Interior Secretary Manual Lujan has called for additional public hearings in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho on a proposal to return wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
Lujan announced that decision Wednesday in letters to Republican members of the three states' congressional delegations.Just last week the 10-member Wolf Management Committee appointed by Lujan agreed on a plan to have Rocky Mountain gray wolves returned to Yellowstone.
Under the proposal, the predators would be protected by the Endangered Species Act as long as they roamed within Yellowstone or a nearly 2-million-acre area of northwestern Montana that includes Glacier National Park.
Wolves straying from those areas would be designated as "experimental, non-essential" animals that could be killed or relocated if they preyed on livestock, according to the plan.
In late March the congressmen -Sens. Malcolm Wallop and Alan Simpson of Wyoming, Steve Symms of Idaho and Conrad Burns of Montana and Reps. Craig Thomas of Wyoming, Ron Marlenee of Montana and Larry E. Craig of Idaho - wrote Lujan with a request that "the general public have ample opportunity to meaningfully participate in all stages of the committee's deliberations."
While the committee held meetings in the three states, during those meetings the 10 members sat in different groups with the public to discuss the return of wolves to Yellowstone.
Such a format, the congressmen told Lujan, "makes it difficult to encourage the type of spontaneous and meaningful dialogue (that) is sorely needed."
"As a result, many of the critical issues central to the wolf issue have not been raised," their letter said. "Furthermore, these sessions have not been long enough to accommodate many in the audience who traveled great distances and desired to be heard."
In his response, Lujan did not debate the format of the hearings but simply agreed that additional hearings would be helpful.
"I agree that such public hearings would expand opportunities for public comment on issues sensitive to your constituents who would be most affected by the report," the Interior secretary wrote. "In order to meet the congressionally-mandated reporting date of May 15, it will be necessary to schedule these meetings as expeditiously as possible."
During meetings in Denver last week the committee drafted a plan calling for wolves to be trapped in Canada and released in Yellowstone. The proposal also calls for central Idaho to be monitored for wolves for five years, and if none are spotted a reintroduction program could be started there.
Talk of returning wolves to Yellowstone has dragged on for years, with opposition coming largely from Wyoming's congressional delegation, which has questioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's ability to prevent wolves from leaving the park and preying on livestock.