Another shot at delisting : Wyo. senators put gray wolf on target for state management | TheFencePost.com

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Another shot at delisting : Wyo. senators put gray wolf on target for state management

The gray wolf is alive and surviving — make that thriving — in Wyoming.

Enough that most groups with ties to management in the state – from ranchers, to state and federal wildlife agencies, to U.S. congressmen — feel it is time for it to come off the endangered species list — again.

Legislation introduced recently in the U.S. Senate by the two Wyoming delegates, Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., along with several of their colleagues, would delist the gray wolf in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan and return management to the individual states.

"The wolf is long overdue for delisting, particularly in Wyoming," said rancher Charles Price of Daniel, Wyo. "Currently we have more wolves now in the state of Wyoming than we've ever had before — even those two years prior to delisting."

“The wolf is long overdue for delisting, particularly in Wyoming. Currently we have more wolves now in the state of Wyoming than we’ve ever had before — even those two years prior to delisting.”

"The wolf is long overdue for delisting, particularly in Wyoming. Currently we have more wolves now in the state of Wyoming than we've ever had before — even those two years prior to delisting," Price said.

The "delisting" Price refers to was in 2012, when Wyoming land and livestock owners and wildlife agencies celebrated a long-sought goal of proving the gray wolf had reached healthy populations. After being on the ESA list for decades, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially delisted the wolf. The victory was short-lived, however, and by 2014 the notorious short list of enviro-litigation abusers, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Fund for Animals, Humane Society of the United States, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club, filed a lawsuit claiming the delisting as not warranted.

A federal district judge in Washington, D.C., granted the plaintiffs' request and restored full ESA protection to the wolf, despite local working groups' request to correct concerns with their management plan. All hunting of gray wolves in Wyoming was halted, including the trophy game quota hunt in a specially designated area of northwest Wyoming, and as predators in the rest of the state.

FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCE

Price knows the wolf-as-a-predator situation first-hand. His home place is located about 70 miles southeast of Jackson, but he also runs on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service permits in the mountains.

"We have a cow-calf and yearling operation," Price said. "Most of our private land is dedicated to wintering, haying and grazing. We put them out in the early part of the year on lower elevation BLM permits, then move them to Forest Service permits in the Upper Green River area in Bridger-Teton National Forest, where they spend about four months."

Price and his fellow ranchers in the Upper Green River Cattle Association are featured in the Wyoming PBS documentary "The Drift," featuring the annual trailing of the cattle to the mountain permits, a tradition ongoing since the 1890s. These cattlemen clearly know how to manage livestock on forest pasture; they also know the effects of predators.

"We've been living with these wolves since the '90s," Price said. "I had the first confirmed wolf kill (of livestock) in the state. We've been dealing with them for quite a while."

Price also serves as an appointed Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner. He is recognized for having helped create the formulas used by the Wyoming Game and Fish to provide compensation for livestock loss from wolves and grizzly bears.

"Basically, because wolves run in packs, when they kill a calf all that's left is a grease spot and some bone splinters," Price said. "Then once all the other predators jump in and finish up, you can be pretty sure it's a wolf kill, but you can't always get that confirmed."

The formulas are based on studies showing a confirmation is only successful about one out of seven times. So when livestock owners do get a confirmation, they are paid seven times the value of the animal. In an update from Wyoming Representative Albert Sommers, House District No. 20 Representative and another participant in the "Drift," Sommers noted that from 2010-2014, calf loss rates for the association averaged over 9 percent. In 2015, the worst year ever, calf loss rates on the allotment exceeded 13 percent.

"(The reimbursement) helps level things out, but there are other costs to this depredation that are kind of hidden," Price said. "When wolves are chasing cattle around, they don't gain weight, they don't breed up, they are wore out, chased through fences, things like that. Those are hidden costs that translate to management costs and low pregnancy tests and lighter weights. Those are awful hard to quantify."

WOLF MANAGEMENT

Key to the proposed Senate legislation for delisting is the stipulation that, if passed, the bill would allow for wolf management plans based on federal and state wildlife expertise to move forward without any legal ambiguity. Essentially, the delisting can't be challenged again in court. Max D'Onofrio, press secretary for Enzi, noted the bill should be more likely to pass because it affects the Great Lakes states – where the wolf was also previously delisted – and also enjoys bipartisan support.

"The people who are closest to the areas where wolves are being delisted have the best understanding of how to manage them and should be left to do so. This bill would allow that to happen without interference from the courts," Enzi said. "This is an issue that Wyoming has been dealing with for decades. I trust local wildlife managers to manage wildlife better than judges, lawyers and the self-serving administrators and lobbyists of environmental groups in Washington thousands of miles away."

For those who aren't thousands of miles away but instead, hear the howls in their back yards, delisting is no longer about science and facts but a broken and muddled litigation system.

"The thing is, a lot of this endangered species act is tied up in the courts so much it's become extremely expensive and extremely time consuming," Price said, "And the truth is, it's profitable for certain organizations to keep them on the endangered species list.

"The wolves have met all the criteria for delisting. The experts have said they have, but yet they're hung up in court. The ESA was not created just to put animals on the list – it was created to recover and delist.

"I hope that this time it works." ❖