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March 16, 2006       
Contact:    
Hugh Vickery 202/501-4633
Ron Refsnider 612/713-5346

Norton Announces Gray Wolves in Western Great Lakes Region Proposed for Removal from List of Endangered and Threatened Species

Interior Secretary Gale Norton today announced that gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have recovered from the threat of extinction, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose removing the wolves in this region from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

In addition to the delisting proposal, the Service also proposes to designate gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes region as a distinct population segment (DPS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

 “We commend our partners – states, tribes, conservation organizations, and local residents – for their dedicated efforts to ensure the wolf is an enduring part of the landscape in the Upper Midwest,” said Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton. “Our proposal to delist the gray wolf indicates our confidence that those who will assume management of the species will safeguard its long-term survival.”

The Service’s proposal to remove the gray wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species applies to the Western Great Lakes DPS. This area includes the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Within this area, the Service is proposing to remove federal ESA regulation regarding the gray wolf and entrust wolf management responsibility with states and tribes. 

The proposed DPS includes all the areas currently occupied by wolf packs in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as nearby areas in these states in which wolf packs may become established in the future. The DPS also includes surrounding areas into which wolves may disperse but are not likely to establish packs.

The population of wolves included in this DPS no longer meets the definition of threatened or endangered under the ESA. The threats to the population in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have been reduced or eliminated as evidenced by the current status of the population, where wolf numbers have exceeded the numerical recovery criteria established in its recovery plan. 

The Recovery Plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf established criteria to identify the point at which wolves would no longer be threatened with extinction in the eastern United States. To achieve this recovery, the plan called for maintaining and expanding the Minnesota wolf population and establishing at least one other gray wolf population in the eastern portion of the nation. The second population could be totally isolated from the Minnesota wolf population, or it could be adjacent to it, as is the case with the Wisconsin-Michigan population that has developed over the last three decades.

The gray wolf population in the western Great Lakes region now numbers close to 4,000 animals over the three-state area. The Minnesota population has steadily expanded; the latest estimate in 2003-2004 found about 3,020 animals. Wolves have become well-established in Michigan and Wisconsin, with numbers there of 405 and 425 respectively.  Wolf numbers in those two states combined have exceeded 100 for the past 12 years, thereby exceeding the population criteria identified in the recovery plans.

The Service’s current proposal, if finalized, would also remove ESA regulation of critical habitat for the gray wolf in Michigan and Minnesota, and eliminate special rules for wolf management in Minnesota, as they are no longer required. 

Once removed from the threatened and endangered species list, gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS will be managed by the states and tribes. The Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources have developed plans to guide wolf management actions in the future. The Service reviewed these plans and found they established a sufficient basis for long-term wolf management. Issues such as control of problem animals, hunting and trapping, as well as long-term health of the wolf population, will be governed by the appropriate state or tribe. 

The Service’s proposal comes after court rulings which overturned a 2003 final rule that reclassified wolves in most of the lower 48 states from endangered to threatened and established three distinct population segments of the gray wolf. The rulings also invalidated a 2004 proposal to delist the gray wolf in the eastern United States. The current proposal replaces the previous actions with a much smaller Western Great Lakes DPS – a DPS that is narrowly structured around the core areas where wolves have exceeded their recovery goals since 1999 and the locations in which wolves have dispersed from the core areas. 

In a separate action, the Service recently announced its intention to propose delisting gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Today’s proposal would not affect gray wolves in the West (the Northern Rocky Mountains) or in the Southwest, nor would it affect red wolves, a separate species found in the Southeast.   

The Service’s proposal to remove gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS from the threatened and endangered species list is available for review. A series of public hearings will be held throughout the Western Great Lakes DPS. The Service will announce details of these hearings in the near future. Following the public comment period, the Service will evaluate all information and make a decision on whether to finalize the proposal.  Until a final decision is made, wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS remain listed under the ESA as endangered and threatened.

Comments on the proposal to remove gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS from the federal list of threatened and endangered species may be submitted by e-mail to WGLwolfdelist@fws.gov  or by sending a letter to WGL Wolf Delisting, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Whipple Federal Building, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056 or by sending a fax to 612-713-5292, or through the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.  Comments on the proposal will be accepted for 90 days from the date the rule publishes in the Federal Register

More information on gray wolf recovery and the Service’s proposal to delist gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS can be found at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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