Saturday, January 14, 2012

WY Gov backs off wolf comments

By Johanna Love, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
January 14, 2012

LARAMIE — Gov. Matt Mead backed away from a statement he made Friday saying he supported a wolf-management plan that allowed hunters to target the animals in Grand Teton National Park.

Maps in a management plan slated to go before legislators show wolf hunting will be allowed in Grand Teton National Park, the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway and the National Elk Refuge. The plan, forged in a deal between Mead and the federal government, excludes Yel-lowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation from hunt areas.

At a Wyoming Press Association luncheon Friday in Laramie, Mead said the specter of litigation shouldn’t delay the plan.

“I think we should go forward with the wolf plan,” Mead said.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether wolves could be shot in Grand Teton, Mead said, “Yeah, there could be, in the park.”

Later in the day, Mead’s communication director, Renny MacKay, issued a clarification stating the governor “mis-spoke” on the issue.

“He did not intend to say that were would be hunting in the national park,” MacKay stated in the email.

Wolf hunting could occur on the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, which is administered by the Park Service, MacKay stated. Under state and federal law, Wyoming can and does allow hunting in the parkway, MacKay said.

“While state jurisdiction may also apply to private or state in-holdings inside Grand Teton Park for purposes such as paying damage claims for livestock killed or injured by wolves, the state would not prescribe hunting of wolves on [National Park Service] lands inside [Grand Teton National Park],” according to the statement from MacKay.

Teton County lawmakers identified portions of the proposed wolf-management plan that have to be changed so Teton park retains jurisdiction over wolf management within its borders. County lawmakers will have to convince legislators to make the changes.

On the topic of school funding, Mead acknowledged that Teton County schools could suffer budget cuts if the legislature adopts a “hedonic wage index” as part of the state’s school funding formula rather than the Wyoming Cost of Living Index used now. Teton County school officials have said the district could lose about 10 percent of its funding if amenities such as beautiful views and recreation opportunities are considered in determining staffers’ pay.

Mead said he favors a hedonic wage index over a cost of living index, but he dislikes the idea of changing a district’s budget drastically in a single year.

“Members of the legislature want to be fair,” Mead said. “You can’t all of a sudden drop people off a cliff.”

The governor also said during the luncheon that falling natural gas prices would cause a budget crunch in 2012 that would require all state agencies to sharpen their pencils. The biennial budget Mead submitted to legislators cuts about $17 million in ongoing spending from the previous $2.76 billion general fund budget, the governor’s spokesman said.

Roads should be one of the state’s top priorities, Mead said, and funding them generously is crucial to the state’s future. A new revenue stream for highways must be considered, he said. Potential solutions include a higher gasoline tax or toll roads.

“I’m not a fan of toll roads,” Mead said, “but I’m willing to look at anything. ... Highways are the backbone for Wyoming. We cannot afford to get behind on highways.”