Wolf seminar opens dialogue

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By Kerin Clark, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation (Written May 2006)

“It has been eleven years since the wolf was introduced into Wyoming.  We organized this seminar to bring into focus the issues, challenges, successes and failures of those eleven years,” Wyoming Farm Bureau President Perry Livingston told an audience of nearly 100 people at ‘Wolves:  Wyoming’s Reality.’  “Through an examination of the last eleven years, we may find a path to a future that works for everyone.  A future that features a Wyoming with a vigorous, diverse economy and opportunities to numerous to count for her citizens”

The two-day seminar was sponsored by the Wyoming Farm Bureau Foundation.  “Wolves are Wyoming’s reality and we all need to educate others about the realities of the wolf’s presence in Wyoming,” Livingston continued.  “The seminar focused on many different messages from Wyoming citizens, agency personnel, government and legislators.”

“Through the dialogue at the seminar two items surfaced,” Livingston explained.  “First, we need to do a better job of getting our story out to the general public.  Second, we need to compile data on wolf predation.”

Governor’s address

Governor Dave Freudenthal stood firm in the state’s position on the wolf litigation.  “I don’t plan to change my mind on it,” He said.  “I don’t want to sit through any more dissertations.  If they (federal government) want to sit down and discuss the issue then okay.”

“We need to have the latitude to manage if we are going to have to pay,” Governor Freudenthal said.

Seven different panels also shared their stories and experiences with wolves.

Landowners panel

The landowners panel urged the Fish and Wildlife Service to become proactive versus reactive.  “We need immediate legislative action to protect the livestock and the wildlife from the wolf’s stomach,” Dick Thoman, Sweetwater County rancher, said.  “We sustained a 22 percent loss in one year and none of those losses were verified by Wildlife Services so recouping those losses is out of the question.”

“There is a disproportionate share of cost.  A few producers are sharing too much of the cost of this public program, Upper Green River Cattleman Association President Albert Sommers said.

Outfitters panel

Outfitters Todd Jones, Big Horn County; Budd Betts, Fremont County; and Jim Allen, Fremont County shared the impact the wolves have had on the outfitting industry in Wyoming.  Jones is the president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association.  “$100 million is provided to this state from hunting,” Jones explained.  “And, it is the sportsmen’s dollars that have gone to increase wildlife numbers and the ranchers that provide habitat for wildlife.”

“Our livings are affected on a daily basis by the wolves,” He said.

Betts used the EA Spring Mountain Unit as an example of the impact wolves have had on elk.  “Five years prior to 1997 the calf/cow ratio was 38.6 calves/100 cows,” Betts explained.  “The 2005 count was 21.1 calves/100 cows.”

“Since the wolf introduction we have seen a direct loss in hunting opportunities,” He continued.  “We may still have remnant herds, but not huntable herds in the near future.”

Betts shared a story of a moose calf that was orphaned and lived right next to the foundation of Betts’ home.  “For several months she would not leave the foundation,” Betts said.  “When she finally wondered off, and by wondered off I mean 50 yards from the house, the wolves got her and we had shreds of a moose calf all over our yard.”

Allen focused on the economic impact outfitters provide to local economies.  “Outfitters pay five million dollars in taxes,” He said.  “We enhance local economies by providing a hunting package.  If wolves put us out of business, what will replace the income to the local economy?”

Local government panel

Local government personnel shared the impact that the wolf is having on the local government budgets and staff time spent going to meetings regarding the wolf.

Professionals’ panel

“It (wolf introduction) was political to begin with,” Montana State University Extension Wildlife Specialist Dr. Jim Knight said.  “Sixty miles away from the park we had a viable population that had migrated from Canada.  But we ignored biology and went political.”

“Biological concerns were ignored because the ‘natural’ population was not as ‘viewable’ as the reintroduced population,” Dr. Knight continued.

Dr. Knight described that for elk in Yellowstone National Park, being bit by wolves is a fact of life.  “But, what the public needs to know is that the wolves create many of the weak and sick they kill because those they bite become the weak the next day,” Dr. Knight said.

Wolves are a modern day agriculture challenge.  “We need to deal with them through new understanding, techniques and public understanding,” He said.

Carolyn Nistler, Associate Wildlife Specialist with Montana State University and Dr. Charles Kay also addressed the audience and answered questions.

Agency panel

“We aren’t going to play ball until we get this resolved,” Wyoming Game & Fish Director Terry Cleveland.  “Wyoming’s wolf plan would’ve addressed the requirement that’s been put forth.”

According to Cleveland, wolves need to be delisted but with maximum flexibility to manage for the least impact.  “It will be a very expensive and time consuming for the Game & Fish whether we manage for Northwestern Wyoming or all of Wyoming,” He said.  “I estimate it will easy be a one million dollar cost.”

USFWS Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs said the “future of wolves is symbolism and litigation.  Wolves are about a symbol.”  Bangs was asked many questions from the audience.  One question asked him why he thought Wyoming’s wolf management was not sufficient when 10 of the 11 peer reviewers said it was.  “I truly believe that Wyoming’s plan is not adequate because trophy game status is not a big enough area,” Bangs replied.

USFWS Regional Director Mitch King encouraged the audience to find and talk about a balance that will work for all involved.  “You can’t communicate a polarized message,” King said.  “People don’t understand these loss numbers you presented.”

King also suggested looking at compensation through the Farm Bill.  “The wolf is affecting livestock and it is a naturally occurring happening,” He said.  “Maybe we need the coastal people paying for the cost of the wolves.”

“I am a strong believer in community rights, private property rights and the Constitution,” King continued.  “I’m looking to delist the wolf, but we have to convince a judge.”

Legal panel

Reviewing the lawsuits that have surrounded the introduction of the gray wolf into Wyoming and the management of the wolf since introduction was undertaken by a panel of three lawyers and one landowner.

Legislative panel

“What’s the big deal—it’s only a d--- dog.” “This statement made by Ed Bangs when a family dog was killed by a wolf indicated to me where we were going with this issue,” Wyoming Senate President Grant Larson told the audience.

“We need to continue the lawsuits, but we also need to continue talking and negotiating,” Larson said.  “We are not going to change our laws based on what someone in the Fish and Wildlife Service says.  We won’t look at changing the law until we’ve completed the process and we have the blessings from the top.”

Senator Larson identified two issues that need resolved.  “First, we’ve got to get the number of packs that Wyoming is responsible for settled.  Second, we need a better definition of breeding pairs or packs,” He said.  “But, it gets down to politics and how to lock up the land.”

Senator Larson urged the audience to attend meetings when issues are proposed.  “Legislation doesn’t happen without the support of the people,” He said.  “With your support and proper negotiations with the Fish and Wildlife Service we can take a dual approach to resolve this issue.”

Representative Pat Childers, who chairs the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee urged the Fish and Wildlife Service to work with the state legislative body on this issue.

“When it comes to NEPA and how this came into the wolf issue, I think people need to understand that the ESA was part of this and yes it was an experimental, non-essential population amended into the ESA; but we also have to remember that Congress designated that for the reintroduction of the wolf around here they had to do an environmental impact statement,” Childers said.  “And I’m not sure the FWS truly appreciates what that did.  By dragging in NEPA, they brought in an analysis process that goes beyond what the judicial branch has actually created with the ESA.”

“There are a few little sentences in the ESA that mention science.  And they mention economics; but if you go to NEPA regulations for the agencies you find things ignored in ESA.  Things like socio-economic impacts, provisions for involvement of local governments, recognition of custom and culture,” Childers continued.  “You look at the EIS; socio-economic impacts and custom and culture were not considered; so basically we are at a point that we had an EIS that citizens of Wyoming, I don’t think, really supported.  You go back to Governor Geringer, when the wolves were introduced; he had to read about it in the paper.  He wasn’t even notified by Bruce Babbitt that they were going to put the wolves in the park.   Is that cooperation?  I don’t think so”

Representative Frank Philp was appreciative of the dialogue at the meeting.  “Thank you to Farm Bureau.  This has been very beneficial to me as a politician,” Philp said.

Senator Stan Cooper and Representatives Kathy Davison and Monte Olsen also shared the impacts the wolves have had in their districts.

“The conference provided a lot of good information and we need to be following up with some,” WyFB Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton concluded.  “We also feel that other members of the public might have some information that they can use to help Wyoming citizens out on this issue.”