By BEN NEARY
The federal judge's order was the latest setback for Wyoming, which has been stymied over the years in attempts to gain control of its wolf population.
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Responding to a stinging legal setback, the governor of Wyoming on Wednesday asked a federal judge to reverse an order ending state management of wolves and returning them to protections under the Endangered Species Act.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington on Tuesday sided with conservation groups and entered an order agreeing that Wyoming’s wolf management plan was inadequate.
Jackson’s order immediately returned wolf management in Wyoming to federal control. The order was the latest setback for Wyoming, which has been stymied over the years in attempts to gain control of its wolf population.
Many sportsmen and ranchers in the state say wolves are a threat to livestock and wildlife.
Wyoming took over wolf management from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012 under a state management plan that designated wolves as predators that could be shot on sight in most areas. The state classified wolves as trophy animals in a zone bordering Yellowstone National Park and has allowed licensed hunters to kill scores of them in the past two hunting seasons.
Although Wyoming had pledged to maintain at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation, Berman noted that promise wasn’t legally binding.
“The court concludes that it was arbitrary and capricious for the service to rely on the state’s nonbinding promises to maintain a particular number of wolves when the availability of that specific numerical buffer was such a critical aspect of the delisting decision,” Jackson wrote.
Earlier this year, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead released a survey prepared by the state Game and Fish Department that said there were at least 306 wolves in at least 43 packs — including more than 23 breeding pairs — in the state at the end of 2013.
Mead on Wednesday started the process of making the state’s minimum wolf population pledge legally enforceable. He signed and filed an emergency rule to that effect which could last up to 240 days.
Mead’s office announced that the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission initiated a formal rulemaking process to make the emergency rule permanent. “Now that Wyoming has resolved the court’s concern, I hope the court will amend its ruling and allow Wyoming’s continued management of gray wolves,” Mead said in a prepared release.
The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office filed a request with Jackson asking her to change the order. The request states that reaction among the groups that sued against Wyoming’s management plan was mixed. It states that Defenders of Wildlife opposed it while the Humane Society of the United States needed to see the content of the emergency rule before it could respond.
Attempts to reach a lawyer for Defenders of Wildlife after business hours on Wednesday weren’t successful.
Several groups including Safari Club International and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation entered the lawsuit to support Wyoming’s original wolf management plan. They likewise support the state’s move to make its minimum population promise legally enforceable.
The federal government reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has transferred wolf management to state control in Montana and Idaho. Congress specified that there could be no legal challenge to those management plans, which also allow hunting.