There may be common ground after all between conservationists and ranchers when it comes to de-listing the endangered gray wolf, a plan now under consideration in Montana.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has launched a statewide “scoping” process to get citizens’ comments on how to best manage wolves when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service de-lists the species.
Unless Montana, Idaho and Wyoming come up with their own programs for managing the gray wolf, the federal agency is unlikely to remove it from the Endangered Species Act list.
David Gaillard of the Predator Conservation Alliance in Bozeman says FWP’s current proposal for wolf management contains “some good news for wolves. Actually, there’s a lot in that draft that we support.”
There are three specifics the Alliance agrees with, Gaillard says. Under the current proposal wolves would be allowed to exist wherever there is suitable habitat, and would not be zoned into particular areas. There is no cap on the number of wolves that can exist, and no provision for hunting them in the near future.
Gaillard says the Alliance would like to see improvement in one provision, which would allow ranchers to kill wolves on their property, regardless of whether they pose an immediate threat to humans or livestock. It’s a “license to kill” the Alliance would like to eliminate.
Although ranchers don’t read the provision that way, they agree that no landowner should have the right to kill a wolf not posing any immediate threat.
Beth Emter, communications coordinator for the Montana Stockgrowers Association, says the group is still evaluating the FWP plan, but already likes what they see. “What we do like about it is that we do want to see the de-listing process move forward, with Fish, Wildlife and Parks put in charge of management.”
The stockgrowers don’t read the “license to kill” provision quite the way the Alliance does, Emter says. According to their interpretation, landowners would not have the right to kill a wolf simply for being on private property, nor should they. Citizens should not have “full reign” to kill a wolf that wanders onto a ranch unless it threatens livestock or poses a clear danger to humans.
One thing the stockgrowers would like to see, which Emter acknowledges is unlikely, is for the federal government to cover the costs associated with managing an endangered species. If the feds list it then and the feds should pay for it, she says.
Thirty breeding pairs of wolves distributed over the three-state area of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming for three years will trigger the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to de-list the wolf, which could begin in 2003. Once the federal agency de-lists the wolf, they will fall under state management.
Public comment will be accepted until April 30.