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Will Obama Administration, Wyoming Governor, Find Common Ground on Dealing With Wolves?


The outcome of wolf meetings today between Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead will tell a lot about the environmental integrity of the Obama administration and the political moxie of the governor. Kurt Repanshek photo.

Earlier this spring, I met with Jon and Deb Robinett, managers of Steve Gordon’s historic ranch, the Diamond G, up the Dunoir Valley near the northeast corner of Grand Teton National Park.

It was an insightful interview as I prepared a story on wolves that recently appeared in the Christian Science Monitor.

As of May, neither Gov. Matt Mead nor his wolf envoy, Steve Ferrell, had made any attempt to contact the Robinetts about their experiences living with lobos.  A curious snub, since Gov. Mead has dispatched Mr. Ferrell to solicit opinions from informed stakeholders.  He’s crafting a wolf management plan that can pass muster with the federal government. 

On Thursday the governor is meeting in Cheyenne with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the new director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Daniel Ashe. The expressed goal of the meeting is "to continue discussions on developing a sound, science-based wolf management plan for the state."

A prevailing perception is that Mr. Ferrell, former head of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, has only sought opinions that he and the governor want to hear; that Gov. Mead has no intention of backing statewide trophy game status for wolves. Some say he’s fearful of losing face among anti-wolf hardliners.

That’s unfortunate; it only exposes the folly of macho stubbornness.

In neighboring Montana and Idaho, where wolves are classified as wildlife, not vermin, the federal government approved state management plans and wolves today are delisted.

In Wyoming, Gov. Mead and Mr. Ferrell are said to be pushing a “flex plan.”  Wolves would sort of be professionally managed in a portion of western Wyoming at certain times of year, but otherwise subject to slaughter across most of the state. 

Wolves, according to a law supported by the Wyoming legislature, could be killed by almost any means, at any time of day, in any month, for any reason—even when they are having zero discernible negative impacts on wildlife or livestock.

Never before has the American public spent years and money recovering a species only to sanction its immediate re-annihilation.  The eyes of America will be closely watching Secretary Salazar’s move, and many believe the environmental integrity of the Obama administration will ride on whether he accedes to Gov. Mead’s demands.

Respected scientists tell me Wyoming’s flex scheme is “harebrained” and unsupported by any credible science, rivaling Montana’s widely-condemned method of dealing harshly with wandering Yellowstone National Park bison.

The Robinetts have lost family dogs, horses and cows to wolves, but they are not advocating that lobos be wiped out. They pragmatically favor trophy game status in Wyoming as the surest way to achieve delisting.

Insiders say the reason Gov. Mead continues to dig in his boot heels is that he’s afraid of burning political capital, even though he knows trophy game status is the right thing to do.  In fact, trophy game was the recommendation made more than a decade ago by Wyoming’s top official carnivore experts.

Besides the Robinetts, there’s someone else—a venerable Wyoming sage— whose knowledge the governor and Mr. Ferrell also have evaded. This individual is a beloved figure in Jackson Hole who lived a good portion of her life in Grand Teton National Park. Her name: Louise Murie MacLeod, whose husband, the eminent wildlife biologist Adolph Murie, courageously led America out of the dark ages of predator extermination that Gov. Mead now stands on the precipice of possibly re-entering.

Now in her 99th year, Weezy, a botanist, is sharp of mind and memory. One would think Gov. Mead might pay her a visit. She was, after all, a contemporary of the governor’s late grandfather, Cliff Hansen, a former Wyoming governor and U.S. senator.

Mr. Hansen taught his family to respect the wisdom of elders. Weezy’s perspective, in terms of longevity, is unmatched.  She could educate Gov. Mead about courage and the bitter backlash that comes when people say truthful things the political status quo doesn’t want to hear.

While unpopular in the day, Weezy and the Murie clan nobly fought to preserve Grand Teton for future generations.  They also spoke out against the irrational cultural hatred of wolves and grizzlies, and they presciently identified the enduring value—economic, spiritual, and biological— of wild ecosystems.

Over decades, as Ade Murie meticulously assembled field notes as part of his biological research, it was Weezy, near Grand Teton headquarters at Moose, who typed them onto paper. Ade Murie’s insights were published in a pioneering study of Yellowstone coyotes, and in two classic books, The Wolves of Mt. McKinley and The Grizzlies of Mt. McKinley.

Mr. Ferrell, Gov. Mead, and Secretary Salazar ought to give them a read. Between Weezy and the Robinetts, there isn’t a citizen trio alive in Wyoming today that better grasps the real reality—not the fairy tale depictions— of wolves.

Gov. Mead, grandson of a rancher who fought the expansion of Grand Teton Park but admitted later he was wrong, finds himself in a similar bind with wolves.

Wyoming long ago could have had a delisted wolf population if leaders had listened to the state’s top Game and Fish Department expert, Dave Moody, who advised trophy game status Wyoming-wide. Instead, Mr. Moody was muzzled.

Gov. Mead can continue to placate anti-conservation, wolf-despising citizens as a way to remain popular or, observers say, he can stiffen his spine and be a solutions-oriented leader. The path he and Secretary Salazar take with wolves will reveal much about the character and integrity of both men.

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Integrity?  Just another word that the President would like attached to himself (without basis).  I don't know much about Gov. Matt Mead but the "political moxie" description?  The Governor is up against "Mr. Political."  The most kind word of many that come to mind. Respectfully 

Slaughter and annihilation - strong hyperbole and of course inaccurate.  A federal judge has made it clear that the FWS requirement that the entire state of Wyoming be managed as trophy game was arbitrary and capricious.  No science to support it.

Dear "Anonymous":  Why don't you have the courage to at least use your real name when leaving a post?  Trophy game was not ruled "arbitrary and capricious" by all federal judges; in fact only in the court that Wyoming chose to litigate.  Moreover, trophy game status was supported by both professional scientists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and, originally, the professional scientific experts within the Wyoming Game and Fish Department who were muzzled to comform to anti-wolf politics.  In fact, a different federal judge found Wyoming's plan to be biologically arbitrary and capricious.  "Slaughter" and "annihilation" in carrying out a reduction of wolf numbers—by any means possible—over much of the state, as now mandated by the state legislature, isn't a hyperbolic term. Last time around when wolves were delisted only a few years ago in Wyoming, if you remember, a pair of men in Sublette County ran wolves down on snowmobiles and killed them by driving their machines over the top of them.  Will the past be prologue for how wolves are "managed" in the future beyond a relatively small area, outside of Yellowstone in the western third of the state?  I would love to get my eyes on a copy of the scientific peer review informing Governor Mead's flex plan.  The problem is that it doesn't exist.

Dear Mr. Wilkinson,Just a little "Fair and Balance" added here if you don't mind.  Maybe Anonymous isn't fishing for street cred to appeal to the New York Liberals that might trip over themselves to contribute to this or other "small non-profits."  The visual of someone running over a wolf with their snowmobile is, I believe, on par with what a pack of wolves do on a daily basis to their preferred dinner au jour.  I do know they take a lot more elk and moose than they do lady joggers referring to the young lady jogger at Chignik, Ak.  If you are going to get all teary eyed you might shed a little for the other unfortunates in the food chain. Not sure if I pushed the envelope here to being accepted in polite conversation but it's sure as heck, real! 

BOISE, Idaho (July 7, 2011) - U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar tentatively agreed today to a wolf management plan for Wyoming that will allow wolves to be shot on sight across most of the state. In a joint press conference with Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, Sec. Salazar said the Interior Department “agrees in principle” to allowing wolves to be killed without a permit for most of the year across most of state.

Random Walker, I took a look at that release from Defenders, and then took a look at the governor's release, and it seems that Defenders took a little leeway with its interpretation. The release I read from Wyoming didn't mention anything "about wolves being shot on sight across most of the state," let alone Salazar agreeing with that.

Here's what seems to be the key passage from the state's release:

Governor Mead said the meeting was a move towards a solution that works
for Wyoming, “I am pleased to report that we agree in principle on major
issues and have worked on details that have been stumbling blocks to an
approved Wyoming plan.”

Exactly what Salazar agreed to remains a bit murky, at least in the state's release.

How can we contact Mr.Salazar to give an opinion about the wolf situation??

"Westerner",  I'll say the same to you that I said to "Anonymous":  Have the courage to use your real name. Let readers  know who you are and what your credentials/bias are to comment.  Stop being a troll.  You may find it noble that people run down wolves on snowmobiles and kill them with their machines for the sure thrill of it.  You also seem compelled to make exaggerated claims about wolves.  I have written about wolves as a journalist for a quarter of a century and stand behind the information I present. Let us again revisit basic facts:  1. Regarding the risks wolves pose to human safety (so small, confirmed by hundreds of years of history, as to NOT be considered a real threat to humans in the woods);  2. Re:  Impacts on wildlife and livestock: significant in some areas, not so in others, again confirmed by scientific facts.  In my childhood province of Minnesota, where today there are several million people living in a state with nearly 4,000 wolves and, in prime wolf country, 12,000 farms, few people there resort to the kind of wolf hysteria or cower in fear as Westerners do.  No farmers have been driven out of business by wolves or come even close to it and decades of scientific study shows that wolves are not killing off game animals.  In the West, there needs to be honest, rational conversations about real wolves, not the mythological, imagined kind floating around in human imaginations. Environmentalists, too, need to make an honest acknowledgment of real wolf impacts. In this new age of blogging, part of the problem on net-based forums are people able to write under anonymous identities and pseudonyms, making claims that cannot be substantiated and are seldom fact-checked by the site host (Kurt Repanshek, here, being an old Associated Bureau chief does an excellent job of weeding out trolls). Free speech ought to be based on truth.  Many anonymous commentators simply say things to stir up trouble.  This happens less in newspapers because people who pen letters to the editor have to sign their names to what they write and can be held accountable.  I think there would be a lot less hyperbole and we'd have a lot more meaningful conversations about wolves, if people had the courage to stand behind their real identities and their own words. So "Westerner," stop being a troll and step into the light of day where we can see your eyes.  Then let's have an honest chat about wolves.

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