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Friday News Roundup: Wolf hunts and Wyoming refinery woes

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Kimberly Hirai | Sep 09, 2011 05:00 AM

Idaho and Montana's wolf hunting seasons kicked off without much of a howl last week. This is the second year of hunting; the 2009-2010, was held after the Rocky Mountain gray wolf's removal from the endangered species list. Idaho and Montana have wolf hunting seasons that last four and 10 months, respectively -- part of their management plans.

Gray wolfIdaho's general season started Aug. 30, and Montana's wolf hunt began with a six-week archery season on Sept. 3. Yet despite environmentalists' concerns about the impact of wolf hunting, license sales for both states are down. Spokesman-Review reporter Rich Landers wrote that Idaho's tag purchases were "barely better" than the state's poor home sales. Idaho sold about 8,345 wolf tags for this season, a significant drop from the more than 30,000 wolf tags sold in 2009-2010. And Montana has sold about 8,110 licenses this year -- about half of their total for the year before.

Wolves remain elusive to hunters -- those in Idaho killed 188 wolves of a 220 quota set in 2009. That, in addition to low tag sales, may mean the hunts won't help both states' goals of reducing wolf populations to lessen attacks on livestock and big game. Montana set a quota of 220 wolves while Idaho's remains fairly unlimited, though both states set quotas for specific management units. Should hunting and trapping (in Idaho) not solve wolf conflicts, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game says it will perform control measures in specific situations, including hunts by federal or state workers.

Gray wolf management has remained controversial since the species was reintroduced in 1995 and 1996. Their management has been subject to a labyrinth of litigation, with wolves moving in and out of federal and state management several times.

Hunts in both states were suspended last year when lawsuits were filed by groups that argued wolf populations needed more time to recover. Enviros hoped to halt this year's hunt with a last-minute federal court injunction. But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request by Alliance for the Wild Rockies, WildEarth Guardians and other groups to stop the hunt. The groups had sought to pause the hunt while they await decision on a court case challenging a federal law that stripped protections from wolves in Idaho, Montana and parts of Utah, Washington and Wyoming. That happened in April, when Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) added a rider to an budget bill that took the wolves off the endangered list. 

Wolves might not be the only species needing protection: Wyoming refinery workers and residents of the tiny town of Sinclair could use some too. Two fires broke out last Thursday and Friday at Sinclair Oil Corp. refinery's crude oil processing unit outside Rawlins.  This follows after another fire was suppressed by refinery's fire crew in January. Last week's fires were sparked when the plant attempted to restart following a power outage. Cally Carswell reported on the refinery's poor state and national record for releases of toxic gases. And the Casper Star-Tribune has also noted that the refinery has a past record of incidents. Thirteen liquid or gas spills were reported in 2009, including a nearly 3 million gallon flammable fuel spill in May.

Kimberly Hirai is an intern at High Country News.

Image courtesy Flickr user USFWS Pacific-John & Karen Hollingsworth.

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