Saturday, March 18, 2006

Montana ranchers, outfitters crying wolf

By SUSAN GALLAGHER - Associated Press Writer

Wildlife agency draws criticism over delisting

HELENA — People claiming wolves have the upper hand in Montana, attacking livestock and wildlife, accused the state wildlife agency Friday of not doing enough to get wolves removed from the list of federally protected species so that Montana will have more control over them.

‘‘We already have more wolves than we need,’’ Sen. Dan McGee, R-Laurel, said at a meeting of the Montana Environmental Quality Council, on which he serves.

McGee joined outfitters and ranchers in contending that the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks should be working harder to advance wolves’ removal from the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Outfitter Bill Hoppe of Gardiner, a Yellowstone gateway, said that area of Montana used to be rich with wildlife but has become ‘‘a predator pit.’’

Robert Fanning said his Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd has tried to advance the so-called delisting of wolves. Fanning said he finds ‘‘a greater chance that (Playboy Playmate) Anna Nicole Smith will join a convent,’’ than that Fish, Wildlife and Parks will work vigorously on the wolves’ status.

Bob Lane, a lawyer for the agency, said in an interview that its staff is working within a federal framework to advance delisting of wolves and must do so in a way that is defensible legally. The work takes time, and that frustrates some people, Lane said.

The criticism came after Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials gave the Environmental Quality Council an update about wolves in the state, focusing on the Legislature’s call for progress toward delisting.

Speakers included Carolyn Sime, wolf program coordinator for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, who was in Circle early this week to follow up on reports of dozens of livestock deaths in that part of the state — deaths ranchers blame on a wolf or wolf hybrid. To the extent that regulations allow, Sime said, some ranchers have been given permission to kill the animal.

Responding to complaints that a pilot in the area has seen it, was prepared to kill it and remains willing to do so but lacks permission, Sime said he does not meet the criteria for persons authorized to use ‘‘lethal control.’’

‘‘These people are very concerned, very emotional and they’re trying to do the right thing’’ by not taking wolf control into their own hands unlawfully, said Republican Rep. Jim Peterson of Buffalo, a rancher and former executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. ‘‘I also have to tell you they’re running out of patience’’ and may lean toward ‘‘introducing some self-help.’’

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming biologically recovered. An estimated 1,020 wolves roamed the region at the end of 2005, according to state and federal wildlife figures, with Montana alone having 256. The federal agency has indicated its willingness to move toward delisting.

For that to happen, though, each of the three states must have a management plan approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Montana and Idaho have them — both now handle day-to-day wolf management duties in their states — but the federal government has rejected Wyoming’s plan. That move is being litigated.

‘‘Wyoming is holding us up,’’ Mike Volesky, an adviser to Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, told the Environmental Quality Council.

Assistant Attorney General Candace West said the Bush administration’s selection of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne this week to become Interior secretary stands to advance the delisting.

‘‘Hopefully, Secretary Kempthorne will answer Gov. Kempthorne’s and Gov. Schweitzer’s request to expedite the delisting,’’ West said.

  • Helena Independent-Record