Crouching Rule, Hidden Agenda 

Idaho and Montana granted more authority to kill wolves

Storm clouds or blue skies? Pro and anti-wolf factions alike are taking a "wait and see" stance on Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's announcement last week to grant Idaho and Montana state officials, ranchers and landowners more authority to kill wolves.

The new regulation, which goes into effect early February, provides that:

• Landowners can kill wolves attacking livestock or livestock-herding animals.

• States can issue written authorization to landowners or grazing permitees to kill wolves that consistently pose a threat to livestock.

• State or tribal agencies can kill wolves causing unacceptable impacts on wildlife populations, but only after presenting a proposal to the federal government followed by a scientific and public review period and federal approval of the proposal.

• On public land, people with grazing or outfitting permits can kill wolves attacking livestock or guard animals.

The new rule does not allow for sport or pleasure hunting or trapping of wolves.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reintroduced wolves to the greater Yellowstone National Park area and Central Idaho as an experimental population in 1995 and 1996. Today there are approximately 825 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, meeting the population goal for proposing delisting of wolves in these states. But federal officials have not moved forward with delisting because under the original USFWS wolf reintroduction plan once Idaho, Montana and Wyoming submitted federally acceptable wolf management plans, federal protections would be lifted and control turned over to the three states. Idaho and Montana have submitted and received approval of their wolf management plans, but Wyoming's submitted plan was promptly rejected by the USFWS primarily because the plan allowed for shooting wolves on sight.

Wyoming retaliated by suing the USFWS last year and is not included in the new rule despite being part of the original wolf recovery program area and having a thriving wolf population.

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal told the Associated Press last week that the new rule provides little flexibility for Idaho and Montana.

"I didn't see where it was a significant advantage," he said, pointing out that Idaho and Montana must still answer to the USFWS. "When you look at it, I think it's a lot like taking your sister to the prom."

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, in a statement issued January 3, also offered a tongue-in-cheek remark about the amount of red tape involved in delisting wolves:

"Unfortunately, the wolves are breeding faster than the paperwork can be completed. In Idaho alone, there are approximately 450 wolves and the population is still growing. I appreciate Secretary Norton's commitment to the recovery of this species and know that state management of wolves will bring about a successful and levelheaded recovery of this 'threatened' species."

To read the new rule posted to the Federal Register on Jan. 6 , go to www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/a050106c.html and click on "Gray wolf; western distinct population segment, 1285--1311 [05--136]" under Fish and Wildlife Service.

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