July 13, 2007
July 13, 2007 - The federal government is proposing new rules to make it easier to kill wolves that are affecting elk populations and have been seen attacking dogs, horses and other stock animals.
"It's time to start treating them like resident game animals, like mountain lions and black bears," said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The rules were published in the Federal Register last Friday and are open for public comment until early August.
There are about 1,300 wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Earlier this year, federal officials proposed taking them off the endangered species list.
One of the rules published Friday allows the public to comment again on the delisting proposal, which now includes a management plan from Wyoming that would allow wolves in much of the state to be treated as predators and killed without regulation.
The other rules loosen the language that governs when wolves can be killed.
One focuses on the effects of wolves on ungulates.
A 2005 proposal said states could kill wolves if they were causing "unacceptable impacts" on wild herds. But the rule said the decline had to be "primarily caused by wolf predation." Inevitably, declines are tied to other factors, including severe weather, loss of habitat, hunting and other predators, Bangs said.
The proposed rule said wolves can be taken out if they can be shown as "one of the major causes" of herds declining. If that's the case and state officials want to reduce the wolf population, the idea would have to go through peer review among wildlife officials and would be subject to public comment.
If it passes muster and doesn't reduce the wolf population below 200 in any given state, wildlife agencies could use public hunts to reduce the wolf population, Bangs said.
Federal officials also propose expanding rules to allow people to kill wolves if they're caught in the act of attacking dogs, llamas, mules and other stock animals.
Wolf density might dip a little - and wolves will probably be driven out of agricultural areas - but the overall sustainability of the population shouldn't be hurt by the rules, Bangs said.
"I don't see any real big changes. Wolf populations are pretty resilient," he said.
The minimum number of wolves in the three states, under the delisting proposal, is 300 and 30 breeding pairs.
Increased flexibility has been welcomed by livestock groups and wildlife officials in Wyoming worried about the health of elk populations. Reprinted from the Billings, Mont., Gazette