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EXOTIC GAME RANCH FACES FOREST OF FOES

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Fresh from a fight to keep Campbell's Soup Co. in the family, millionaire rancher John T. Dorrance III is having less luck in a battle with the state of Wyoming over exotic game ranching.

The 45-year-old Missouri native, whose share of the Campbell's Soup fortune is estimated at $660 million by Forbes Magazine, wants to bring about 100 animals from 15 exotic species to his ranch near Devils Tower National Monument.The species include arctic wolves, Russian boar, red, roe, sika, axis and fallow deer, ibex, muntjac, markhor, blackbuck, chamois, and barbary, mouflon and Marco Polo sheep.

He also wants to populate the farm with 24 animals from four native Wyoming species, moose, elk, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep.

If he gets his way, Dorrance will set aside about 4,200 acres of his 17,000-acre ranch for a drive-through wildlife park. He also wants to use the animals in hunting, meat production and research on controlling leafy spurge, a virulent weed crowding out natural vegetation on some Western ranges.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, citing the threat of imported species to native wildlife, has rejected the proposal.

Dorrance - one of the richest men in America - is not inclined give up his 20-year dream of an exotic game ranch.

"We've got three or four options," he said. "We can accept it, we can take it into the court system, attack it legislatively to seek some changes in the Wyoming statutes or a combination of the last two."

He also said he could pursue his proposal in South Dakota or another state with less restrictive laws.

But Dorrance, who in January joined other Campbell's Soup board members in an agreement preventing any sale or merger of the largely family-owned company, said he has to consider his chances for making money on the deal if he fights on and wins.

"If we pursue it and win, we are still faced with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department," he said. "They might be very bitter and vindictive. They could make our life impossible."

Game and Fish Commission President Don Scott said there was nothing personal in the commission's rejection of Dorrance's proposal. He said Wyoming law specifically prohibits private importation or possession of native big game animals and bans the import of a living wolf from any source.

The request for a permit to import the exotic animals was more controversial, Scott said, but the decision was still clear-cut because of the threats of disease, hybridization and competition for habitat.

"We have wild and free-ranging herds that are truly a national treasure and we just don't believe that that treasure should be placed in jeopardy, even a remote jeopardy," he said. "We don't want to turn Wyoming into Texas."

Texas has the most widespread exotic game ranching in the nation. Scott said discussions with wildlife managers in states that allow such ranching indicates "they wish they'd never let them in."

The National Wildlife Federation and its Wyoming chapter share the Wyoming department's concerns and support its denial of the game ranching permits.

"Those states that have it are quickly scrambling to see how they can undo what they've already done," said Tom Dougherty, the federation's regional executive for the Rocky Mountain region. "There are examples in every state that, no matter what means are used to contain them, the exotics always escape."