Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Lawmakers: G&F shouldn’t assist with griz, wolf poachings

Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 
Employees of the state could not legally investigate poachers and people who mistakenly shoot grizzly bears and wolves if some Wyoming lawmakers have their way.
Brought forward last week, House Bill 18 would prohibit the Wyoming Game and Fish Department or state law enforcement from assisting government investigation, arrest or prosecution of any person who kills or injures a gray wolf or grizzly bear.
Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said the legislation is not intended to be a rebuke of the federal wildlife managers, but rather a “philosophical argument.”
“It’s not the state’s responsibility to do the law enforcement under the Endangered Species Act,” Hicks said. “It’s clearly the responsibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the federal government.
“We can’t continue to subsidize the federal government,” he said, “especially with sportsmen’s dollars.”
Hicks is a member of the Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee, which sponsored the bill. Other members of the committee hail from areas outside regularly occupied grizzly bear and wolf zones.
A “fiscal note” added to the bill states it would have “no significant fiscal or personnel impact,” contradicting Hick’s assertion that sportsmen’s dollars are subsidizing federal law enforcement.
“Currently,” the note said, “all costs incurred by the Game and Fish Department related to the investigation of law enforcement incidents involving grizzly bears are paid for with federal restitution funds specifically earmarked for that purpose.”
Game and Fish wardens routinely assist federal wildlife officers in investigations of hunter-killed grizzly bears, which number about 10 a year in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
“Quite frankly, it’s not a small task,” Hicks said.
Over a recent three-year period Game and Fish spent 1,000 man-hours, 11,000 vehicle-miles and 52 days on horseback helping with grizzly investigations, Hicks said. Wyoming, he said, has had a policy to not aid in wolf-killing investigations since wolf management was turned over to the federal government by court order in 2014.
Game and Fish had no part in formulating the legislation, Hicks said.
“I tried to get a hold of them to let them know that it was coming, but unfortunately they weren’t aware of it until it showed up at the committee meeting,” he said.
Bob Wharff, director of Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said the provenance of the bill is the hunting outfitter community. His board of directors has not yet reviewed the bill, but he said that personally he is opposed.
“To me this says lawlessness is OK,” he said. “I get a sense that it’s out of frustration.”
As written, the bill would allow Wyoming employees to partake in grizzly and wolf management that facilitates delisting from the Endangered Species Act or that is geared toward reducing numbers of the large carnivores.