May 13, 2012 - By Ben Neary, The Associated PressBy Ben Neary
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- Four of the five scientists who reviewed Wyoming's proposed wolf management plan said they believe it's likely to maintain a stable population in the state, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday.
It was the agency's second scientific peer review of the plan. The agency is taking public comment until Wednesday.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar agreed last year to end federal protections for wolves in the state.
Under their agreement, the state pledged to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves outside of Yellowstone National Park.
Wolves would be protected as trophy game animals in northwestern Wyoming in a flexible area outside the park but classified as predators that could be shot on sight elsewhere.
The Wyoming Legislature earlier this year endorsed the plan, and the state Game and Fish Commission last month voted to allow hunters to kill up to 52 wolves this fall in the trophy game area.
Wildlife managers say there are currently about 270 wolves in Wyoming outside of Yellowstone, most in the trophy game area.
Seth Willey, regional recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver, said Friday that four of the five scientific reviewers were largely supportive of the state plan.
The independent consultant charged with overseeing the group also concluded the majority opinion was appropriate.
Willey said his agency expects to issue a final decision by early fall.
"I think we have confidence that should this proposal be finalized, that it will be based on sound science that will be able to withstand legal challenge," he said.
The U.S. government already has ended federal protections under the federal Endangered Species Act for wolves in Montana and Idaho. Congress specified that delisting in those states would be exempt from legal challenges.
Mead and others in Wyoming have said they're hopeful that Congress will act to exempt its delisting plan from legal challenges also, but that hasn't happened yet.
Environmental groups successfully blocked a similar Wyoming plan after the Fish and Wildlife Service approved it a few years ago. Another challenge to the current plan is possible without congressional action.
Steve Ferrell, wildlife policy adviser to Mead, said that the state is satisfied with the recent peer review.
"It's obviously a good peer review," Ferrell said. "There are four-to-one that are in favor of it.
"We would have hoped for all five. But that's how peer reviews go sometimes."
Four reviewers agreed that the best available science provided sufficient support for the position that Wyoming's plan was likely to maintain a recovered wolf population.
John A. Vucetich, an associate professor at Michigan Technological University gave the only no vote.
In his last review, released early this year, Vucetich criticized Wyoming's plan as vague and said it may overestimate the annual mortality wolf populations can sustain.
In his new round of comments, he stated that despite the state's recent revisions to the plan, he believes there's insufficient reason to believe that it's consistent with wolf recovery.
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