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State passes management plan for wolves; lawsuits expected

Mar 7, 2012 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- The Wyoming Legislature has sent Gov. Matt Mead a bill to change the state's wolf-management law -- a critical step toward ratifying the agreement the governor reached with the federal government last year over how to end Endangered Species Act protections for the animals.

However, uncertainty remains over possible legal challenges to Wyoming's wolf management plan. Many hunters and ranchers in the state worry that a large wolf population poses an unacceptable threat on livestock and other wildlife.

Under the bill now awaiting Mead's signature, the state would allow trophy hunting for wolves in a flexible zone around Yellowstone National Park beginning this fall, while classifying wolves as predators that could be shot on sight in the rest of the state.

"I'm obviously pleased with the progression of the wolf bill," Mead said Monday. His agreement with the federal government requires Wyoming to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs of wolves and at least 100 individual animals outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Mead said he spoke with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in Washington late last month. "He reminded me that they've taken a lot of pressure on this, but he remains committed to what Wyoming's doing," Mead said of Salazar.

Wyoming had an estimated 343 wolves at the end of 2010: eight breeding pairs and 113 individuals inside Yellowstone and 19 breeding pairs and 230 individuals outside the park, said Steve Ferrell, the governor's wildlife policy adviser.

It remains uncertain whether Wyoming can secure congressional protections against legal challenges to the delisting action. Congress earlier extended such protection to wolf delisting actions in Idaho and Montana.

If Congress fails to fireproof Wyoming's wolf delisting plan against legal challenges, many say they expect the state to be back in court as soon as the ink dries on the final federal delisting action this fall.

Doug Honnold, a lawyer with Earthjustice in Bozeman, Mont., has represented environmental groups in fighting wolf delisting efforts.

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