Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett today announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is removing the western Great Lakes population of gray wolves from the federal list of threatened and endangered species and proposing to remove the northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves from the list. The two separate actions are being taken in recognition of the success of gray wolf recovery efforts under the Endangered Species Act.
“Wolves have recovered in the western Great Lakes because efforts to save them from extinction have been a model of cooperation, flexibility, and hard work,” Scarlett said. “This same spirit of collaboration has helped gray wolves in the Northern Rockies exceed their recovery goals to the point where they are biologically ready to be delisted. States, tribes, conservation groups, federal agencies and citizens of both regions can be proud of their roles in saving this icon of wilderness.”
Gray wolves were previously listed as endangered in the lower 48 states, except in Minnesota where they were listed as threatened. The Service oversees three separate recovery programs for the gray wolf; each has its own recovery plan and recovery goals based on the unique characteristics of wolf populations in each geographic area. The separate actions announced today affect the western Great Lakes wolf population, which has been delisted under the ESA, and the proposed delisting of the Northern Rocky Mountains population. Wolves in other parts of the 48 states, including the Southwest wolf population, remain endangered and are not affected by actions taken today.
Western Great Lakes wolves
The Service’s removal of the gray wolf from the endangered and threatened species list applies only to the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment (DPS). A DPS is a term used in the ESA to describe a significant and discrete population of vertebrate fish and wildlife occurring in a distinct portion of a species' or subspecies' range. In this case, the area includes Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. The DPS includes all the areas currently occupied by wolf packs in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as areas in these states in which wolf packs may become established in the future. The DPS also includes surrounding areas into which wolves may disperse but are not likely to establish packs.
When the wolf was first listed as endangered in the 1970s, only a few hundred wolves remained in Minnesota. Recovery criteria outlined in the Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan include the assured survival of the gray wolf in Minnesota and a population of 100 or more wolves in Wisconsin/Michigan for a minimum of five consecutive years. The recovery plan identified 1,250 to 1,400 as a population goal for Minnesota. The state’s wolf population has been at or above that level since the late 1970s.
The Wisconsin/Michigan wolf population has been above 100 since the winter of 1993-94, achieving the latter numerical goal in the recovery plan.
The region’s late winter gray wolf population now numbers approximately 4,000 and occupies portions of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. Wolf numbers in the three states have exceeded the numerical recovery criteria established in the species’ recovery plan.
The Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources have developed plans to guide future wolf management actions. Protection of wolves, control of problem animals, consideration of hunting and trapping, as well as maintenance of the long-term health of the wolf population will be governed by the appropriate state or tribe.
Once a species is removed from Endangered Species Act protection, there are several safeguards to help ensure it continues to thrive, including a mandatory 5-year monitoring period. The Service also has the ability to immediately relist a species on an emergency basis, if monitoring or other data show that is necessary.
The final rule removing gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS from the list of threatened and endangered species will be published in the Federal Register. The rule becomes effective 30 days after publication; until that date, gray wolves remain under the protection of the ESA in the western Great Lakes DPS. The rule and other information about the gray wolf may be found at www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf
Northern Rocky Mountain wolves
The minimum recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains is 30 breeding pairs and at least 300 wolves for three consecutive years, a goal that was attained in 2002 and has been exceeded every year since. The Service believes that with approved state management plans in place in Montana and Idaho, threats to the wolf population will have been reduced or eliminated in those states. The northern Rocky Mountain DPS includes all of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, and a small part of north-central Utah.
While the Service has approved wolf management plans in Montana and Idaho, it has determined that Wyoming’s state law and wolf management plan are not sufficient to conserve Wyoming’s portion of a recovered northern Rocky Mountain wolf population.
Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall said if Wyoming’s plan is not approved before the Service decides a final action on this proposal, the agency would continue to protect wolves under the ESA in the significant portion of their range in northwest Wyoming. This excludes the national parks, which have adequate regulatory mechanisms to conserve wolves.
Hall added that the Service could move forward to remove the remainder of the DPS in Montana and Idaho and portions of Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and Utah from the list of threatened and endangered species.
“The Service is committed to ensuring that wolves thrive in the northern Rocky Mountains after they are delisted and will continue to work with the states to ensure this successful recovery is maintained,” said Hall. “I look forward, as do all the states that have been involved in wolf recovery, to returning management of the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains to the states.”
Comments from the public are encouraged on this proposal to delist the northern Rocky Mountain population of wolves. They can be electronically mailed to NRMGrayWolf@fws.gov; hand-delivered to USFWS, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601; or mailed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wolf Delisting, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601. All comments must be received within 60 days of the proposed rule’s publication date in the Federal Register. For more information on Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves, visit www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 547 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.