The Wyoming Legislature will consider a predator control bill in its upcoming session that spells out predator-killing roles and expands the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board’s authorities. (David Schenfeld / Flickr CC)

Rep. Robert Wharff (R-Evanston) was “ready to go to the carpet” in the fall when he learned county predator boards were reprimanded by federal investigators for killing predators from aircraft over federal lands.

Wharff, a staunch states’ rights advocate, told WyoFile he heard “grumblings” about the controversy, which he expected to come up at the Wyoming Legislature’s Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee meeting in September. But the lawmakers who convened at Central Wyoming College in Riverton tip-toed around questions about federal authority as they delved into a related bill, he said. 

Fellow lawmakers, Wharff recalled, “really didn’t want to talk” about the aerial gunning dispute. In the days leading up to the interim legislative meeting, the agencies involved had a “come-to-Jesus meeting without us,” he said. Tensions surrounding county predator boards’ authority to fly aerial missions over federal lands “was resolved without us doing anything,” Wharff said.  

Rep. Robert Wharff (R-Evanston)

But lawmakers decided to pursue legislation anyway.  Senate File 10-Predator control, passed through committee that day without Wharff having to scuffle over it. He spoke in support of the proposed legislation, which sets up a system allowing Wyoming’s 19 county predator management boards to work through the Wyoming Department of Agriculture to contract for predator control services

“All the bill does is clarify the current statute — it doesn’t change the statute — to make sure that the county predator control boards are part of the chain,” said Amy Hendrickson, who directs the Wyoming Wool Growers Association and lobbied in support of the legislation.

The proposed legislation makes a path through the bureaucratic obstacles that kept county predator boards from legally killing coyotes and wolves from the air over federal land — if federal agencies like the Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service’s Wildlife Services [APHIS] go for it.

“How do you think APHIS is going to respond?” Wharff asked Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, a bill supporter. “I know federal agencies have a tendency to think they rule the world.” 

The livestock industry, Magagna responded, had experienced “real challenges” working with the federal Wildlife Services, particularly in the prior six months. 

“But my understanding and my belief is that [Wyoming Department of Agriculture] Director [Doug] Miyamoto has made significant progress toward getting them on board,” Magagna told lawmakers. “There’s always some risk they could see this and say, ‘We’re just going to fight you,’ but I’m more inclined to think that this will reinforce to them that the state of Wyoming recognizes and will defend our role in this and make them hopefully a little more anxious to move forward with a workable agreement.” 

The progress Wyoming was making negotiating with the federal agency presaged a signed accord — which came four months later. 

On Jan. 13, the state director at Wildlife Services, Mike Foster, signed off on a new cooperative agreement that condones state and county boards’ action plans for killing wolves and coyotes on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming. 

“I know federal agencies have a tendency to think they rule the world.”

Rep. Robert Wharff (R-Evanston)

Agriculture Committee Chairman, Sen. Brian Boner (R-Douglas), said addressing the past dustup between the county predator boards and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement agents was “not really the point” of the bill. 

“The point of the bill was to consolidate these [predator control] functions,” Boner said. “We’re just making sure that the [Wyoming] Department of Agriculture is the primary point of contact, sort of a clearinghouse for information.” 

Magagna told WyoFile he believes it’s still worthwhile to pursue the legislation, even though the agreement the bill seeks to facilitate was worked out between involved agencies. 

“I would say it still is of value,” Magagna said. “At any time in the future the authority of the Department of Agriculture to enter into these agreements can be challenged.” 

Hendrickson, with the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, agreed there are still advantages to pushing the predator control bill come the Legislature’s budget session in February. 

“Clearly some people did not recognize the roles,” Hendrickson said.

Mike Koshmrl

Mike Koshmrl reports from Jackson on state politics and Wyoming's natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures...

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  1. Anti-predator control advocates need to take note of the roles the legislatures in Idaho and Montana have taken on wolf control. The bottom line is that the vast majority of residents in those states want strict apex predator control outside of designated habitat such as wilderness areas; so much so, that the legislatures in Idaho and Montana have authorized almost every conceivable method of wolf control short of napalm and nukes. Its true that most Americans favor wolf reintroduction but we live in a country where 85% of the population live in urban areas and their views differ greatly from the residents of Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Wisconsin. However, much of the ultimate decision on apex predator control is with the legislatures and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Idaho in particular authorized predator control way beyond methods previously utilized. I bring this up as a warning to the wise, that too much opposition and criticism of aerial hunting in Wyoming would only result in the legislature of Wyoming adopting more predator methods – similar to Idaho. The residents of Wyoming acting through our legislature have the votes to do so. One of the previous proposals by Game and Fish on wolf designation was defeated in the legislature by a vote of 88-1 against the recommendation of G&F. I can even foresee the legislature designating bobcats and mountain lions as predators should the current controversy become too contentious. I hope the Wyoming legislature doesn’t have to intervene like the Idaho legislature did, and if it does, I’m very confident it would only lead to more predator control authorizations.

    1. Lee, what are your thoughts on the effectiveness of these programs? It seems the state is paying excessively for predator control methods dramatically disproportionate to predator damages incurred by producers. If WY is paying $5million to aerially gun coyotes and only $125,000 in damages, you’d hope there’d at least be some measurable outcomes. But where are they? Coyote populations remain robust and depredation rates remain consistent. It just doesn’t add up. Trying to lethally control your way out of the problem doesn’t work.

      I’d also be curious on your thoughts on the legislature stepping in on these decisions. We often hear complaints about different groups interfering in state game agency affairs, but that criticism doesn’t seem equally applied to legislatures. In the case of Idaho, it wasn’t until 2021 that the state seized authority to manage wolves from their own game and fish agency, shortly after the species lost federal protections in the remainder of the lower 48. That’s a relatively recent “power grab” by political interlopers.

      Is ask this in the context of what role should the ‘people’ play? Because at a certain point, what people want *does* matter, even if the science is against it. Policies ought be informed by science, but should seek to find that balance of what is politically feasible based on where the culture is at the moment in time (and because cultural values change, policies should be mutable). If you’ll indulge me, what would the ideal balance look like to you?