Wolf recovery 'a great success story,' federal official says

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Wolf recovery 'a great success story,' federal official says.

Associated Press

6/1/01



HELENA (AP) - Wolves are "biologically recovered" in the Northern Rocky Mountains, and the federal government is eager to turn management of the species over to the states, federal wildlife officials told the Montana governor Friday.

"We are committed to moving as quickly as we can," Ralph Morgenweck of Denver, regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, told Gov. Judy Martz. "We view this as a great success story."

FWS is in charge of restoring the gray wolf to sustainable populations.

"The good news is that wolves are biologically recovered," said Ed Bangs, FWS wolf recovery coordinator.

He said Montana, Idaho and Wyoming had 560 wolves in December, and probably 150 pups have been born since. That is a viable population substantial enough to justify removing the gray wolf from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, he said.

Morgenweck said Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin also have met their goals to delist the wolf.

The federal timeline projects that the Rocky Mountain states will take over management of the wolves in 2004, but with the federal agency monitoring the species for five years.

The briefing for Martz at the capitol in Helena included wildlife officials from Idaho and Wyoming. Montana expects to complete its management plan by the end of this year.

"Idaho has a plan and regulations in place and ready to go," said Greg Shieldwachter of the Idaho Office of Species Conservation.

Wyoming expects to have a plan next March, and hopes the Legislature will remove the wolf from the "predator" category then, said Bill Wichers, deputy director the Wyoming's Game and Fish Department.

"Our director is not happy about taking on a big new expense," he added, saying the state already spends about $800,000 a year on grizzly bear management.

Martz said Montana spends about the same amount on grizzlies and has the same concerns about the cost of wolf management: "We are very, very concerned about the funding part."

Morgenweck cautioned that lawsuits are a certainty when the delisting process begins, but he did not elaborate.

The wildlife directors in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico said the same thing last month when they jointly asked FWS to reconsider its newly expanded guidelines for delisting wolves in the West.

The recovery program began with Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, but FWS now has tied delisting to wolf recovery in six more Western states - Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado and portions of Arizona and New Mexico. Current rules would let the agency move to delist wolves in all nine states when there are 30 or more breeding pairs of wolves for three consecutive years in the original three states.

The state wildlife officials, in a letter to FWS, predicted lawsuits by environmental groups in the other states, where wolves still may not exist naturally.

The FWS expansion will create a "huge political and judicial fight that will tie us in knots for years," said Chris Smith, chief of staff for Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department.
 


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