From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 46 - February 9, 2006
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Wolf delisting rule proposed

by Cat Urbigkit

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that outlines the agency's intent to remove gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. The press release making the announcement emphasized that unless or until Wyoming changed state law and its plan to manage wolves upon delisting, FWS has no plans to move forward with delisting.

The advance notice of proposed rulemaking is being issued in order to give the public time to review and comment on FWS's proposed strategy of designating and proposing to de-list a distinct population segment of wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains that have exceeded biological recovery goals and no longer require protection under the Endangered Species Act. As part of a future rulemaking, FWS intends to propose establishing a gray wolf DPS, encompassing the geographic boundary of all of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the eastern third of Washington and Oregon, and a small part of north-central Utah.

If this advanced notice of proposed rulemaking were implemented, wolves outside the boundaries of the DPS in other parts of the country would continue to be listed as endangered, except for the Mexican gray wolf in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, which is listed as an experimental,non-essential population. FWS anticipates publishing a proposal to establishand de-list a Great Lakes DPS of gray wolves, which has also exceeded its recovery goals, in the near future.

In making the announcement, Service Director H. Dale Hall emphasized that any future rulemaking on a delisting decision for Rocky Mountain wolves is still contingent on the State of Wyoming implementing a FWS-approved state law and wolf management plan.

"Gray wolves in the Northern Rockies have exceeded their recovery goals and are biologically ready to be de-listed," Hall said. "However, the potential delisting cannot be finalized until Wyoming's wolf management plan has been approved. We are hopeful that Wyoming will be able to develop a state law and management plan which meets the service's criteria for approval."

The minimum recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains is 30 breeding pairs and at least 300 wolves for three consecutive years, a goal that was attained in 2002. The most recent official population counts in 2004 found that Montana had 15 breeding pairs and approximately 153 wolves; Wyoming had 24 breeding pairs and approximately 260 wolves; and Idaho had 27 breeding pairs and 422 wolves. Official population estimates for 2005 are not yet available but are expected to be slightly higher than last year. FWS estimates the tri-state wolf population contains about 70 breeding pairs and 1,000 wolves.

If the northern Rocky Mountain DPS is de-listed in future rules, the individual states and Tribes will resume sole management of wolves within their respective boundaries. Montana and Idaho have adopted state laws and wolf management plans, approved by the Service, to conserve their share of a recovered northern Rocky Mountain wolf population into the foreseeable future. Wyoming's law and its wolf management plan have not been approved by FWS.

Wyoming's state law and wolf management plan have not been approved by the FWS in part because Wyoming's law defines wolves as a "predatory animal," which means that wolves can be killed at any time, by anyone, without limit, and by any means except poisoning. Concerns regarding Wyoming state law and its plan must be resolved before the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS proposed delisting regulation can progress, FWS said in a press release.

Q - So what happens when Wyoming develops a modified state law and plan?

A - FWS must ensure that both the state law and management plan clearly allow the Wyoming Game and Fish Department the flexibility it might need to manage for more than 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves in Wyoming. If the new law and plan are still inadequate, the Service does not intend to propose to de-list the NRM wolf population.

Q - What happens to wolves outside the NRM wolf DPS if aproposal is published and wolves are delisted in the future?

A - If this advanced notice leads to a proposed rule that is ultimately finalized, it will not affect any wolves outside of the proposed NRM wolf DPS. Wolves are listed by their location. So any wolf outside the NRM wolf DPS would remain listed as they are currently. For example, if a wolf occurred in Colorado, it would stillbe listed as endangered.

Q - How will livestock and wolf conflicts be handled if wolves are de-listed?

A - The Service and USDA Wildlife Services currently work together to investigate and respond to reports of suspected wolf damage to livestock. The states have signed cooperative management agreements with USDA Wildlife Services to assist them with wolf management. If wolves are de-listed, the states will continue working with USDA to investigate and manage wolf/livestock conflict. Landowners will be able to shoot wolves attacking or molesting their domestic animals, just as they now can shoot black bears or mountain lions that are seen attacking or harassing their livestock.

Q - Who will pay livestock compensation if wolves are de-listed?

A - Since 1987, Defenders of Wildlife has paid over $550,000 for livestock killed by wolves in the NRM. Because it is uncertain if private compensation program will continue if wolves are de-listed, the states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, aswell as Oregon and Utah, anticipate that state-administered compensation programs will complement or take the place of the Defenders program after delisting.

Q - How does the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking affect Wyoming's petition to de-list wolves?

A - It doesn't. FWS is continuing to evaluate that petition under the Endangered Species Act. This advanced notice of proposed rulemaking represents our current views during the process.

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