CHEYENNE, Wyo. — U.S. senators from Wyoming, Idaho and Utah proposed legislation Thursday that would strip federal endangered species protections from wolves in the northern Rockies.
The legislation is the latest in a series of recent bills generally aimed at short-circuiting lawsuits from environmental groups opposed to seeing an end to federal wolf protections.
Much of the environmentalists' concern has centered on Wyoming, where the state has proposed classifying wolves as predators that could be shot on sight in most areas.
Wolves were reintroduced in the northern Rockies in the mid-1990s and more than 1,700 live in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and parts of Oregon and Washington state.
"Recovery numbers and science show that wolves no longer need to be on the endangered species list," said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., one of the sponsors.
"States are completely capable of managing wolves on their own without the federal government micromanaging them at every turn. This bill would finally free our state, ranchers and wildlife from the shackles of federal mismanagement," Enzi said.
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal's administration has sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service repeatedly, and so far unsuccessfully, to try to force the federal agency to turn wolf management over to the state.
The federal wildlife agency briefly turned wolf management over to Wyoming, Idaho and Montana a couple of years ago but reinstated federal protections after a federal judge in Montana expressed concerns over Wyoming's plan. The same judge more recently shot down the agency's effort to remove federal protections in Idaho and Montana while leaving them in place in Wyoming.
Wyoming Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, who chairs a legislative committee that deals with wildlife issues, said he would welcome an end to federal protections for the wolf that would allow states to set hunting seasons.
"I think by going to the hunting issue, we'll be able to reduce a number of impacts to the land owners and the ranchers," the state legislator said. "I'm still a firm believer that if they're hunted, they're going to avoid people."
The bill's other sponsors are Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.; and Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho.