Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mead backs wolf law in State of State talk

By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
February 14, 2012

Gov. Matt Mead in his State of the State address Monday urged Wyoming lawmakers to pass a wolf management plan that would let wolves be shot on sight in most of the state.

The Republican governor said legislators need to take a proactive approach to managing wolves and not allow the issue to be decided through the court system. Conservationists oppose the plan, which includes a hunt area map that extends across Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge, and targets wolves in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway between Grand Teton and Yellowstone.

It seems unwise “to continue into a third decade in the courts,” Mead said, referring to nonstop wolf litigation. “To date, we have not gained the ability to manage wolves, the numbers keep going up, and the only proven winners to date have been the attorneys and wolves,” he said during his nearly hourlong speech Monday morning.

The governor said lawmakers should not squander the work that has been done to bring together a wide array of federal and state groups and agencies. He pointed out that the U.S. Depart-ment of the Interior of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as numerous state interest groups, back the plan.

“Getting all those people to agree on anything, let alone this thing, is a heavy lift,” he added.

Mead negotiated a management plan for wolves with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last year. The basic tenets of their agreement are slated to come before lawmakers in the form of a bill during the current legislative session.

As proposed, the plan would designate wolves as trophy game and let them be hunted by permit and season in the northwest corner of the state. In the rest of Wyoming, the plan would allow wolves to be hunted as predators, which means they could be killed at any time.

Several lawmakers from the Jackson area as well as Grand Teton National Park officials have said they want to make it clear hunting wolves would not be allowed in the park or refuge. The bill does not specifically exclude those areas.

Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff, R-Jackson, said she was waiting to hear what amend-ments might be proposed that could address where hunting would be allowed, but said she supported the general concept.

“We can spend time duking it out in the courts for the next however long,” she said Monday. “This is our best chance to move forward with state management and put the issue somewhat to rest.”

Petroff said there was a committee meeting scheduled today during which lawmakers would discuss possible amendments to the wolf management plan.

Mead devoted much of his annual address to the state’s economy. He said lawmakers must reduce state spending but have to do so strategically, not through across-the-board cuts.

The governor asked for more spending — $168 million — for cities and counties as well as for highway projects — $100 million. He has consistently championed such spending since entering office.

Mead said state officials have in-creased spending to a level that is no longer sustainable.

“The standard budget has more than doubled over the last decade,” he said.

Although Wyoming is in better financial shape than many states, it is not immune to the financial turmoil that has gripped the country and spread to European markets, Mead said. Falling natural gas prices forced the governor  to cut roughly $64 million from the budget he initially submitted to legislators.

Mead also stressed the importance of education, calling on lawmakers to adopt core standards for schools across the state that will improve education.