Wyoming Wolves Likely to Lose Endangered Species Listing

WASHINGTON, DC, October 6, 2011 (ENS) – Following approval of a revised wolf management plan by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 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,” the Service said in a statement October 4.

The Service’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.

But the state wolf management plan has yet to be approved by the Wyoming legislature.

The nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife objects to the delisting, saying, “As currently written, the plan treats wolves as predators, allowing the animals to be killed at any time by any means across nearly 90 percent of the state, including on the public’s national forests where wildlife management is a core purpose. Wolves in the rest of the state could still be killed with a hunting license, and this licensed hunting area will expand seasonally to allow for dispersing wolves.”

Wolf in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (Photo by Heidi Pinkerton, Root River Photography)

If this proposal is finalized, the gray wolf would be delisted in Wyoming under the Endangered Species Act, and future management for this species, except in national parks and national wildlife refuges, would be conducted by 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,” said Ashe.

The Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population is biologically recovered, with more than 1,650 wolves, 244 packs and 110 breeding pairs across the Rocky Mountain states, the Service says.

The species has exceeded recovery goals for 11 consecutive years, fully occupies nearly all suitable habitat, and has high levels of genetic diversity.

Wyoming’s objective is to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves in the state. Wyoming Game and Fish says in the approved management plan that it will manage wolves using public harvest and agency control, when necessary, to reduce conflicts with livestock, ungulate herds, or humans.

“Wolf hunting seasons will primarily coincide with big game hunting seasons in order to provide effective harvest with minimal impacts to wolf dispersal and reproduction,” the agency says.

The state is “committed to maintaining a genetically viable wolf population,” and the agency says it will manage the Wolf Trophy Game Management Area to facilitate natural dispersal and genetic interchange within the Northern Rocky Mountain metapopulation.

The Department will implement a genetics monitoring program to document gene flow and genetic connectivity between subpopulations in the Northern Rocky Mountains. This plan is compatible with management plans in Idaho and Montana, says the Wyoming state agency.

Population objectives are similar for all three states and, as such, should guarantee that the federal recovery criteria established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are met and maintained after delisting, the agency states as part of the management plan.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife, and a former head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Clinton administration, says the federal agency should not remove protections for wolves in Wyoming under these circumstances.

“The proposed delisting rule effectively endorses a state management plan that permits unmanaged wolf killing across the vast majority of the state, and it only perpetuates the notion that wolves are unwanted predators,” said Clark.

“Our country has spent decades restoring these animals because they are vital to maintaining balanced ecosystems and a healthy environment. We can’t achieve full recovery by relegating wolves to one corner of the state,” she said. “This plan does an extreme disservice to all the hard work that’s been done to bring wolves back from near extinction and could reverse the many benefits they bring to the landscape.

“What’s particularly disconcerting is that this plan will allow wolves to be needlessly killed in our national forests. Wolves are part of our national wildlife heritage and should not be shot on sight on public land that belongs to all Americans,” said Clark. “We expect our nation’s wildlife agency to uphold our commitment to good stewardship of our lands and wildlife, not rubber-stamp an irresponsible wolf management plan for the sake of political expediency.”

In 2009, the Service published a final rule to remove Endangered Species Act protections for wolves across the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf Distinct Population Segment, 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 Endangered Species Act were removed.

This rule was later invalidated by the courts following a legal challenge, but was reinstated by Congress.

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:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: 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.

    The Service says that all comments and information, including on the assessment, received during the comment period will be considered during the preparation of a final determination.

    Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.