During the last couple of weeks, we've received a number of comments on this blog and through other venues regarding our negotiations with the State of Wyoming on a plan for managing wolves in that state. I wanted to write you today to let you know that we are listening. I also wanted to let you know where the Service currently stands on this important and emotional issue.
On Thursday, July 7, 2011, Secretary Salazar and Governor Mead reached an “agreement in principle” regarding a plan for managing wolves in Wyoming under State authority. We need a management plan that addresses the long term conservation of wolves in the State before we can delist wolves in Wyoming. The agreement in principle commits the State to maintaining a wolf population at or above recovery objectives within northwest Wyoming outside of the National Parks, and includes provisions to ensure connectivity with wolf populations elsewhere. We have also reached general agreement on a number of other provisions that are improvements from prior wolf management plans.
We believe that, with an adequate State management plan in place, wolves in Wyoming will no longer be threatened or endangered. We expect the State management plan to be completed by the end of August, and we intend to propose delisting of wolves in Wyoming by the end of September. Delisting will occur through a rulemaking process, with the proposed rule published in the Federal Register providing a detailed explanation of our rationale and an opportunity for public comment before we make a final decision. The Service will also solicit independent peer review of our delisting proposal.
Gray wolves now occupy nearly all suitable habitat in the northern Rocky Mountains and, with adequate management, will no longer need the special protection of the ESA. The State management plan will treat wolves as a trophy game species within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem recovery area, the focus of our ESA recovery effort and the only place in the State where the habitat and prey base exists to maintain a healthy wolf population that is not in constant conflict with livestock production.
State management of a recovered wolf population will involve killing of wolves as appropriate to balance interests and accomplish professional wildlife management objectives, as states have long done in successfully managing black bears, mountain lions, and other large predators. We realize that for some people, this is difficult to accept, and we understand that viewpoint. However, the purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to prevent species extinction and support recovery. If we can develop a Wyoming management plan based on this agreement-in-principal, then we believe that job will be complete, and the gray wolf’s recovery in the northern Rocky Mountains will be secured.
I want to thank all of you for sharing your views and your passion concerning this complex issue and encourage you to continue to join the discussion about our nation’s fish and wildlife resources. That’s why we created this space: to spark open dialog and healthy debate. Your contribution is critical to this ongoing conversation. We are listening.