Tester, Baucus renew wolf efforts with change in Wyoming leadership


by Rob Chaney

With a new governor installed in Wyoming this month, Montana's senators are calling for more effort to return gray wolf management to state control.

"We urge you to begin discussions promptly with the three governors with the goal of reaching a common solution that will return wolves to state management as quickly as possible," senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday. "We believe that with renewed effort and a fresh perspective from the parties involved, we can resolve this issue and move forward."
In 2009, the federal government allowed Idaho and Montana to manage their wolves after removing them from Endangered Species Act protection. Wyoming's wolves remained under federal control because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that state's wolf management plan inadequate.

But a lawsuit brought by a coalition of conservation and environmental groups reversed that decision in 2010. A federal court judge ruled the Endangered Species Act does not allow a protected species population to be divided by state lines, and put the wolves in all three states back under ESA protection. The decision canceled planned 2010 wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho.

After the decision, several members of Congress proposed legislation that would remove wolves from ESA consideration. Baucus and Tester also proposed a bill that would allow Montana and Idaho to resume their state management efforts. None of those bills passed in the last session of Congress, and new ones have not been voted on yet.

Baucus and Tester said the inauguration of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead "provides a new opportunity to re-engage" negotiations among the three states and the federal government.