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Published July 07, 2011, 01:46 AM

Lawmaker: Exempt wolf deal from court review

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The state's lone U.S. representative wants any deal between Wyoming and the federal government over wolf management exempted from review in the courts.

By: Ben Neary, Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The state's lone U.S. representative wants any deal between Wyoming and the federal government over wolf management exempted from review in the courts.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., announced Wednesday she's inserted language in a pending appropriations bill to bar any such legal challenges. She also proposes to require the federal government to transfer wolf management to Wyoming as soon as the state and federal officials can reach a deal.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are set to meet Thursday in Cheyenne to discuss the wolf issue. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe also is scheduled to attend.

Mead and Salazar have held a series of meetings since late last year intended to allow Wyoming to follow the lead of other states in the Northern Rockies and take over management of wolves from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Federal biologists and environmental groups have opposed ending federal protections for wolves in Wyoming for years because the current state plan calls for them to be classified as predators that could be shot on sight in most areas. The standoff has spawned several federal lawsuits in Wyoming and elsewhere.

The federal government earlier this year approved turning wolf management over to state governments in Idaho, Montana and other areas with a similar provision barring court challenges. Environmentalists are nonetheless trying to fight that move in court, saying it sets a precedent that undermines the Endangered Species Act while exceeding the power of Congress to limit judicial review.

Lummis issued a statement Wednesday saying it's necessary to short-circuit years of legal wrangling on the wolf issue in Wyoming.

"This provision is a crucial puzzle piece to the long-awaited conclusion of the delisting of the fully-recovered gray wolf. For more than eight years, wolves in Wyoming have met or exceeded the federal government's recovery goals, and without proper management have thrived at the expense of Wyoming's ranchers, farmers and big game herds," Lummis stated.

Since their reintroduction in Yellowstone and other areas in the mid-1990s, the wolf population in the Northern Rockies has rebounded up to more than 1,600 animals, including more than 300 in Wyoming. Many ranchers and hunters in Wyoming have expressed concern that wolves are taking too great a toll on elk, moose and livestock.

Mead said Wednesday that he's encouraged Salazar is coming back to the state to talk about wolves and he appreciates efforts by Wyoming's congressional delegation to "ensure management of wolves returns to Wyoming."

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity in Portland, Ore., said Wednesday his group believes exempting wolf management from judicial review is a terrible idea. His group has fought in court to keep wolves under federal protection.

"Under the law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to rely on the best available science, and to rationally justify their decisions," Greenwald said. "And the courts are ultimately what ensures that that occurs — that political considerations don't overly constrain the agency's scientists' analysis. If you're exempted from judicial review, you're not allowing the process to go forward as it's supposed to."