By PHIL DRAKE
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is among three Western governors invited to meet Monday in Denver with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to discuss managing wolves.
Schweitzer, Idaho C.L “Butch” Otter and Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal were invited to attend, according to a spokesman from Otter’s office.
Schweitzer said it could be a “game day decision” as to whether he will actually attend the meeting. If he does not attend by person, he will call in by telephone.
Montana wanted to double the number of wolves hunted this year to 186, but, in August a federal judge banned wolf hunts and restored endangered species protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho. Some ranchers and hunters have encouraged killing wolves because of their killing of livestock and wildlife, such as elk.
“That threw things out of kilter and now they think Congress will act (on wolf kills),” Schweitzer said. “That is the longest shot I have heard of. But that would be great if Congress could pass legislation that would override the opinion of a federal judge.”
He said his request of the federal government would be simple:
“I would like them to honor the deal they made with Idaho and Montana a few years ago,” he said, which was “when you get to certain number of wolves and breeding pairs, you manage them.”
“We are now three to four times that number.”
State officials said the original deal in 2004 was 153 wolves and 15 breeding pairs. State Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials said Friday that the 153 wolves was a minimum count and they needed to add 30 percent to get to an actual number, which is more than 200 wolves. An estimated 1,700 wolves reportedly live in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
State Fish and Wildlife Division Administrator Dave Risley said Montana had a minimum count of 524 wolves at the end of 2009.
Schweitzer said it’s unclear what the next step is.
“We are on the precipice of getting the opportunity to manage wolves again,” he said. “I want to make sure we exhaust all goals.”
Schweitzer was critical of the federal government for changing the game plan.
“I don’t like it when you make a deal with someone for three horses and the day they deliver the horses they tell you price is three times what they quoted you and then charge you for the delivery,” he said.
“Let’s just make the deal you made with us before.”
Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian, couldn’t provide specifics to IdahoReporter.com on what would be discussed or if Salazar would offer new proposals on how the federal government and states manage wolves.
“This is an opportunity to advance this issue,” Hanian said. “This is a meeting that the secretary called. Gov. Otter looks forward to making Idaho’s position clear to all who are attending.”
In October, Otter wrote a letter to Salazar saying Idaho state officials wouldn’t be involved in wolf management.
Schweitzer said he suggested they postpone the meeting to January, when the Western Governors Association meets, but federal officials were opposed to that and suggested the three governors come to Washington D.C.
“We don’t like it in Washington, D.C.,” Schweitzer said. “If you want to talk about wolves in the West, why not talk about wolves in the West?”