G&F Address Wolves, Bears, and Other Issues

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The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission addressed many topics at their July 12-13 meeting in Rawlins including a petition to delist wolves, the grizzly bear occupancy plan, the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy and establishing a preference point system for nonresident elk, deer and antelope hunters.

The commission approved and signed a petition to the U.S. Department of the Interior to remove the Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct population of wolves from the list of endangered and threatened species.

Wolf populations in Wyoming have surpassed federal recovery objectives set in 1995 when wolves were reintroduced. In the fall of 2004, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials estimated the population had grown to at least 66 breeding pairs and 835 individual wolves – far exceeding the 1995 recovery benchmarks of 30 breeding pairs and 300 individual wolves.

“It’s time to get wolves in this population removed from the Endangered Species List and allow the state of Wyoming to assume management of wolves within its borders,” said G&F Director Terry Cleveland.

Cleveland said that as wolf populations continued to expand in numbers and in range, wolves almost always become involved with livestock depredations and cause conflict with other wildlife.

To remove wolves from the Endangered Species List, the USFWS requires Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to develop and implement individual wolf management plans. The USFWS approved the Montana and Idaho plans, but rejected Wyoming’s plan in 2003. A federal district court found that the court did not have the ability to review the USFWS rejection of Wyoming’s wolf management plan because the rejection was not a “final agency action.” Wyoming is appealing the district court’s decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Once the petition to delist wolves is filed, the USFWS has 90 days to review the petition and determine whether it contains substantial information to indicate the petitioned action may be warranted. If a positive 90-day finding is issued, the USFWS then conducts a more detailed review to determine whether the petitioned action is or is not warranted. The final decision is issued 12 months after the petition is filed.

The commission also approved the “Final Draft Grizzly Bear Occupancy Management Proposal Following Delisting as a Threatened Species,” completing the final task in Wyoming’s grizzly bear management plan.

Grizzly bear occupancy is one component of the Wyoming Grizzly Bear Management Plan. The plan describes data collection, nuisance animal management, and information and education efforts as well as the occupancy guidelines.

Federal and state officials believe the grizzly bear should be removed from the Endangered Species List. Populations in the greater Yellowstone area have recovered to an estimated 500 to 600 bears.

Cleveland said approval of the occupancy plan was essential in demonstrating Wyoming’s commitment to moving the delisting process forward.

“It’s time to move on to delisting, return grizzly bears to state management control and stabilize the bear population in Wyoming,” said Cleveland.

Other actions taken by the commission included approving the final draft of the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS). The CWCS is a plan to conserve species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) in Wyoming, and the habitats they depend upon.

The strategy is a requirement of the State Wildlife Grants program, a federal program that provides over $600,000 annually for SGCN in Wyoming. While the G&F retains statutory authority for all of these species, a host of partners and stakeholders were involved in the development and implementation of the strategy.

The biggest problem facing SGCN in Wyoming is the lack of important data on abundance, distribution and habitat. A total of 279 species in Wyoming were identified as species of greatest conservation need. Over 200 of these species lack adequate information to determine their status in Wyoming.

The CWCS will be submitted to a national team for final approval. It will be reviewed annually by G&F and its partners and stakeholders, and will be updated every five years.

The wolf petition, final grizzly bear occupancy plan and CWCS are available on the G&F Web site at http://gf.state.wy.us.

The commission established the specific regulations so a nonresident preference point system for elk, deer and antelope passed by the 2004 legislature can begin in 2006. The commission set the preference point fee for elk at $50, deer $40 and antelope $30 for adult hunters. The youth hunter’s preference point fee for each species will be $10. All nonresident hunters can opt not to participate in the preference point system if they wish. Like the moose and bighorn sheep quotas, 75 percent of the elk, deer and antelope quotas will be issued to applicants with the most preference points and 25 percent of the quota will be issued in a random drawing without respect to preference points.

The legislation also gave the commission the authority to raise the nonresident preference point fees for moose and bighorn sheep. The seven-member board set the nonresident moose fee at $75 and the bighorn sheep fee at $100.

The commission’s actions regarding preference points only affect nonresidents.

The commission also gave the G&F approval to proceed with plans for reintroducing black-footed ferrets in an area roughly adjoining the Shirley Basin reintroduction area of the early 1990s.