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County agrees to help wolf foes in challenge to conservationists

Apr 12, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The Fremont County Commission has been asked to side with an organization planning to oppose conservation groups over wolf management in Wyoming.

Last fall, environmental groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for turning management of the animals in Wyoming to the state.

Dave Vaughan said his Fremont County Wolf Coalition is intervening in the suit to oppose the conservation organizations.

"I'd sure like to see the commissioners be members of this because it's a big deal in Fremont County," Vaughan said.

In August, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to remove wolves from the list of threatened and endangered species in Wyoming starting Oct. 1, 2012. From that date, the state has managed the animals.

Wyoming has managed wolves as a trophy animal in the northwest corner of the state, extending down to include Fremont County west of the Wind River Indian Reservation. A limited number of tabs were sold to hunt wolves in those areas.

Wolves in other parts of the state are treated as predators and can be shot on sight, but kills are to be reported to the state Game and Fish Department.

In a news release, Wildearth Guardians -- one of the groups suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service -- said, "The conservation and animal advocacy groups agree that Wyoming's wolf population has not been recovered and that it makes no sense R13; ecologically or economically R13; to subject the state's population to hunting and trapping."

Vaughan said by the end of last year, hunters had killed 68 wolves in Wyoming, 45 in the trophy game area and 23 in other parts of the state.

He said wolves are hurting the local livestock industry and affect the hunting industry because they kill many elk.

"Financially we've got a big stake," Vaughan said. "In Dubois the outfitters are just going out of business."

Wyoming Game and Fish wildlife management coordinator Daryl Lutz, who overseas elk hunt areas 67, 68 and 69 near Dubois, said, "At least to date, I don't think wolf predation has had a significant impact in the Dubois area."

He said the elk herd in northwestern Fremont County has been growing in recent years, though the ratio of calves to cows in that population this past winter indicates the number may decrease.

The most recent Game and Fish data shows that herd is 30 percent above its management objective. Whether the population will shrink and if wolves are the reason is unknown, though, Lutz said.

A map from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department shows one wolf pack lives in the Wind River Range above Lander, another is in the mountains on the Wind River Indian Reservation and several live at higher elevations around Dubois.

At the commission meeting, Vaughan said he is raising money to participate in the lawsuit, and has raised $2,600 from the Fremont County Farm Bureau, the Fremont County Cattlewomen and three individuals. He said his goal is $5,000 and asked the commission if it would contribute.

Immediate support was strong but not unanimous.

Chairman Doug Thompson and vice-chairman Travis Becker said they would back Vaughan's project, and Thompson suggested the commission give $1,000.

"That amount maybe is a token, but it does put us on the line supporting it," Thompson said.

"I'm not opposed to any of the efforts, but I'm not interested in the county financially supporting it," Whiteman said. "We've just got more needs internally, and I think that needs to be our priority."

Commissioners Stephanie Kessler and Larry Allen were not present.

Thompson said the county board would take up the issue again at a later meeting.

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