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Conservation groups oppose Wyoming wolf management

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Conservation groups are urging a federal judge not to allow the state of Wyoming to regain control of wolves.

The groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012. They're challenging the agency's acceptance of Wyoming's wolf management plan, which classifies wolves as predators that can be shot on sight in most areas.

"There's a real disagreement between what the science of wolf management is and what the political decisions are that are being made," Adrienne Maxwell, a Montana lawyer representing the conservation groups, said Monday.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington, D.C., last week entered an order returning wolves in Wyoming to federal control.

Jackson agreed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that wolves in the Northern Rockies have recovered. And she accepted the agency's finding that wolves aren't endangered or threatened within a significant portion of their range.

But Jackson ruled the federal agency shouldn't have accepted Wyoming's nonbinding promise to maintain at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Wyoming moved fast last week to try to get Jackson to reverse the decision.

Republican Gov. Matt Mead's administration last week pushed through an administrative rule that started the process of making the state's wolf plan legally binding. The state then pointed to that new rule in asking Jackson to amend her decision.

Jackson has set a hearing for Tuesday to consider the state's request and other matters.

The state told the judge it wanted to resolve the issue quickly because it has scheduled a wolf hunt starting Wednesday in a trophy-hunting zone bordering Yellowstone National Park. The state game commission has approved letting hunters kill up to 43 wolves in the hunting season. Public hunting is not allowed under federal management.

Mead emphasized last week that state management is working. He said the state had almost 190 wolves and 15 breeding pairs after the first hunting season in 2012 and just under 200 wolves and 15 breeding pairs after last year's hunt.

"We're managing wolves correctly," Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael said. "But part of managing wolves is you have to kill some of them."

Lawyers for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday filed papers with Jackson saying they didn't believe she needed to scrap state management entirely to address whether the state's minimum population guarantee was binding. Lawyers for the Safari Club and other hunting groups also supported continued state management.

Maxwell said the state's response to Jackson's order doesn't solve the problems with the state wolf management plan. She said the state and federal agency should craft a new plan.

The federal government reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service transferred wolf management to state control in Montana and Idaho years ago. Congress specified there could be no legal challenge to management plans in those states, which also allow hunting.

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