Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ranchers seek to band together

By JOHN MORGAN - Star-Tribune staff writer

Wyoming ranchers will need to band together to protect their interests against potentially harmful environmental regulations regarding the wolf and the sage grouse, ranchers said at a convention this week.

"There's a whole lot of misinformation going on about wolves," said Meeteetse rancher Jack Turnell during a joint winter convention between the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Wyoming Wool Growers Association this week at the Parkway Plaza and Convention Centre in Casper.

"Wolves are moving in every different direction," Turnell said. "Don't tell me I have two thirds of all the wolves in the area on my property. There are way more wolves than they're saying. The way we're headed, you're going to have wolves scattered all across the U.S. in a few years."

There are at least 1,264 wolves in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, according to new figures provided Monday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, roughly a 20 percent increase over 2005. Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995 and 1996 and are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

"I don't have to tell you how fast these wolves reproduce," said state Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody. "It's very difficult to get rid of them. We have the wolf. We're never going to get rid of the wolf, I don't think."

"It's not about wolves, it's about getting rid of us," Turnell said.

Rob Hendry, a Lysite rancher and Natrona County Commissioner-elect, said another issue facing Wyoming ranchers is the possible listing of the sage grouse as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

"If the sage grouse is going to be listed, we need to have the information to be able to come back and say that the situation isn't quite as dim as it looks," Hendry said. He said he has had a consultant studying the grouse and other wildlife patterns on his ranch.

"I've got a lot of birds on my land that haven't been counted by the government," Hendry said. "We have to have the data to save both our lives -- the sage grouse and ours."

Wildlife consultant Dave Lockman said he is worried that the environmental battle could be narrowed to responsible use of the land versus no use at all. No use is where conservation appears to be heading, he said.

Randy Teeuwen, a community relations advisor with EnCana Oil and Gas Inc., said energy officials are willing to help keep the sage grouse off the listing if at all possible.

"There are 280 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the epicenter of the sage grouse habitat," Teeuwen said. "If the sage grouse is listed, the impact could be catastrophic."

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