The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) published a final rule in the Federal Register on Thursday—in accordance with recently enacted Congressional legislation—reinstating its 2009 decision to delist biologically recovered gray wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains.
In a separate action, the USFWS also published a proposed rule on Thursday to delist gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes region.
“Like other iconic species such as the whooping crane, the brown pelican, and the bald eagle, the recovery of the gray wolf is another success story of the Endangered Species Act,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “The gray wolf’s biological recovery reflects years of work by scientists, wildlife managers, and our state, tribal, and stakeholder partners to bring wolf populations back to healthy levels.”
The final rule published by the USFWS, which was directed by legislative language in the recently enacted Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations bill, reinstates the terms of a 2009 rule removing Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves in Idaho, Montana and parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah.
Gray wolves will remain listed under the ESA in Wyoming, although the USWFS is working closely with that state to develop a wolf management plan that would allow wolves in Wyoming to be removed from the list in the future.
Despite language in the federal budget bill stating that the delisting action in the Northern Rockies could not be challenged in court, four anti-hunting groups did just that on Thursday. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater and WildEarth Guardians joined together in one suit to halt the delisting, while a second lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Even with the renewed litigation, the delisting order took effect immediately upon its publication in the Federal Register. Federal biologists and the states will monitor wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains and gather population data for at least five years under a post-delisting monitoring plan previously approved by the USFWS.
In response to the delisting, wildlife officials in Montana have asked the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to authorize a wolf hunting season this fall with a 220-wolf quota.
Likewise, Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore said Wednesday that his agency would act quickly to remove up to 60 wolves in the Lolo hunting zone, where wolf depredations have caused elk numbers to plummet. Wildlife officials will also present options for a fall wolf hunt to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission at its July meeting. Commissioners may adopt a harvest strategy at their scheduled meeting in August.
Official estimates place Montana and Idaho’s wolf populations at 566 and 705 animals, respectively.
“We are implementing the recent legislation that directs the delisting of the gray wolf in most of the Northern Rocky Mountains,” said Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes. “As with other delisted species, we will be applying the Endangered Species Act’s post-delisting monitoring requirements to ensure that wolf populations remain robust, while under state wildlife management.”
The USFWS also published a proposed rule on Thursday to remove gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes area—which includes Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, and portions of adjoining states—from the list of endangered and threatened species because wolves have recovered in this area and no longer require the protection of the ESA.
Wolf numbers total more than 4,000 animals in the Western Great Lakes region. Minnesota’s population is estimated at 2,922 wolves; there are an estimated 557 wolves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; and another 690 in Wisconsin. Upon final delisting, wolf management would be turned over to the states. Each state has developed a plan to manage wolves once federal protections have been lifted.
“Gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes are recovered and no longer warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act,” said Rowan Gould, acting director of the USFWS. “Under this proposed rule, which takes into account the latest taxonomic information about the species, we will return management of gray wolves in the Great Lakes to state wildlife professionals. We are confident that wolves will continue to thrive under the approved state management plans.”
The USFWS has proposed delisting Great Lakes wolves four times since 2004 but each attempted has been blocked by court rulings stemming from lawsuits filed by anti-hunting groups.
The current delisting effort in the Western Great Lakes is backed by the NRA.
“The NRA is pleased with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s science-based proposal to remove gray wolves in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin from the Endangered Species Act, citing recovered populations that far exceed original delisting goals across the Western Great Lakes area,” said NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox. “This sends an important message to anti-hunting extremists who have blocked previous delisting attempts of these populations through litigation. Decisions on wildlife management issues ought to be based on science and not on politics or emotion. Hunters are the true conservationists and managing wolf population through regulated hunting, as we do with other species, is the best course for everyone and every creature concerned.”
As part of the proposed rule, the range of the gray wolf (the species Canis lupus) will be revised by removing all or parts of 29 eastern states due to newer taxonomic information indicating that the gray wolf did not historically occur in those states. The government is also initiating status reviews of gray wolves in the Pacific Northwest and Southwest to determine the appropriate entity and listing status of that entity in those areas, as well as seeking information on a newly-recognized species, the eastern wolf (Canis lycaon), throughout its range in the United States and Canada. Public comment is being sought as part of this process.
The proposed delisting rule for wolves in the Great Lakes DPS will remain open for public comment for 60 days. Written comments on the proposed rule may be submitted by one of the following methods:
-- Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS-R3-ES-2011-0029].
-- U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. [FWS-R3-ES-2011-0029]; 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 on or before July 5, 2011. The USFWS will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. Comments cannot be submitted via e-mail or fax.
Public hearings for the proposed removal of wolves in the Western Great Lakes and proposed removal of eastern states from the gray wolf listing will be held May 18 in Ashland, Wis., and on June 8 in Augusta, Maine. More information on the hearings will be available at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/ or by calling 612-713-5350.
Following the close of the comment period, the USFWS will consider all new information and other data and make a final decision on the proposal to remove the Western Great Lakes DPS of wolves from the ESA and revise the range of the gray wolf in the eastern U.S. In the meantime, gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes area will remain classified as endangered, except in Minnesota where they will remain threatened.