Under the proposal, state wildlife management agency professionals would resume responsibility for management and protection of gray wolves in states where wolves occur. FWS said, "The proposed rule is based on the best science available and incorporates new information about the gray wolf's current and historical distribution in the contiguous United States and Mexico." It focuses the protection on the Mexican wolf, the only remaining entity that warrants protection under the Act, by designating the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies.
In the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains, the gray wolf has rebounded from the brink of extinction to exceed population targets by as much as 300 percent. Gray wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct and Western Great Lakes Population Segments were removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 2011 and 2012.
FWS Director Dan Ashe said, "From the moment a species requires the protection of the Endangered Species Act, our goal is to work with our partners to address the threats it faces and ensure its recovery. An exhaustive review of the latest scientific and taxonomic information shows that we have accomplished that goal with the gray wolf, allowing us to focus our work under the ESA on recovery of the Mexican wolf subspecies in the Southwest."
The Service will open a 90-day comment period on both proposals seeking additional scientific, commercial and technical information from the public and other interested parties. The comment period will commence upon publication of the proposed rules in the Federal Register. Relevant information received during this comment period will be reviewed and addressed in the Service's final determination on these proposals, which will be made in 2014. The Service must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, within 45 days of the publication in the Federal Register.
FWS said that the proposal is supported by governors and state wildlife agency leadership in each of the states with current wolf populations, as well as those that will assume responsibility for managing wolves dispersing into their states, such as Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and North Dakota.
The Service's comprehensive review determined that the current listing for gray wolf, which was developed 35 years ago, erroneously included large geographical areas outside the species' historical range. In addition, the review found that the current gray wolf listing did not reasonably represent the range of the only remaining of the Mexican wolf population in the Southwest. Gray wolves were extirpated from most of the Lower 48 states by the middle of the 20th century, with the exception of northern Minnesota and Isle Royale in Michigan. Subsequently, wolves from Canada occasionally dispersed south and successfully began recolonizing northwest Montana in 1986. In 1995 and 1996, 66 wolves from southwestern Canada were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.
In 2002 the Northern Rocky Mountain population exceeded the minimum recovery goals of 300 wolves for a third straight year, and they were successfully delisted in the Northern Rocky Mountains in 2012 and Western Great Lakes in 2011. Today, there are at least 6,100 gray wolves in the contiguous United States, with a current estimate of 1,674 in the Northern Rocky Mountains and 4,432 in the Western Great Lakes.
The number of Mexican wolves continues to increase within the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. During the 2012 annual year-end survey, the Mexican wolf Interagency Field Team counted a minimum of 75 Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, an increase over the 2011 minimum population count of 58 wolves known to exist in the wild. In addition to listing the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies, the Service proposes to modify existing regulations governing the nonessential experimental population to allow captive raised wolves to be released throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in the Apache and Gila National Forests east central Arizona and west central New Mexico, and to disperse into the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area in the areas of Arizona and New Mexico located between I-40 and I-10.
Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said, "This is like kicking a patient out of the hospital when they're still attached to life support. Wolves cling to a sliver of their historic habitat in the lower 48, and now the Obama administration wants to arbitrarily declare victory and move on. They need to finish the job that Americans expect, not walk away the first chance they get. This proposal is a national disgrace. Our wildlife deserve better." CBD indicated that wolves today occupy just 5 percent of their historic habitat in the continental United States. The proposal means that wolves will never fully reoccupy prime wolf habitat in the southern Rocky Mountains, California and Northeast, and will hinder ongoing recovery in the Pacific Northwest.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune issued a statement saying, "Wolf recovery has been one of our greatest Endangered Species Act success stories, but stopping now before the population is fully recovered will negate the decades of hard work that have gone into bringing wolves back from the brink of extinction. Without federal protections this symbol of our wild heritage will slide back into harm's way. We've seen the brutal assault on wolves that followed the loss of federal protections in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Increasingly hostile anti-wolf policies by states in charge of ensuring wolves' survival don't bode well for the future of this majestic creature. Now is the time that we should be pressing in to finish the job of wolf recovery, not abandoning wolves to the same kinds of destructive forces that endangered them in the first place. We urge the administration to preserve protections for these amazing animals until the success story is complete."
Access a release from FWS with links to more information on gray and Mexican wolves, supporting comments, including the proposed rules and commenting procedures (click here). Access a release from CBD (click here). Access a release from Sierra Club (click here). [#Wildlife]