The agreement was reached by Gov. Matt Mead and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. It basically calls for federal recognition of Wyoming’s altered wolf-management plan, which has been rejected in court. There are 340 gray wolves in the state currently under federal protection; the protection would be removed, and the state would be able to treat the wolves as predators outside of northwest Wyoming. The state would only need to protect 100 individuals and 10 breeding pairs. Still, how much effect this will have on the wolf population remains to be seen: earlier the state estimated than 90 percent of the state’s wolves live relatively close to the Yellowstone borders, and some of this area would remain under federal protection.
There are a few changes to Wyoming’s proposed plan. One big one: wolves would be protected in so-called “flex zones” south of the Snake River Canyon when they migrate from Wyoming to Idaho. Wolves would be protected during these migratory periods.
The state is playing hardball on behalf of ranchers: U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Republican from the state, added a provision into the proposed 2012 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill prohibiting lawsuits from challenging any settlement of wolf management reached between the state and the federal government. (We’re not entirely sure this prohibition will pass legal muster, and we’re guessing the many wolf-protection outfits out there will challenge that provision.)
“The best way to ensure the success of any negotiation is to back it up with the force of law. This language does exactly that,” she said in a press release. “This provision is a crucial puzzle piece to the long-awaited conclusion of the delisting of the fully-recovered gray wolf. For more than eight years, wolves in Wyoming have met or exceeded the federal government’s recovery goals, and without proper management have thrived at the expense of Wyoming’s ranchers, farmers and big game herds.”
In 2007, 71 cattle and 20 sheep were killed by Wyoming wolves, with lower numbers reported in 2008. Opponents say 100 wolves hardly makes for a thriving population and that without more wolves in the area there’s the danger of inbreeding in the Yellowstone population.
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