Tester to chair Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus

Associated Press

by Matt Gouras

HELENA — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said he has been named the next chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, taking over as the wolf issue looms large for Western lawmakers.

Tester will assume his role over the bipartisan Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, which has about 300 members from many states, when the new Congress convenes in January.

He said it will be a good platform to push on issues like wolves, and to make sure hunting access issues like access and habitat are dealt with in the new farm bill that includes the budgets of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service.

But Tester said he thinks there is still a chance that the wolf issue could be dealt with this year. He favors some plan that puts management of the wolf back into state management in Montana and Idaho.

"That is one I would like to get done this lame duck session," Tester said. "I think the state of Montana had a pretty good plan."

Montana's planned hunt for the animals was stopped after a judge ruled management of the endangered species couldn't be divided by state lines.

Tester said there is resistance to the wolf hunts from lawmakers from urban areas.

"It's going to be my job, our job, to educate people on what the facts are," Tester said. "There is plenty of room for a hunt."

Tester said he spoke with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a key Obama administration official when it comes to the issue, and believes Salazar is open to the idea of a hunt.

"He never came out and said that, but that's the impression I got," Tester said.

There are several pending bills aimed at getting gray wolves off the endangered species list, and they have been given very little chance by some of getting done this year. With little time left this year, lawmakers have been focusing on issues like unemployment, Medicare and nuclear proliferation.

There are now more than 1,700 wolves in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon.

The animals have twice been removed from the endangered list since 2007, only to be re-listed under court order following lawsuits from wildlife advocates.