RMEF To MT: Quit Talking Settlement With Wolf Litigators

Right before a Federal judge’s ruling put gray wolves back under ESA protections in the Northern Rockies, there were whispers that the states and lupus activists were scheduled to sit down for settlement talks.

Those apparently went by the wayside when Donald Molloy passed judgment in August, but word today that the state of Montana and 13 groups involved in the never-ending listing-delisting litigation saga are having discussions.

That according to a press release this afternoon from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which blasts the talks.

The organization and other wildlife advocates sent Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Joe Maurier a letter “urging state officials to stick with science in determining adequate populations of gray wolves, rather than negotiating with environmental and animal rights groups to allow surplus populations.”

FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim confirmed the talks.

“They’re moving slow. So far we haven’t come up with anything substantive,” Aasheim said.

He said it was just one facet of the agency’s efforts to bring wolf management back to the state of Montana.

RMEF president David Allen, Mule Deer Foundation president and CEO Miles Moretti, and Big Game Forever/Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife President Ryan Benson say the “negotiations potentially threaten to weaken the state’s authority to manage populations of game and non-game species, presenting a dangerous precedent for other states seeking to manage wolf populations through their respective state agencies.”

They also say that Montana has failed to include other stakeholders — hunters, ranchers and others — in the settlement talks

“By excluding other interested parties from the discussions, the state is setting up a take-it-or-leave-it appeasement, after the fact, upon its sporting and agricultural industries,” said the press release.

RMEF claims that Montana’s concessions to wolf litigants include “an outright departure from the science and the original public feedback used to develop the state’s existing wolf management plan. In addition to relisting the wolf, the state is being pressed by plaintiff groups to settle for higher surplus wolf populations in Montana. Numbers over and above science-based wolf management plans will continue to threaten elk and moose populations as well as livestock which is unacceptable and unsustainable in many regions of Montana.”

“Any proposal in closed-door settlement talks to increase the population goals in the plan will depart from both the science and public debate that went into the plan. This is one of the reasons we feel such negotiations are unwise,” the letter states. “We strongly reiterate that the past behavior of some of these groups since the inception of the wolf-recovery program calls for great caution in attempts at any negotiation with these groups — especially if such a deal is hatched to satisfy plaintiffs who shrewdly used a technicality to strike down a Federal decision.”

They warn that the wolf litigants “have a very bad track record of saying one thing and doing another.”

Instead, they support a “Congressional solution,” and point to a pair of bills in the U.S. House and Senate, both of which would amend the Endangered Species Act to prohibit wolves from being considered for protections.

Aasheim says FWP is also talking with the state’s Congressional delegation, as well as the state of Wyoming, which has been intransigent on the wolf issue.

He said the agency has also looked into conservation hunts and is appealing Judge Molloy’s ruling to the 9th Circuit Court.

“We’re pursuing every possible angle,” Aasheim says.

He says there will be no future for wolf hunting in Montana without talks.

Anything that comes out of it would be “fully vetted,” go through public comment and would have to be approved by the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission, he says.

“It’s just such a hot-button issue that folks are getting suspicious and we understand,” Aasheim says.

But the state’s goal is to again manage wolves, as it does every other species, he says.

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