U.S. Fish & Wildlife Proposes Delisting Gray Wolf
Also proposes transfer of management to state of Wyoming
Following approval of a revised wolf management plan by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to remove the gray wolf population in Wyoming from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Due to recovery efforts and the provisions of the revised state plan, the Wyoming wolf population is healthy and stable, current and future threats to wolves have been addressed, and a post-delisting monitoring and management framework has been developed.
Today’s formal proposal follows an agreement with the state of Wyoming that serves as the blueprint for returning wolf management to state control — announced in principle in July and with more detail in August http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/Salazar-Ashe-Finalize-Agreement-with-Wyoming-on-Revised-Gray-Wolf-Management-Plan.cfm. If this proposal is finalized, the gray wolf would be delisted in Wyoming under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and future management for this species, except in National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges, would be conducted by the appropriate State or tribal wildlife agencies.
“After years of hard work by the Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners to achieve the successful recovery of wolves in the northern Rockies, Wyoming wolves are ready to stand on their own under the management of the professional wildlife biologists of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “We expect Wyoming’s wolf population will be maintained well above recovery levels under State management, and we have worked with the State to develop a strong post-delisting monitoring and management plan to ensure that this remarkable conservation success endures for future generations.”
The Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population is biologically recovered, with more than 1,650 wolves, 244 packs and over 110 breeding pairs. It has exceeded recovery goals for 11 consecutive years, fully occupies nearly all suitable habitat, and has high levels of genetic diversity.
In August, the Service and the State of Wyoming announced an agreement that served as the basis for a revision to the State’s management plan. The points of agreement promote the management of a stable, sustainable population of wolves, and pave the way for the Service to return wolf management to Wyoming. A fact sheet about the agreement and its provisions is available here http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=255235. The state’s revised wolf management plan was approved by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission on September 14, 2011. The revised wolf management plan is available here http://gf.state.wy.us/downloads/pdf/wolfplan2011/2011-09-14_FinalApprovedWolfMgmtPlan.pdf.
Finalizing this proposal to delist will be dependent on changes to Wyoming statutes and regulations necessary to conform to and implement the wolf management plan. If the statutory or regulatory changes deviate significantly from the approved state wolf management plan, the Service may need to withdraw the delisting proposal or reopen the comment period to provide the public an opportunity to review and comment on that information. Until a final decision on this proposal is published, wolves in Wyoming will remain fully protected under the ESA.
Under the state plan, wolves will continue to be subject to federal management in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and within the National Elk Refuge. Outside of the parks and refuge, wolves in northwestern Wyoming will be managed as trophy game animals and human-caused mortality (including hunting) will be carefully regulated. Collectively, this area encompasses nearly all of Wyoming’s current wolf breeding pairs, the vast majority of the suitable habitat, and is large enough to maintain Wyoming’s share of a recovered wolf population in the northern Rocky Mountains.
In addition, the trophy game area will expand from October 15 to the end of February each year. This expanded trophy game area will provide additional protections to wolves to assist natural movement among populations by limiting unregulated wolf killing during mid to late winter when dispersal activity is high.
In 2009, the Service published a final rule to remove ESA protections for wolves across the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf Distinct Population Segment (DPS), except in Wyoming. Wyoming was excluded from the action because the state’s management plan did not provide the necessary regulatory mechanisms to assure that gray wolf populations would be conserved if the protections of the ESA were removed. This scientifically based rule was later invalidated by the courts following legal challenge, but was reinstated by Congressional direction.
The Service is seeking scientific information and comments from the public about the proposal including the post-delisting monitoring and management framework. Written comments regarding the proposal may be submitted by one of the following methods: Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov http://www.regulations.gov/. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS–R6–ES–2011–0039]. U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. [FWS–R6–ES–2011–0039]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203. Comments must be received within 100 days, on or before January 13, 2012. The Service will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov/. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept email or fax comments.
A peer review panel is scheduled to conduct an assessment of this proposal during the public comment period. Once completed in December, this assessment will be posted online at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/. Additional background information on gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain region is available on the same site.
All comments and information, including on the assessment, received during the comment period will be considered during the preparation of a final determination. Accordingly, the final decision may differ from this proposal.
For further information, contact U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie Region Office, Ecological Services Division, 134 Union Blvd., Lakewood, CO 80228; telephone 303–236–7400. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800–877–8339.
The Service will hold a public hearing at the Robert A. Peck Arts Center, Central Wyoming College, 2660 Peck Avenue, Riverton, WY 82501 (307–855–2000) from 6:30- 8:30 p.m. on November 15, 2011, to give all interested persons the opportunity to submit comments on the proposal. There will be an informational meeting from 4:30 - 6:00 p.m. at the same location to provide an opportunity for the public asks questions regarding the proposed rule.
The ESA provides a critical safety net for America’s native fish, wildlife and plants. The Service is working to actively engage conservation partners and the public in the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover imperiled species. To learn more about the Endangered Species Program, visit http://www.fws.gov/endangered/.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov/. Connect with our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/usfws, follow our tweets at http://www.twitter.com/usfwshq, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq.
Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Tracy Brooks