Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hunkins: Deal with feds on wolves

By TOM MORTON - Star-Tribune staff writer

Wyoming needs to negotiate, not litigate, to cope with the growing wolf population, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ray Hunkins said Monday. "I think what we have to focus on with the wolf issue is reducing the number of wolves in Wyoming, and the methodology can be different," Hunkins said. "I think the governor ought to sit down and get this resolved with the federal officials instead of dealing with it in court," the Wheatland lawyer and rancher said.

The Republican administration in Washington would get along better with a Republican governor in Wyoming, he said. "That's one of the things that I think I bring to the table, to sit down with fellow Republicans and persuade them of the seriousness of the problem," Hunkins said. "Together I think we could find a way to resolve the issue so that it's good for Wyoming and good for conservation, too."

Hunkins formally announced his candidacy two weeks ago. On Monday, the 15th day of a 16-day tour of the state's 23 counties, he spoke to supporters at the Best Western-Ramkota Hotel in Casper. Hunkins is the only Republican candidate so far seeking his party's nomination in the Aug. 22 primary. He unsuccessfully sought the nomination in 2002.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who announced his re-election bid last week, is facing Democrat Al Hamburg of Torrington in the Democratic primary. Freudenthal has spearheaded Wyoming's legal action against the federal government on the wolf issue. In April 2004, Wyoming sued the U.S. Interior Department, after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service objected in a letter to the state's classification of wolves outside the Yellowstone area as predators that could be shot on sight.

U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson dismissed the lawsuit a year ago, ruling that the letter was merely a preliminary step in the process and did not constitute a “final action.” The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal last week.

The defeat means even though wolf numbers in the three-state recovery zone -- Wyoming, Idaho and Montana -- far exceed the benchmark set when Canadian gray wolves were introduced in 1995, the federal government will not lift the animals' protected status. Montana's and Idaho's wolf management plans have been approved. But acceptable plans from all three states are required before wolves can be delisted.

Hunkins agreed with the approaches taken by Idaho and Montana, where ranchers can now kill wolves harassing their livestock. "I think we can be reducing the number of wolves right now if we played it smarter," he said. "This litigation, I don't think, has gotten us anywhere," Hunkins said. "Meanwhile, the packs are growing; the safety concerns are also growing."

Freudenthal, reached by phone Monday evening, defended the state's litigation and dismissed Hunkins' suggestion as a surrender. "It's not a new option," he said. "It's one available, to capitulate to the feds."

Hunkins also repeated two of his campaign themes, criticizing Freudenthal's handling of the methamphetamine crisis and economic development. After an introduction by U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas, Hunkins said he would bring a conservative approach to government in Cheyenne. "I run to reinstate common sense to state government," he said. Freudenthal's administration has spent $35 million to combat methamphetamine with no plan of action, Hunkins said. "He had his chance," Hunkins said. "He did not lead."

Freudenthal and his administration knew four years ago that the state was on the verge of a major energy boom, but did nothing to deal with housing and labor shortages, he said. Likewise, Freudenthal has not aggressively recruited businesses from the rest of the nation and the world, Hunkins said. "This governor is not serious on economic diversification."

Freudenthal said he would not respond to Hunkins criticisms on the meth and economic development issues.

  • Jackson Hole Star-Tribune

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