FWS "delists" a segment of the wolf population
73 Fed. Reg. 10514-10560 (Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final Rule Designating the Northern Rocky Mountain Population of Gray Wolf as a Distinct Population Segment and Removing This Distinct Population Segment From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife)
SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service, we or us), hereby establishes a distinct population segment (DPS) of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) in the Northern Rocky Mountains (NRM) of the United States (U.S.) and removes this DPS from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The NRM gray wolf DPS encompasses the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, a small part of north-central Utah, and all of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Based on the best scientific and commercial data available, the NRM DPS is no longer an endangered or threatened species pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The NRM DPS has exceeded its biological recovery goals, and all threats in the foreseeable future have been sufficiently reduced or eliminated. The States of Idaho (2002) and Montana (2003) adopted State laws and management plans that meet the requirements of the Act and will conserve a recovered wolf population into the foreseeable future. In 2007, following a change in State law, Wyoming drafted and approved a revised wolf management plan (Wyoming 2007). We have determined that this plan meets the requirements o fthe Act as providing adequate regulatory protections to conserve Wyoming’s portion of a recovered wolf population into the foreseeable future. Our determination is conditional upon the 2007 Wyoming wolf management law (W.S. 11–6–302 et seq. and 23–1–101, et seq. in House Bill 0213) being fully in effect and the wolf management plan being legally authorized by Wyoming statutes.
Photo from FWS - Pacific Region website
COMMENTARY: This action only affects the wolf in the Northern Rockies, and other wolf populations remain protected pursuant to the ESA. Nevertheless, the delisting of a DPS remains controversial, and gains much publicity. Indeed, numerous environmental and animal rights groups have already announced their plans to sue and challenge the FWS action. See AP wire story. FWS, however, has a compelling story to tell here: "In late 2002, the wolf population achieved its recovery goal of at least 30 breeding pairs and more than 300 wolves well distributed among Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming for at least three consecutive years. At that time there were an estimated 663 wolves in 49 breeding pairs. The recovery goal has been exceeded every year since, and threats to the species have been addressed. Currently, the wolf population in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming exceeds 100 breeding pairs and 1,500 wolves." See, FWS Q&A (Feb. 21, 2008) Furthermore, even the Center for Biological Diversity has recognized the gray wolf as an ESA success story.
- FWS Mountain-Prairie Region wolf information page
- Defenders of Wildlife Save the Wolves campaign and gray wolf info page
Additional excerpts of the Federal Register notice are available...
ADDITIONAL NOTEWORTHY EXCERPTS FROM THE FEDERAL REGISTER:
73 Fed. Reg. 10535...
The following analysis examines all five factors currently affecting, or that are likely to affect, the NRM gray wolf DPS within the foreseeable future.
From 73 Fed. Reg. 10541
A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range...
Summary of Threats to Wolf Habitat—We do not foresee that impacts to suitable and potentially suitablehabitat will occur at levels that will significantly affect wolf numbers or distribution or affect population recovery and long-term viability in the NRM DPS. Suitable habitat, occupied by persistent wolf packs, is secured by core recovery areas in northwestern Montana, central Idaho, and the GYA, including northwestern Wyoming. These areas include Glacier National Park, Grand Teton National Park, YNP, numerous USFS Wilderness Areas, and other State and Federal public lands. These areas will continue to be managed for high ungulate densities, moderate rates of seasonal livestock grazing, moderate-to-low road densities associated with abundant native prey, low potential for livestock conflicts, and security from excessive unregulated human-caused mortality. The core recovery areas also are within proximity to one another and have enough public land between them to ensure enough natural connectivity for wolf dispersal into the foreseeable future...
B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or Educational Purposes
As detailed below, overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes has not been a significant threat to the NRM DPS. Mortality rates caused by commercial,recreational, scientific, or educational purposes are not anticipated to exceed sustainable levels following delisting. These activities have not been a threat to the viability of the wolves in the past, and we have no reason to believe that they would become a threat to the viability of the wolves in the foreseeable future. Since their listing under the Act, no gray wolves have been deliberately and legally killed or removed from the wild in the NRM for commercial, recreational (hunting, trapping), or educational purposes. In the NRM, about 3 percent of the wolves captured for scientific research, nonlethal control, and monitoring have been accidentally killed (Bangs et al. in press). Some wolves may have been illegally killed for commercial use of the pelts and other parts, but we believe illegal commercial trafficking in wolf pelts or wolf parts is rare. Illegal capture of wolves for commercial breeding purposes also is possible, but we have no evidence that it occurs in the NRM. We believe the prohibition against ‘‘take’’ provided for by Section 9 of the Act has discouraged and minimized the illegal killing of wolves for commercial or recreational purposes. Although Federal penalties under Section 11 of the Act will not apply once delisting is finalized, other Federal laws will still protect wildlife in National Parks and on other Federal lands (Service 1994, pp. 1:5–9). In addition, the States and Tribes have similar laws and regulations that protect game or trophy animals from overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, and educational purposes (See Factor D for a more detailed discussion of this issue). We believe these laws will continue to provide a strong deterrent to illegal killing of wolves by the public, as they have been effective in State-led conservation programs for other resident wildlife such as black bears, mountain lions, elk, and deer.
From 73 Fed. Reg. 10542...
C. Disease or Predation
As discussed in detail below, a wide range of diseases may affect wolves in the NRM DPS. However, no diseases or parasites, even in combination, are of such magnitude that the population is likely to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future. Similarly, predation does not pose a significant threat to the NRM DPS. The rates of mortality caused by disease and predation are well within acceptable limits, and we do not expect those rates to change appreciably if the NRM DPS is delisted. Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming State plans commit to monitoring wolf health to ensure any new impacts caused by diseases or parasites are quickly detected.
From 73 Fed. Reg. 10544...
Human-caused Predation—Wolves are susceptible to human-caused mortality, especially in open habitats such as those that occur in the western U.S. (Bangs et al. 2004, p. 93). An active eradication program is the sole reason that wolves were extirpated from the NRM (Weaver 1978, p. i). Humans kill wolves for a number of reasons. In all locations where people, livestock, and wolves coexist, some wolves are killed to resolve conflicts with livestock (Fritts et al. 2003, p. 310; Woodroffe et al. 2005, pp. 86–107, 345–7). Occasionally, wolf killings are accidental (e.g., wolves are hit by vehicles, mistaken for coyotes and shot, or caught in traps set for other animals) (Bangs et al. 2005, p. 346), and some are reported to State, Tribal, and Federal authorities.
From 73 Fed. Reg. 10545...
In summary, human-caused mortality to adult radio-collared wolves in the NRM DPS, averaging over 20 percent per year (Smith 2007a), still allows for rapid wolf population growth. The protection of wolves under the Act promoted rapid initial wolf population growth in suitable habitat. Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming have committed to continue to regulate human-caused mortality so that it does not reduce numbers of wolves in the NRM DPS below recovery levels. Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, and Utah have adequate laws and regulations to ensure that the NRM DPS remains above recovery levels (see Factor D).
From 73 Fed. Reg. 10546, 10551-10552...
D. The Adequacy or Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms
Summary—State wolf management plans for Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming (assuming implementation of the Wyoming State wolf management law) commit to regulation of wolf mortality over conflicts with livestock after delisting in a manner similar to that used by the Service to reduce conflicts with private property, and that would assume the maintenance of wolf populations above recovery levels. These State plans have committed to using a definition of a wolf pack that approximates the Service’s current breeding pair definition. Based on that definition, they have committed to maintaining at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves per State by managing for a safety margin of at least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves in each State. In addition, Wyoming has committed to manage for at least 7 of these wolf breeding pairs outside the National Parks. These States are to control problem wolves in a manner similar to that used by the Service for the past 20 years (Service 1988, p. 8; 1994, pp. 2, 9–12; 1999, pp. 39–40; 70 FR 1306–1311, January 6, 2005) and use adaptive management principles to regulate and balance wolf population size and distribution with livestock conflict and public tolerance. When wolf populations are above the State management objective of 15 breeding pairs, wolf control measures may be more liberal. If wolf populations ever get below 15 breeding pairs, wolf control as directed by each State will be more conservative to bring about population increases. The State wildlife agencies have experienced professional staff with expertise in wildlife monitoring, research and management, veterinarian and forensic science, problem wildlife management and control, education, outreach, administration, regulations and laws, and law enforcement that can successfully implement the States’ commitments for science-based wolf management.
From 73 Fed. Reg. 10552, 10555
E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence
Summary. No manmade or natural factors threaten wolf population recovery in the NRM DPS now or in the foreseeable future. Public attitudes toward wolves have improved greatly over the past 30 years, and we expect that, given adequate continued management of conflicts, those attitudes will continue to support wolf restoration. The State wildlife agencies have professional education, information, and outreach components and are to present balanced science-based information to the public that will continue to foster general public support for wolf restoration and the necessity of conflict resolution to maintain public tolerance of wolves. Additionally, any wolf genetic viability, interbreeding coefficients or changes in wolf pack social structure are unlikely to threaten the wolf population in the NRM DPS in the foreseeable future, but if the GYA population segment was threatened that issue could be easily resolved by reintroduction or other deliberate management actions, as promised by the States, if it ever becomes necessary.