Wolves To Be Delisted Tomorrow

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced it is republishing a 2009 rule on the Federal Register that delists gray wolves in the Northern Rockies from the Endangered Species Act effective tomorrow.

It affects wolves in the eastern thirds of Washington and Oregon as well as all of Montana and Idaho and a part of Utah.

USFWS and the five states will continue to monitor wolf populations in the region, gathering population data for at least five years under a post-delisting monitoring plan previously approved by the Feds, the agency said in a press release.

Additionally, a “status review” for wolves in Washington and Oregon will be done this year. USFWS says there is no plan to reintroduce the species in either state as was done in Yellowstone and Central Idaho in the mid-1990s.

Wolves will remain listed in Wyoming until the state and USFWS agree on an acceptable management plan.

The delisting came via a Congressional budget rider that was signed into law by President Obama last month.

“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 in a press release.  “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.”

That followed a proposed settlement between the Feds and wolf advocacy groups that was rejected in April by Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula.

The move is exempt from judicial review, though three groups immediately made it known they would sue over the constitutionality of the rider.

Litigation has kept the states’ hands tied, despite wolves being biologically recovered for over a decade by USFWS numbers. At the end of 2010, there were an estimated minimum of 1,651 in 244 packs and 111 breeding pairs in the overall population, including 16 in far Eastern Washington and 21 in far Eastern Oregon. There were another two or three in Washington’s North Cascades.

Idaho and Montana both plan fall hunts to kill a couple hundred apiece, and want to limit their numbers along their border in the remote Bitterroot and Lolo regions because of impacts on coveted elk herds which are also declining due to habitat issues.

In Washington and Oregon, Canis lupus remains under state protections in the delisted area, and federal protections west of there. A couple weeks ago I did a story on how management will change in both states.

In other wolf news:

* Yesterday the USFWS issued a kill order for two members of Northeast Oregon’s Imnaha Pack, and groups immediately sued to stop it;

* I’ve got a massive article on Washington’s Lookout Pack in our May issue;

* And the Feds are also proposing to delist gray wolves in the Great Lakes and want to remove 29 eastern states from their range “due to newer taxonomic information indicating that the gray wolf did not historically occur in those states.”

But back to this upcoming “status review” for Washington and Oregon west of the delisting area, already welcomed by one regional conservation organization. Here’s a Q&A from USFWS on what exactly that means:

Gray Wolves in the Pacific Northwest

Why is the Fish and Wildlife Service conducting a status review of wolves in the Pacific Northwest?

Gray wolves are currently listed under the ESA throughout the coterminous United States, outside of the Northern Rocky Mountains DPS. Previous attempts to downlist or delist wolf populations have been challenged in Federal court, in part, because of the Service‟s focus on particular populations where the Service has traditionally directed the Service‟s recovery efforts (e.g., the Northern Rocky Mountains and western Great Lakes populations), rather than the entire listed entity. The Service is now proposing to take a more comprehensive approach to wolf reclassification throughout the coterminous United States. One part of this approach will be to determine whether wolves in the Pacific Northwest (west of the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population) continue to warrant threatened or endangered status under the ESA. Other status reviews and proposed reclassification actions for wolves elsewhere in the United States are planned to occur concurrently.

Are there wolves in the Pacific Northwest outside the proposed boundaries of the Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment (DPS)?

Yes. A confirmed wolf pack, the Lookout Pack, occupies an area near the Methow Valley in the Cascades Mountains of north-central Washington State. There have also been several credible reports of wolves in the central Cascades and Klamath Basin in Oregon, including a wolf that was photographed along Highway 20 near the Three Sisters Wilderness in 2009.

What is the timeline for conducting the status review?

The Service is initiating the status review now, and intends to complete the review by December 2011.

What will the review entail?

With the initiation of this review, the Service is accepting public comments on the appropriate geographic scope of the Service‟s DPS analysis and on the status of wolves in the region. Based on the Service‟s evaluation of the best available data, the Service will consider whether wolves in the Pacific Northwest are discrete and significant under the Service‟s 1996 DPS policy (http://www.fws.gov/endangered/laws-policies/policy-distinct-vertebrate.html), and if so, whether they are threatened or endangered under the ESA.

What is the geographic extent of the review?

The Service seeks public comment on the appropriate geographic extent of the status review. Based on a preliminary review of the historical distribution of gray wolves and gray wolf habitat models, the extent of the Service‟s review will likely include those portions of Oregon and Washington west of the NRM DPS boundary (see above for description), northern California, western Nevada, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

How do I submit comments for consideration in the status review?

The Service is now accepting comments for consideration in our status review. You may submit comments by any one of the following methods: Via the internet. Log on to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS-R3-ES-2011-0029. Please include “Pacific Northwest wolves” in the subject line of your comment. 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.
To ensure consideration, comments must be received within 60 days (on or before July 5, 2011). 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.

What would happen if wolves in the Pacific Northwest are determined to be a separate DPS?

If the Service determines that wolves in the Pacific Northwest are discrete and significant under the agency‟s 1996 DPS policy (http://www.fws.gov/endangered/laws-policies/policy-distinct-vertebrate.html), the Service would then evaluate whether they are threatened or endangered under the ESA. Depending on the outcome of that analysis the Service would either propose to delist wolves in the area because they do not meet the definition of a threatened or endangered DPS; or, the Service would propose to delimit, and list, a gray wolf DPS in the Pacific Northwest under the ESA. Any proposed change in classification status of wolves in the area would require that the Service go through a formal rulemaking process, which would include an additional public comment period on a proposed rule and scientific peer review.

If the Service determines that wolves outside the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS are a separate DPS, and those wolves remain listed under the ESA, does the Service plan to reintroduce wolves to areas within the new DPS?

The Service has no plans for wolf reintroductions into the Pacific Northwest.

If wolves in the areas of the Pacific Northwest review already are listed as endangered, why is the Service reviewing their status?

The ESA (Section 4(c)(2)) requires the Service to review the status of all listed species at least once every five years to determine whether they continue to warrant protection. Populations listed prior to publication of our 1996 DPS policy must also be reviewed to ensure that they meet the policy‟s criteria for listing.
As directed by Congress, the Service is now removing ESA protections for most wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS. In addition, the Service is proposing to delist the gray wolf population in the Western Great Lakes due to recovery. Gray wolves will retain their listing status under the ESA in the remainder of the coterminous U.S. until the Service determines that listing is no longer warranted. Therefore it is necessary to review the status of gray wolves in areas outside of the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes to determine if they should retain their listing status. The Service has determined that conducting status reviews for individual segments of the gray wolf population in the coterminous United States would allow the agency to refine our gray wolf listing and delist gray wolves in large portions of the country that are either outside of the historical range or no longer contain suitable habitat. These reviews will also allow the Service to retain ESA protections for those wolves that represent discrete and significant populations in areas of suitable habitat.

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