Federal agency tentatively OKs wolf management plan

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JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Environmental groups are objecting to how a federal agency has developed a new management plan for handling conflicts between wolves and livestock producers in Wyoming.

Wildlife Services, an agency with the U.S. Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, completed an environmental planning document last fall that favored its current lethal and nonlethal wolf conflict management program.

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition contends the public and other federal land managers such as the Bridger-Teton National Forest were left in the dark as the agency went through its planning process.

"Wildlife Services did not carry out a public scoping process for this (environmental assessment)," Chris Colligan, the coalition's wildlife program coordinator, wrote in a letter dated Nov. 25. "Further, they did not adequately consult and coordinate with other public land management agencies."

While in talks with the Bridger-Teton on a separate issue Colligan learned the Bridger-Teton was not notified of Wildlife Service's action, he wrote.

"Ironically," Colligan wrote, "the 3.4 million acres of Bridger-Teton National Forest lands in Wyoming are home to roughly half of the wolf packs outside of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and the Bridger-Teton National Forest as the permitting agency manages public land grazing allotments, which are the source of most of the conflicts with wolves."

Mike Foster, Wildlife Service's Wyoming director, said the environmental assessment was posted online and a notice was published in the paper of record as required.

The agency assembled the National Environmental Policy Act planning document so that staffers would no longer have to annually prepare plans to approve their wolf control activities, Foster said.

"We've never had an EA for wolves in Wyoming," Foster told the Jackson Hole News & Guide (http://bit.ly/1UDn0iK). "We've been working under categorical exclusions up until this point, and by completing this EA that allows us to do our job in a more efficient manner."

Compared with the current wolf conflict management, Wildlife Services' preferred plan proposes "very little" change, Foster said.

"We seem to have found that what we're doing is working," he said.

In Wyoming, Wildlife Services uses a "full range of legal, practical and effective nonlethal and lethal" methods for preventing and reducing wolf conflict, the agency's environmental assessment says.

When wolves cause problems with livestock and the decision is made to kill them, it's almost always Wildlife Services that gets the call to carry out the task, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northern Rocky Mountain wolf coordinator Mike Jimenez.

In Wyoming in 2014, for example, 37 wolves were killed for having preyed on 56 head of cattle and six sheep.

Numbers for 2015 aren't yet final, but Jimenez said wolves killed 56 cattle and 59 sheep last year. Federal managers took down 55 wolves, the highest number since 2007.

Wildlife Services has a limited role in nonlethal wolf conflict management and isn't budgeted money to assist in those preventive techniques, Foster said. Using guard dogs, hiring range riders and erecting flagged electrified fences are examples of ways stockmen can reduce wolf-livestock conflict.

"Most of the nonlethal actions take place by the ranchers themselves before Wildlife Services gets involved," Foster said.

Environmental advocacy groups sent the majority of the 14 comments submitted to Wildlife Services and listed concerns about the planning document.

The Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Sublette County sheep ranchers wrote comments in support.

Wildlife Services hopes to issue a final decision on its Wyoming wolf conflict management plan "by the end of January," Foster said.


Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com

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