A proposal intended to guide the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park was mailed Thursday to Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, as was a request from conservationists that he reject the document.
"The proposed plan is not a road map to wolf recovery but rather a roadblock," the conservationists claimed.Galen Buterbaugh, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based in Denver, said the document was mailed after the federal Wolf Management Committee agreed on a narrative outlining the plan.
Just two of the 10 committee members opposed the narrative, according to Buterbaugh, and they were behind the letter asking Lujan to reject the proposal.
The interior secretary appointed the committee last fall at Congress' request and directed that it finish its work by May 15.
The plan heading to Lujan calls for Canadian wolves to be transplanted to Yellowstone. Those wolves and others in a 2-million-acre tract of northwestern Montana that includes Glacier National Park would remain classified as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, according to the proposal.
Wolves elsewhere in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho would be designated "experimental, non-essential" animals that could be killed. That provision spurred the conservationists' letter to Lujan, in part because such a reclassification would take place before wolves would be returned to Yellowstone.
Hank Fischer of Defenders of Wildlife, a member of the committee, also said the provision would allow ranchers to shoot wolves that simply "harass" livestock.
"To some people a wolf walking across their pasture constitutes harassment," he said from his Missoula, Mont., office..
As a result, Fischer said, wolves naturally returning to Montana and Idaho could be killed by ranchers while the federal government tries to restore the animals to Yellowstone.
"That basically gives everybody a license to kill a wolf if they see them," Fischer said. "With that kind of scenario, we won't achieve recovery."
Buterbaugh, however, maintained that such a designation was clearly allowed under the Endangered Species Act.
Joining Fischer in signing the letter to Lujan were Tom Dougherty of the National Wildlife Federation, another committee member, and representatives of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Sierra Club, The Wolf Fund, The Wilderness Society, the Wolf Recovery Foundation, and the Idaho Conservation League.