Saturday, May 27, 2006

Wyoming candidate Hunkins wants 'unconditional surrender'

By BRODIE FARQUHAR - Star-Tribune correspondent

RIVERTON -- Ray Hunkins, the Republican challenger to Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal, threw red meat to a Farm Bureau crowd on Friday, declaring he would seek “unconditional surrender” from the U.S. Interior Department when it comes to wolf management in Wyoming. In April, Hunkins suggested that state officials pursue an out-of-court resolution to Wyoming's dispute with the federal government over wolves -- even if it meant dropping the state's classification of the animals as predators that could be shot on sight outside national parks and adjacent lands.

Hunkins said the word “negotiate” has taken on "an ugly meaning" in connection with this issue, noting that Freudenthal had called Hunkins' position “capitulation” to the federal wolf position. “Let me tell you what I meant by ‘negotiation.' In 1945, Douglas MacArthur met on the deck of the USS Missouri with representatives of the Empire of Japan to accept their unconditional surrender, ending World War II. That was preceded by negotiations between General MacArthur’s staff and the imperial general staff concerning the terms of surrender. “My friends, this is exactly the sort of negotiation I have in mind. It is not synonymous with capitulate. Hunkins, a Wheatland lawyer and rancher, said his courtroom reputation was not based on capitulation or surrender.

Hunkins spoke here on the final day of a wolf seminar involving landowners, outfitters, state and federal biologists, lawyers and legislators. At the seminar the day before, Freudenthal vigorously defended the state's wolf management plan, which has been rejected by the federal government largely because it provides no protection for wolves in most of the state.

In Hunkins' remarks on Friday, Freudenthal's probable GOP challenger in November accused the former Wyoming U.S. attorney of helping bring wolves to Wyoming. In his capacity as a federal lawyer, Freudenthal was involved in defending against a court challenge to the federal wolf reintroduction program, arguing well enough that the agency won that case, Hunkins said. Hunkins said Freudenthal had a chance to recuse himself from arguing in favor of wolf reintroduction in the West, but did not do so. “That was his choice,” Hunkins said.

In contrast, Hunkins praised the current U.S. attorney in Wyoming, Matthew Mead, who had opposed wolf reintroduction and filed a motion to recuse his office and himself from any involvement with the current wolf litigation. “That motion was granted by the trial judge, and our U.S. attorney for Wyoming in 2006 is not involved in wolf litigation,” Hunkins said. He praised Mead for following his convictions, saying Freudenthal could have done the same and did not. “He (Freudenthal) had his chance. He did not lead. I will,” Hunkins said. Although Freudenthal has declared himself as "anti-wolf and anti-fed," Hunkins said, “the bell cannot be unrung."

"The ranchers, sportsmen and outfitters in this state should beware of someone who worked to implement (former Interior Secretary) Bruce Babbitt’s policy and before that against the election of Ronald Reagan, and who finds it politically convenient to now be against the feds and the wolves,” Hunkins said. “My friends, beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Freudenthal's spokeswoman, Lara Azar, declined Friday to respond to Hunkins' assertions. "(The governor's) track record on wolves -- and the state's track record -- of the past few years is very clear," Azar wrote in an e-mail. "He fully supports the Legislature's actions in developing the state's wolf management statutes and will continue to do so."

Hunkins told the wolf seminar crowd that a Democrat could be elected president in 2008, and that such an administration would be no friend of Wyoming. “If we don’t have a solution by January 2009, and a Democrat administration is inaugurated in Washington, I fear for the welfare of our ranchers, sportsmen and outfitters, of our big game herds and our livestock,” Hunkins said.

The Interior Department has refused to downgrade Wyoming wolves from Endangered Species Act protection until the state submits a wolf management plan that is acceptable to the federal agency. The department has already approved wolf plans from Montana and Idaho.

Declaring that the federal wolf program is “out of control,” Hunkins said a new environmental impact statement is needed to show the impact of wolves on livestock and wildlife. Hunkins said the Wyoming Legislature has enacted a responsible wolf management plan. “I want to be clear as the Wind River on this,” Hunkins said. “I support that plan, and I support dual classification. But I don’t care what we call the wolves, what label we attach to them, as long as we reduce their numbers and their territory.”

Hunkins urged Wyoming to elect a Republican governor and send him to work with the Bush administration and the state’s congressional delegation to get wolves delisted. “It will take political will and political courage -- and most of all good faith -- to come to a solution," Hunkins said. "My friends, I am prepared to supply all three."

  • Casper Star-Tribune
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