Jan 20, 2015

County willing to pay to stay in wolf fight

Park County commissioners are OK with spending as much as $2,000 to help argue that a federal judge was wrong to put Wyoming’s gray wolves back under more restrictive federal management.

“We’ve gone this far,” said Park County Commissioner Joe Tilden.

The county’s money will help pay Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman to write and submit a brief to an appeals court. Hageman will argue that U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington, D.C., was wrong to reject the state of Wyoming’s plan for managing its wolves.

Hageman serves as the attorney for the Wyoming Wolf Coalition, a group of sportsmen, agricultural interests and local governments like counties; the coalition supported the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the past couple years as they tried to convince Judge Jackson to reject environmental groups’ challenges to Wyoming’s plan.

Jackson ruled against the state, Fish and Wildlife and defenders of the plan like the Wolf Coalition in September.

All the parties to the lawsuit — both those defending the state plan and the environmental groups opposing it — have filed separate notices saying they may appeal parts of Jackson’s decision.

The Wolf Coalition will only play a supporting role in the appeal, as it is not an actual party to the lawsuit.
A wolf howls in Yellowstone National Park in this 2004 photo, snapped by Jim Peaco of the National Park Service. The animals' legal status was in dispute at the time of the photo and remains so today; Park County commissioners hope to join an appeal of a judge's decision that put Wyoming's wolves back under federal protections.

The county paid $3,000 to join the coalition in February of 2013.

“I’ve never met anybody yet that’s said, ‘I’m really disappointed in Park County joining the Wolf Coalition,’” Tilden said.

However, at the commission’s Dec. 16 meeting, there was some dissent about putting more money into the effort.

Commissioner Lee Livingston, a Wapiti-based outfitter, said he’s a major proponent of the state’s wolf plan, but he questioned whether the expense of joining the appeal was worth it.

“A lot of folks in the industry are of the opinion that it’s good money being sent after bad,” Livingston said.

The commissioner said he and other outfitters don’t believe anything will be gained on appeal.

“No one wants to see them (wolves) gone more than I, but we’re just getting our teeth kicked in on this deal,” Livingston said.

Deputy Park County Attorney Jim Davis told commissioners it’s an important case and that Hageman is a good attorney and advocate. But he said it’s hard to say whether Hageman’s brief will sway the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. It could be an opportunity to present different arguments to the judges, but “on the other hand, those circuit court judges, they’d like to affirm their (district court) judge,” Davis said. “They’d rather affirm them than not.”

“I’ve never met anybody yet that’s said, ‘I’m really disappointed in Park County joining the Wolf Coalition,’” Tilden said.

Livingston was the lone dissenter in the vote to authorize up to $2,000 more for the coalition.

“Hopefully, the appeals court will be rational,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.

While the commissioners were down on Judge Jackson’s opinion, her ruling actually upheld the most controversial aspects of Wyoming’s wolf plan — specifically rejecting environmentalists’ objections to the state’s policy of allowing wolves to be killed on sight in most of the state and hunted in the northwest corner.

Jackson overturned the plan because she found Wyoming’s commitments to maintain more than 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs weren’t legally enforceable.

Tilden said the coalition has spent roughly $20,900 of an initial $22,000 of funding.

Participating in the appeal may cost as much as $8,000 more, Hageman told the Tribune, but she said it’s difficult to know what costs and fees may be incurred. She said her first step will be to file a motion asking the federal court to allow the wolf coalition to participate as an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) in the appeal.


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