Lands bill offers wolf-kill money

Associated Press

HELENA – A public-lands bill signed Monday by President Barack Obama includes a program under which ranchers could receive federal payments to compensate them for livestock killed by wolves.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming sponsored the so-called "Wolf Kill Bill," which authorizes the federal government to spend up to $1 million annually on the five-year demonstration program.

"Our legislation specifically deals with ranchers and their livestock. It works whether wolves are on the endangered-species list or not," Tester said in a prepared statement.

"Our bill is also (an) example of working together across party lines to do what's right for the West," Tester said.

Along with payments to ranchers, the money also would cover grants to states and Indian tribes to reduce the risk of livestock attacks by erecting fences and improving grazing practices.

Tester said money for the program would likely be split evenly between compensating ranchers and paying for ways to prevent wolf attacks.

An estimated 1,500 wolves now roam Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, up from just a few dozen prior to their reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in the mid-1990s.

Killings of sheep, cattle, llamas, dogs and other farm animals soared over that time, with more than 3,200 killed. Last year alone, 532 animals were killed.

Tester also joined with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to include in the Public Lands Bill the Cooperative Watershed Management Act. The provision seeks to protect fisheries by encouraging irrigators, ranchers, scientists and anglers to work together to manage water habitat.

Tester and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, also inserted language in the bill to transfer Montana's historic Elkhorn Cemetery near Boulder from the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest to Jefferson County.

The legislation was needed because burials are not allowed on Forest Service land.