Mar 12, 2013 - By Ben Neary, The Associated PressCHEYENNE -- The cast of characters is growing in a legal fight pitting environmental groups against the federal government's recent decision to end protections for wolves in Wyoming.
U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson of Cheyenne recently allowed a group known collectively as the "Wyoming Wolf Coalition" to intervene in the lawsuit. That group includes Wyoming county governments and sportsmen groups that support the federal government's decision.
The judge hasn't acted yet on a pending request from the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International, a hunting group. They also want to intervene in support of ending wolf protections.
The groups are siding with the state of Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in defending the federal decision to turn wolf management over to the state. Wyoming's plan classifies wolves in most of the state as unprotected predators that can be shot on sight.
Jay Jerde, lawyer with the Wyoming Attorney General's Office, said Monday that the state doesn't oppose the groups entering the lawsuit.
Cheyenne lawyer Harriet Hageman represents the Wyoming Wolf Coalition, which also was involved in previous litigation over whether Wyoming's proposed wolf management plan was adequate.
"It's just an effort by these organizations to stay involved, and make sure their voices are heard by Judge Johnson and the court," Hageman said of the coalition's involvement in the current case.
Wyoming is the only state in the northern Rockies facing litigation over wolf delisting. Congress has exempted wolf delisting in Montana and Idaho from legal challenges but didn't extend similar protection to Wyoming.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department reports hunters killed 68 wolves in the state from Oct. 1, when federal management stopped, through Dec. 31. Of those, 42 were killed in a trophy hunting zone bordering Yellowstone National Park while 26 were killed as unprotected predators elsewhere in the state.
The eight environmental groups are in Johnson's court challenging the federal government's decision to end protections for the wolf under the Endangered Species Act. They say Wyoming's plan isn't sufficient to ensure survival of the species.
Wyoming has committed to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs of wolves and at least 100 animals outside of Yellowstone.
and the Wind River Indian Reservation, in the central part of the state. Wildlife managers say the state had about 300 wolves outside of Yellowstone, where no hunting is allowed, when state management began.
Many Wyoming ranchers and hunters have protested that wolves have been taking too large a toll on livestock and other wildlife since the federal government reintroduced them in Yellowstone in the mid-1990s.
Two similar lawsuits filed by other environmental groups have been consolidated before a federal judge in Washington, DC. Both the state of Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are asking to have those cases transferred to federal court in Wyoming, and it's conceivable that all three cases could be wrapped up in one action before Johnson.
The one case currently in Johnson's court was filed by WildEarth Guardians, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Conservation Congress, Friends of Animals, Friends of the Clearwater, National Wolfwatcher Coalition and Western Watersheds Project.
James Jay Tutchton, lawyer for the coalition, said his clients didn't oppose the intervention by the Wyoming Wolf Coalition, but he is urging Johnson not to allow the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International into the case because he said it would be too many entities.
The Wyoming Wolf Coalition includes a number of pro-hunting groups, including Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. It also includes agricultural groups such as the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation. Tutchton said they should be able to make the same arguments that the NRA and Safari Club would make.
Tutchton said his clients want to get a court decision before the next wolf hunting season this fall.
"From my clients' perspective, this wolf hunting season was fairly destructive," Tutchton said. He said a number of wolves that lived within Yellowstone were killed when they left the park's boundaries.
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