmints, we’re contradicting that pretty fundamentally.”
Others questioned what effect moving the predator boundary would have on wolves in Teton County.
Bob Wharf, director of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said that wolves moving outside of protected areas are no longer contributing to the recovery effort. Wharf also questioned whether visitors to the area even try to see wolves outside of protected areas such as the national parks.
One factor that should be considered, Wharf said, is what kind of effects hunters have on the local economy and how those contributions would be affected if hunting were limited.