There’s an old saying, one that got revived during the last presidential campaign that says, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but you still have a pig.” Montana Senators, Baucus and Tester, crafted a bill to delist wolves in Idaho and Montana in hopes of getting it added as a rider to a Continuing Resolution on the Congressional budget bill. It appears that bill, or a form of it, is going to get attached to this latest budget bill agreement that supposedly averted a government shutdown. The bill is a pig.

Of course none of us “subjects” will know the language of the bill, should one become attached, until after the fact – kind of like the Nancy Pelosi statement of, “You’ll have to vote on it to see what’s in it.” But if this bill carries the basic components of the bill most of us are aware of, it will still be an exclusionary bill, that is not only troublesome but extremely problematic.

One of the main ingredients in this bill is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will immediately reissue the 2009 Final Rule to delist wolves in Idaho, Montana, parts of Utah, Washington and Oregon and excludes Wyoming, the Southwest, the Western Great Lakes and all the rest of the United States. After re-issuance of this Rule, the Baucus/Tester bill excludes this 2009 Final Rule from any litigation. In addition nobody knows then what legislation and court orders are any longer valid.

Here are some examples: What becomes of Judge Alan Johnson’s ruling that, upon appeal, ruled that the USFWS acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in dealing with Wyoming’s wolf management plan? Are we to assume also that Judge Donald Molloy’s 2010 ruling that put wolves back on the Endangered Species Act list, and now under appeal, is dropped? The list goes on.

Even more troubling is what happened in Idaho since the 2009 Final Rule. Editor of one of the best outdoor magazines in the nation, George Dovel of The Outdoorsman, has for at least 9 years been harping that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) acted illegally when they took it upon themselves to rewrite a wolf management plan in 2008. In 2002, the Idaho Legislature voted on and passed the 2002 Idaho Wolf Management Plan. In that plan wording was crafted that explicitly read that no changes to that plan could be made without approval of the legislature. But in 2008, IDFG amended the 2002 wolf plan in order to get approval by the USFWS to delist wolves.

Last December, the Idaho Legislature voted to void the illegal 2008 wolf management plan and fall back on the 2002 plan. This move came after Judge Molloy’s decision to put the gray wolf back under federal protection. So now what happens? Does an attempt to turn the clock back two years make changes like this one simply disappear? I don’t think anyone really knows.

If you examine the differences between the 2008 Idaho wolf plan and the 2002 plan, there are marked differences, particularly pertaining to the number of wolves the state will manage for; enough so that the USFWS would not accept the 2002 plan as workable in their scheme to delist wolves.

A short two months ago, as sportsman’s groups, leaders, individuals, as well as certain law firms learned of the Baucus/Tester bill, there was outrage. All efforts seemed focused on drumming up support for Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg’s bill, HR509, that would exempt wolves from endangered or threatened consideration of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

David Allen, president and CEO for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, in response to the Baucus/Tester bill said:

“We agree that we don’t need bureaucrats dictating wildlife policies so why are we stopping short of providing all states with the same considerations. Further, this bill does not remove the D.C. bureaucrats from the issue. This proposed legislation leaves out dozens of states with wolf issues and one has to ask why would we do that to one another? Sportsmen, ranchers and farmers alike have one another’s backside on issues like this, we don’t leave others out of a real solution,”

Harriet M. Hageman of Hageman and Brighton, PC, expressed deep concern over the Baucus/Tester bill. While elevating the importance of the Judge Johnson decision as, “a great victory for all of the citizens of the state of Wyoming”, she further states the significance nationwide.

…..a great victory for all state Fish and game agency and commission as it validates the States’ right to manage their own wildlife. This decision makes clear that the States should be allowed to balance the competing wildlife demands, and to develop the type of management plans that work best within their particular borders.

And in reference to the Baucus/Tester bill that would revert back to the re-issuance of the 2009 Final Rule of the USFWS to delist wolves, Hageman states:

Most importantly, however, the very wording of the proposed amendment appears to be designed to nullify Judge Johnson’s decision in its entirety.

Some this morning are wishing to paint the idea of the Baucus/Tester bill becoming a rider to the federal budget bill as a “great victory” for wolf management. I don’t see it that way at all. In an email that went out this morning on this issue by “Big Game Forever“, their efforts to be cheerleaders and still encourage everyone to work at the eventual passage of HR509 and S249, is commendable but calling the Baucus/Tester bill rider a great victory leaves a real bitter taste in my mouth.

It is being described as an incremental victory on delisting wolves and regaining state sovereignty to manage wildlife, but at what cost? And there are very serious doubts that this rider bill would do a thing about giving states back their right to management of their own wildlife. The original Baucus/Tester bill, although it would delist gray wolves in Idaho and Montana, would leave control in the hands of the USFWS.

It appears there’s little any of us can do about this rider bill, considering the circumstances of the main budget bill that Congress is trying to pass. I fail to see Congress holding up passage of the budget bill because of a wolf bill.

It is, however, for this very reason, that anyone interested in getting wolves delisted in all of the United States, should actively support HR509 and S249.

Tom Remington