April 1, 2003 Final Rule to Reclassify/Delist the Gray Wolf
This Final Rule is no longer in effect.
On January 31, 2005, the Oregon U.S. District
Court issued an opinion and order on the 2003 reclassification rule.
The Oregon ruling concluded that the 2003 DPS boundaries and reclassification
decisions were "arbitrary and capricious" and violated the Endangered
Species Act. The Court's ruling invalidated the April 2003 changes. The Vermont District Court ruled similarly.
Therefore, the status of the gray wolf reverted
back to the ESA status that existed prior to the 2003 reclassification,
and the status and protection changes described in these "questions
and answers" are not valid.
Questions and Answers About
the 2003 Final Rule to Reclassify the Gray Wolf
changes were made to the status of the gray wolf under the Endangered
We (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) changed the classification of
the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act from endangered to threatened
in portions of the lower 48 states. We also removed the gray wolf from
the list of endangered and threatened species in areas of the country
that are outside the gray wolf's historical range. We made these changes
because gray wolves have successfully increased their numbers and range
to such an extent that the "endangered" classification is no
longer appropriate in most of their range. Also, gray wolves were incorrectly
listed as endangered in the southeastern U.S. The species never occurred
in those states, so we removed Endangered Species Act protections in those
We also established
three "Distinct Population Segments" (DPS) for the gray wolf
that encompass the entire historical range of the gray wolf in the lower
48 states and Mexico. The DPSs correspond to the three areas of the country
where there are wolf populations and ongoing recovery activities. Gray
wolves in the Eastern DPS and the Western DPS were reclassified from endangered
to threatened, except where wolves were already classified as threatened
or designated as an experimental population. There are three experimental
populations of gray wolves that were designated before this rule, and
those experimental population designations remain in place. The Southwestern
DPS retains its endangered status.
two new special section 4(d) rules for wolves in the Western DPS and portions
of the Eastern DPS. These special rules allow for lethal control of wolves
that depredate on livestock and pets.
information on these changes, see the "Summary
of the 2003 Reclassification of the Gray Wolf" fact sheet
is a Distinct Population Segment?
The Endangered Species Act allows the listing and delisting of species,
subspecies, and distinct population segments of vertebrate animals. A
Distinct Population Segment, or DPS, is a significant population that
occurs in a distinct portion of a species' or subspecies' range. The DPS
is usually described geographically, such as "all members of XYZ
species north of 40 degrees north latitude."
rule that reclassified most gray wolf populations in the lower 48 states
also changed the way that the gray wolf is listed under the Endangered
Species Act. In 1978, the gray wolf was listed as endangered throughout
all 48 states, except Minnesota where it was listed as threatened. Now,
however, the Service has identified three Distinct Population Segments
-- the Eastern DPS, Western DPS, and Southwestern DPS of the gray
wolf in the United States and Mexico.
Each of the
DPSs encompasses a core area where wolf recovery is underway. The Eastern
DPS includes states in the historical range of the gray wolf from the
Great Plains to the Atlantic coast. Due to successful wolf recovery efforts
in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, wolves in this DPS are now classified
as threatened instead of endangered.
DPS includes the northern U.S. Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coastal
states. We reclassified wolves from endangered to threatened in this region
because of the successful reintroduction of gray wolves in Yellowstone
National Park and central Idaho, along with natural recovery in Montana.
DPS includes Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah and southern Colorado,
western Texas, western Oklahoma, and Mexico. Gray wolves in the Southwestern
DPS retain their endangered status, and the nonessential experimental
population area in Arizona, New Mexico, and a small portion of Texas remains
is a 4(d) rule and how will these rules affect gray wolves?
Section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act allows us to establish special
regulations to change the normal protections for threatened (not endangered)
species, subspecies, or distinct population segments. Usually, 4(d) rules
allow flexibility in managing threatened species, which is important when
there are conflicts between people and those species. Section 4(d) rules
can be used to reduce conflicts between individual wolves and people who
own domestic animals, while allowing overall wolf populations to continue
DPS 4(d) rule is similar to the regulations already in place for the Yellowstone
and central Idaho nonessential experimental populations, where wolves
were reintroduced in the mid-1990s. The 4(d) rule provides a variety of options to people
who experience problems with wolves that prey on domestic animals.
In the Eastern
DPS, the 4(d) rule applies to states that are west of Pennsylvania, except
Minnesota. Here, designated Federal, state, and tribal employees can kill
wolves that have attacked or killed domestic animals. This rule is similar
to regulations in place in Minnesota since 1978. The 4(d) rule also allows
tribes to salvage dead wolves on reservations for cultural uses without
a Federal permit.
changes were made for wolves in the Eastern Distinct Population Segment?
This Distinct Population Segment includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan
- where wolf populations are now well-established as well as North
Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana,
Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts,
Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine - where there are no known wolf populations.
The status of gray wolves in those states changed from endangered to threatened
(except in Minnesota, where gray wolves were already listed as threatened).
Threatened is a less serious classification under the Endangered Species
Act; in the case of the gray wolf, it indicates that significant progress
is being made toward recovery in the DPS. The 4(d) rule now in place applies
to states in this DPS that are west of Pennsylvania, and excluding Minnesota.
The new 4(d) rule now allows authorized employees of state and tribal
conservation agencies or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to kill
or capture wolves that have attacked or killed domestic animals, if repeated
problems are likely. The rule also allows tribes to salvage dead wolves
on reservations for cultural uses without a Federal permit. The new 4(d)
rule is very similar to existing special regulations in effect in Minnesota.
changes were made for wolves in the Western Distinct Population Segment?
This Distinct Population Segment includes wolves in the core population
in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, plus Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada,
northern Utah, and northern Colorado. The status of gray wolves in these
states changed from endangered to threatened, a less serious classification
under the ESA. The "non-essential experimental population" designation
in place for reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone and central Idaho remains
in place. A new 4(d) rule is now in place for wolves outside the non-essential
experimental population areas within the Western DPS. Similar to the provisions
for the non-essential experimental population, the 4(d) rule provides
a variety of methods to control problem wolves that come into conflict
with livestock production activities on private and public land.
changes were made for wolves in the Southwestern Gray Wolf Distinct Population
The Service's recent actions did not change the status of gray wolves
in the Southwestern DPS; they continue to be classified as endangered.
The "non-essential experimental population" area in central
New Mexico and Arizona and a small portion of west Texas also remains
is the status of gray wolves in states outside the historical range of
the gray wolf?
States outside the three DPSs are outside the historical range of the
gray wolf in the lower 48 states. Because gray wolves did not historically
live in these states, we delisted wolves outside these areas, removing
them from the Federal list of endangered and threatened species.
did the Service make its final decision to change the gray wolf's status?
When we proposed to change the gray wolf's legal status in 2000, we held
a series of public information meetings, as well as 14 public hearings
throughout the country. During the 120-day public comment period, the
Service received about 17,000 unique comments on the proposal to change
the wolf's status. We examined all public comments, evaluated current
information about the status of the gray wolf, and then made the decision
to reclassify gray wolves in much of the lower 48 states from endangered
to threatened with modifications to the original proposal in response
to our analysis of the public comments.
does the Service's final rule differ from the rule proposed in 2000?
In finalizing the rule, we changed the boundaries of the proposed Distinct
Population Segments to better represent historical gray wolf range in
the lower 48 states. Therefore, the states of California and Nevada were
added to the Western DPS. In the east, we included all states within historical
gray wolf range, and combined the Western Great Lakes and Northeastern
DPSs into one DPS. Additionally, the southern boundary between the Western
DPS and the Southwestern DPS was shifted northward to better represent
the most likely movements of dispersing wolves in these two regions.
its final rule, why did the Service combine the proposed DPSs for the
Western Great Lakes and the Northeast?
When we developed our July 2000 reclassification proposal, we had some
evidence that wolves still lived in the Northeast in very low numbers,
and that those wolves might be genetically different from the other gray
wolves benefitting from our recovery programs in the Midwest, Northern
Rockies, and Southwest. Therefore, we believed the Northeast met the criteria
for a Distinct Population Segment listing, and that gray wolf recovery
in the Northeast would be necessary to achieve the goal of the ESA. However,
since our proposal was published we have not received any further evidence
that confirms the existence of individual gray wolves in the Northeast,
and there appears to be no evidence supporting the existence of a gray
wolf population there. We cannot designate a Distinct Population Segment
where there is no gray wolf population.
wolf recovery efforts will be made in other parts of a DPS outside core
recovery areas -- a region such as Colorado or the northeastern United
States, for example?
While each DPS corresponds to a core wolf recovery area, the DPS boundaries
include all areas where wolves once occurred. Approved recovery plans
call for restoration of wolf populations to a point that they no longer
need protection of the Endangered Species Act; the ESA does not require,
nor do these plans call for restoring wolves to their entire former range
or to all remaining suitable habitat. Thus, the recovery plan for the
wolves in the eastern U.S. specifies that wolves must be recovered in
Minnesota and in one other place in its historical range in the East.
This second population now exists in Wisconsin and Michigan. Once those
recovery goals are met, the gray wolf will be considered recovered in
the eastern United States even if the species does not occupy its entire
former range. Similarly in the West, once recovery goals have been met
in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, wolves in the Western DPS will be considered
recovered. At this time we are not planning to initiate additional gray
wolf recovery programs or geographically expand the area included in any
of our three existing gray wolf recovery programs.
would be the status of wolves that might at some time occur in a state
outside the three DPSs?
It is highly unlikely that wild gray wolves will show up outside one of
the DPSs because these listed areas are quite large and those wolves would
have moved outside their historical range. In the unlikely event that
a gray wolf does wander outside one of the DPSs, wild gray wolves would
not be protected by the ESA. However, they may be protected by state or
tribal laws or regulations. Regardless of their location, captive gray
wolves will remain protected by the ESA if they, or their ancestors, were
removed from the wild in one of the listed DPSs.
does the Service anticipate gray wolf recovery and delisting in the lower
Now that the Service has finalized the reclassification of gray wolves
in areas where they are no longer endangered, we can begin the review
and evaluation process to delist wolves taking them off the list
of endangered and threatened species if appropriate. Such a step
is possible when wolf numbers reach numerical goals and when states with
core wolf populations provide adequate assurances that those populations
will be protected after the ESA's protections are removed. In the Eastern
DPS, wolf numbers have reached and exceeded recovery goals, and the Service
has received and approved state wolf management plans from Wisconsin,
Michigan, and Minnesota. In the Western DPS, numerical recovery goals
were achieved in 2002 and state management plans are being developed.
does the final reclassification decision become effective?
The reclassification and the associated special regulations for the Eastern
and Western DPSs are effective immediately upon publication in the Federal
Register. Because we are not increasing Federal protections or regulatory
oversight, there is no need to provide time for the public and government
agencies to come into compliance with any changes. The immediate application
of the reclassification also makes it easier for individuals to deal with
can I get more information?
The Federal Register publication of the final reclassification of the
gray wolf, as well as information about gray wolf populations, is available
on the Internet at http://midwest.fws.gov/wolf.
or groups wishing to be placed on the Service's mailing list to obtain
updates on the wolf's status can write to:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Gray Wolf Review
1 Federal Drive
Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056
or use the
GRAYWOLFMAIL@FWS.GOV address or call the Service's Gray Wolf Information
Line at 612-713-7337.
Prepared April 2003
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