USFWS moves to delist wolves nationwide
Gray wolves may soon be a state-managed species nationwide. On June 13, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a proposed rule regarding the threatened and endangered listing status of the gray wolf, opening a 90-day comment period. The proposal would remove federal endangered species protection for all gray wolves in the Lower 48 states, with the exception of the Mexican gray wolf subspecies in Arizona and New Mexico.
This change comes in addition to two already delisted populations. In 2011, FWS declared wolves recovered in the Northern Rocky Mountain Region, which includes Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. At the end of 2012, there were a minimum of 1,674 wolves in the Northern Rockies. Last year, FWS delisted wolves in the Western Great Lakes Region, which includes Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Wolf populations numbered at least 4,432 in the Great Lakes Region at the close of 2012. Both population totals greatly exceed the original recovery thresholds set by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“The recovery of the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies continues to be one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act, and we are intensely monitoring wolf populations to ensure they remain healthy and robust under state management,” says Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We believe that professional wildlife management and the strong wildlife corridors we’ve established will ensure that the gray wolf remains a part of the landscape in the West for future generations of Americans.”
What would this new delisting mean for wolves?
After delisting, management of a species passes from the federal level to individual states. In delisted areas, state wildlife agencies are now responsible for monitoring wolf populations, setting wolf hunting seasons and limits, and attempting to prevent and resolve livestock conflicts. Each state has a wolf management plan approved by FWS and is also required by law to send an annual report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for at least five years after delisting.
Idaho, Montana and Wyoming all held wolf hunting and trapping seasons in 2012, resulting in a total harvest of 570 wolves across the three states. Minnesota and Wisconsin held their first modern hunting and trapping seasons for wolves last year, with a harvest of 413 wolves in Minnesota and 117 in Wisconsin.
The nationwide delisting clears the way for wolf populations to be managed to reflect locally changing conditions on the ground. The delisting proposal is supported by governors and state wildlife agency leaders in each of the states with current populations—including Oregon and Washington. Oregon currently has a minimum of 46 wolves and six packs, with Washington’s minimum count at 51 wolves in nine packs. California is considering protection for wolves after a lone male wandered into the northern part of the state two years ago.
“With a solid state conservation plan in place for the northern gray wolf, an experienced wildlife management agency that is committed to wolf recovery, and established populations recovering at an increasing rate, Oregon is ready to take on further responsibility for wolf management in this state,” said Roy Elicker, director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Washington leaders echo that commitment and readiness. Wildlife managers in states that will assume responsibility for managing wolves dispersing across their borders, such as Colorado and Utah, also welcome the proposed change.
As for the Mexican wolf, the FWS proposes to maintain protection and expand recovery efforts in the Southwest. This subspecies is the southernmost, rarest, and most genetically distinct of North America’s gray wolves. FWS first released captive-bred Mexican wolves into Arizona and New Mexico in 1998. Current estimates put the total wild population in both states at around 75 animals, with no known wild wolves left in Mexico.
FWS is proposing to revise the existing nonessential experimental population designation of the Mexican wolf to allow captive-raised wolves to be released throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in the Apache and Gila National Forests of east- central Arizona and west-central New Mexico.
Bounty programs, widespread poisoning, trapping and hunting eradicated wolves from the western United States by the 1930s. Wolves persisted in northern Minnesota and on Michigan’s Isle Royale, and they received protection through the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. In the West, lone wolves dispersed into northwest Montana from Alberta and British Columbia, and packs gradually began recolonizing during the 1980s. Then in 1995 and 1996, a federal reintroduction program brought wolves from Canada into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.
Wherever wolves roam, controversy and attorneys tend to follow. Each move to delist wolves has been met by lawsuits from a slew of animal rights groups. The latest crop of litigation targets both nationwide delisting and the specific delisting in the Great Lakes Region.
Comments on both proposed changes may be submitted until 11:59 p.m. on September 11, 2013, online at http://www.regulations.gov/ #!submitComment;D=FWS-HQ-ES-2013-0073-0001 or by mail to:
Public Comments Division of Policy and Directives Management U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 4401 N. Fairfax Drive MS 2042–PDM Arlington, VA 22203
Please include the correct docket number for comment submissions:
Gray wolf: Docket # FWS–HQ–ES–2013–0073 Mexican wolf: Docket # FWS-R2-ES-2013-0056
The RMEF applauds the move by the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist gray wolves nationwide. The most effective way to manage wolf populations is through state wildlife agencies, just as they manage other wildlife. RMEF staunchly supports the delisting and will vigorously defend it. We have provided organizational comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service, but strongly encourage our members to submit individual comments as well.