[Federal Register: August 1, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 147)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 43410-43432]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding 
on a Petition To Establish the Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf 
Population (Canis lupus) as a Distinct Population Segment To Remove the 
Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf Distinct Population Segment From the 
List of Endangered and Threatened Species

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 12-month petition finding.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
12-month finding on a petition to establish the northern Rocky Mountain 
(NRM) gray wolf (Canis lupus) population as a Distinct Population 
Segment (DPS) and to remove the NRM gray wolf DPS from the Federal List 
of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, under the Endangered Species Act 
of 1973, as amended (ESA). After review of all available scientific and 
commercial information, we find that the petitioned action is not 
warranted. We have determined that Wyoming State law and its wolf 
management plan do not provide the necessary regulatory mechanisms to 
assure that Wyoming's numerical and distributional share of a recovered 
NRM wolf population would be conserved if the protections of the ESA 
were removed.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on August 1, 

ADDRESSES: Comments and materials received, as well as supporting 
documentation used in the preparation of this 12-month finding, will be 
available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business 
hours at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,

[[Page 43411]]

Montana Ecological Services Office, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, Montana 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Edward E. Bangs, Western Gray Wolf 
Recovery Coordinator, at the above address (see ADDRESSES) or by 
telephone at (406) 449-5225, extension 204.



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) requires 
that we make a finding on whether a petition to list, delist, or 
reclassify a species presents substantial information to indicate the 
petitioned action may be warranted. Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the ESA 
requires that within 12 months after receiving a petition that contains 
substantial information indicating that the petitioned action may be 
warranted, the Secretary shall make one of the following findings: (a) 
The petitioned action is not warranted; (b) the petitioned action is 
warranted; or (c) the petitioned action is warranted but precluded by 
higher priority workload. Such 12-month findings are to be published 
promptly in the Federal Register.

Previous Federal Action

    In 1974, we listed four subspecies of gray wolf as endangered, 
including the northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) gray wolf (Canis lupus 
irremotus); the eastern timber wolf (C. l. lycaon) in the northern 
Great Lakes region; the Mexican wolf (C. l. baileyi) in Mexico and the 
southwestern United States; and the Texas gray wolf (C. l. 
monstrabilis) of Texas and Mexico (39 FR 1171; January 4, 1974). In 
1978, we published a rule (43 FR 9607; March 9, 1978) listing the gray 
wolf as endangered at the species level (C. lupus) throughout the 
conterminous 48 States and Mexico, except for Minnesota, where the gray 
wolf was reclassified to threatened.
    On November 22, 1994, we designated unoccupied portions of Idaho, 
Montana, and Wyoming as two nonessential experimental population areas 
for the gray wolf under section 10(j) of the ESA (59 FR 60252). This 
designation assisted us in initiating gray wolf reintroduction projects 
in central Idaho and the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA). In 1995 and 
1996, we reintroduced wolves from southwestern Canada into remote 
public lands in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park (YNP) 
(Bangs and Fritts 1996; Fritts et al. 1997; Bangs et al. 1998). These 
reintroductions and accompanying management programs greatly expanded 
the numbers and distribution of wolves in the NRM. Because of the 
reintroductions, wolves soon became established throughout central 
Idaho and the GYA (Bangs et al. 1998; Service et al. 2006). Naturally 
dispersing wolves from Canada led to the reestablishment of wolf packs 
into northern Montana in the early 1980s, and the number of wolves in 
this area steadily increased for the next decade (Service et al. 2006).
    The wolf population in the NRM achieved its numerical and 
distributional recovery goals at the end of 2000, and the temporal 
portion of the recovery goal was achieved at the end of 2002 (Service 
et al. 2001, 2002, 2003). Before these wolves can be delisted, the 
Service requires that Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming develop wolf 
management plans to demonstrate that other adequate regulatory 
mechanisms exist should the ESA protections be removed. The Service 
determined that Montana and Idaho's laws and wolf management plans are 
adequate to assure the Service that those State's share of the NRM wolf 
population would be maintained above recovery levels, and the Service 
approved those two State plans. However, we determined that problems 
with Wyoming's legislation and plan, and inconsistencies between the 
law and management plan do not allow us to approve Wyoming's approach 
to wolf management (Williams 2004). In response, Wyoming litigated this 
issue (Wyoming U.S. District Court 04-CV-0123-J and 04-CV-0253-J 
consolidated). The Wyoming Federal District Court dismissed the case on 
procedural grounds (360 F. Supp 2nd 1214, March 18, 2005). Wyoming 
appealed that decision, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed 
with the District Court decision on April 3, 2006 (442 F. 3rd 1262).
    On October 30, 2001, we received a petition dated October 5, 2001, 
from the Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd, Inc. (Friends 
Petition) that sought removal of the gray wolf from endangered status 
under the ESA (Karl Knuchel, P.C., A Professional Corporation Attorneys 
at Law, in litt., 2001a). Additional correspondence in late 2001 
provided clarification that the petition only applied to the Montana, 
Wyoming, and Idaho population of gray wolf and that the petition 
requested full delisting of this population (Knuchel in litt. 2001b). 
Additionally, on July 19, 2005, we received a petition dated July 13, 
2005, from the Office of the Governor, State of Wyoming and the Wyoming 
Game and Fish Commission (Wyoming Petition) to revise the listing 
status for the gray wolf by establishing the NRM DPS and concurrently 
removing the NRM DPS of gray wolf from the Federal List of Endangered 
and Threatened Wildlife (Dave Freudenthal, Office of the Governor, 
State of Wyoming, 2005). On October 26, 2005, we published a finding 
that--(1) The Friends Petition failed to present a case for delisting 
that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the measure 
proposed in the petition may be warranted; and (2) the Wyoming Petition 
presented substantial scientific and commercial information indicating 
that the NRM gray wolf population may qualify as a DPS and that this 
potential DPS may warrant delisting (70 FR 61770). We considered the 
collective weight of evidence and initiated this 12-month status review 
(70 FR 61770; October 26, 2005).
    On February 8, 2006, we published an advanced notice of proposed 
rulemaking (ANPR) announcing our intention to conduct rulemaking to 
establish a DPS of the gray wolf in the NRM and to remove that gray 
wolf DPS from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, if 
Wyoming adopts a State law and a State wolf management plan that is 
approved by the Service (71 FR 6634). This finding is based upon 
additional analysis and updates the information in the ANPR (71 FR 
    For detailed information on previous Federal actions impacting the 
NRM gray wolf population, see the February 8, 2006, February 8, 2006 
ANPR (71 FR 6634). For additional information on previous Federal 
actions for gray wolves beyond the NRM, see the April 1, 2003, ``Final 
Rule To Reclassify and Remove the Gray Wolf from the List of Endangered 
and Threatened Wildlife in Portions of the Conterminous United States'' 
(2003 Reclassification Rule) (68 FR 15804).


    For detailed information on the biology of the gray wolf see: (1) 
The ``Background'' section of the February 8, 2006, ANPR (71 FR 6634); 
and (2) the ``Biology and Ecology of Gray Wolves'' section of the 2003 
Reclassification Rule (68 FR 15804; April 1, 2003).


    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the ESA include recovery actions, possible land 
acquisition, requirements for Federal protection, cooperation with the 
States, prohibitions against certain practices, and recognition by 
Federal, State, and private agencies, groups, and individuals. Most of 
these measures already have been successfully applied to gray wolves. 
For background on the

[[Page 43412]]

history of NRM wolf recovery, recovery planning (including defining 
appropriate recovery criteria), population monitoring, and cooperation 
and coordination with our partners in achieving recovery, see the 
``Recovery'' section of the February 8, 2006, ANPR (71 FR 6634).
    What follows is a summary of recovery progress by (1) State for 
Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho; and (2) recovery area. Both discussions 
include 2005 population estimates not available at the time the ANPR 
was published (71 FR 6634; February 8, 2006).
    Recovery by State--We measure wolf recovery by the number of 
breeding pairs because wolf populations are maintained by packs that 
successfully raise pups. We use 'breeding pairs' to describe 
successfully reproducing packs (Service 1994; Bangs 2002). Breeding 
pairs are only measured in winter because most wolf mortality occurs in 
spring/summer/fall (illegal killing, agency control and disease/
parasites) and winter is the beginning of the annual courtship and 
breeding season for wolves. Often we do not know if a specific pack 
actually contains an alpha pair and two pups in winter, but there is a 
strong correlation between wolf pack size then and its probability of 
being a breeding pair. The group size of packs of unknown composition 
in winter can be used to estimate their breeding pair status. Different 
habitat characteristics result in slightly different probabilities of 
breeding pair status in each state. Based upon the best scientific 
information currently available, in Wyoming, 10 groups of 5 wolves of 
unknown composition in winter would be the equivalent of 5.6 breeding 
pairs, 10 groups of 6 wolves would equate to 6.5 breeding pairs, etc. 
The probability of a pack of wolves having a 90% chance of being a 
breeding pair doesn't occur until there are at least 9 wolves in a pack 
in winter (Ausband 2006). In the past we had primarily used packs of 
known composition in winter to estimate the number of breeding pairs. 
However, now we can use the best information currently available and 
use pack size in winter as a surrogate to reliably identify breeding 
pairs and to better predict the effect of managing for certain pack 
sizes on wolf population recovery.
    At the end of 2000, the NRM population first met its numerical and 
distributional recovery goal of a minimum of 30 ``breeding pairs'' (an 
adult male and an adult female wolf that have produced at least 2 pups 
that survived until December 31 of the year of their birth, during the 
previous breeding season) and over 300 wolves well-distributed among 
Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming (68 FR 15804, April 1, 2003; Service et al. 
2001). While absolute equitable distribution is not necessary, a well-
distributed population throughout suitable habitat with no one State 
maintaining a disproportionately low number of packs or number of 
individual wolves is needed for recovery in a significant portion of 
its range. This minimum recovery goal was again exceeded in 2001, 2002, 
2003, 2004, and 2005 (Service et al. 2002-2006). Because the recovery 
goal must be achieved for 3 consecutive years, the temporal element of 
recovery was not achieved until the end of 2002 (Service et al. 2003). 
By the end of 2005, the NRM wolf population had achieved its numerical 
and distributional recovery goal for 6 consecutive years (Service et 
al. 2001-2006; 68 FR 15804, April 1, 2003; 71 FR 6634, February 8, 
    In 2000, 8 breeding pairs and approximately 97 wolves were known to 
occur in Montana; 12 breeding pairs and approximately 153 wolves were 
known to occur in Wyoming; and 10 breeding pairs and 187 wolves were 
known to occur in Idaho (Service et al. 2001). In 2001, 97 reeding 
pairs and approximately 123 wolves were known to occur in Montana; 13 
breeding pairs and approximately 189 wolves were known to occur in 
Wyoming; and 14 breeding pairs and 251 wolves were known to occur in 
Idaho (Service et al. 2002). In 2002, 17 breeding pairs and 
approximately 183 wolves were known to occur in Montana; 18 breeding 
pairs and approximately 217 wolves were known to occur in Wyoming; and 
14 breeding pairs and 216 wolves were known to occur in Idaho (Service 
et al. 2003). In 2003, 10 breeding pairs and approximately 182 wolves 
were known to occur in Montana; 16 breeding pairs and approximately 234 
wolves were known to occur in Wyoming; and 25 breeding pairs and 345 
wolves were known to occur in Idaho (Service et al. 2004). In 2004, 15 
breeding pairs and approximately 153 wolves were known to occur in 
Montana; 24 breeding pairs and approximately 260 wolves were known to 
occur in Wyoming; and 27 breeding pairs and 422 wolves were known to 
occur in Idaho (Service et al. 2005). In 2005, 19 breeding pairs and 
approximately 256 wolves were known to occur in Montana; 16 breeding 
pairs and approximately 252 wolves were known to occur in Wyoming; and 
36 breeding pairs and 512 wolves were known to occur in Idaho, for a 
total of 71 breeding pairs and 1,020 wolves (Service et al. 2006).
    Although we now measure recovery by State, biologically each 
recovery area remains of some importance. Thus, the following section 
discusses recovery within each of the three major recovery areas. 
Because the recovery areas cross State lines, the population estimates 
sum differently.
    Recovery in the Northwestern Montana Recovery Area--The 
Northwestern Montana Recovery Area (>49,728 square kilometers 
(km2) [>19,200 square miles (mi2)]) includes 
Glacier National Park; the Great Bear, Bob Marshall, and Lincoln 
Scapegoat Wilderness areas; and adjacent public and private lands in 
northern Montana and the northern Idaho panhandle. Reproduction first 
occurred in northwestern Montana in 1986. The natural ability of wolves 
to find and quickly recolonize empty habitat, the interim control plan, 
and the interagency recovery program combined to effectively promote an 
increase in wolf numbers. By 1996, the number of wolves had grown to 
about 70 wolves in 7 known breeding pairs. However, since 1997, the 
number of breeding groups and number of wolves has fluctuated widely, 
varying from 4-12 breeding pairs and from 49-130 wolves (Service et al. 
2006). Our 1998 estimate was a minimum of 49 wolves in 5 known breeding 
pairs (Service et al. 1999). In 1999, and again in 2000, 6 known 
breeding pairs produced pups, and the northwestern Montana population 
increased to about 63 wolves (Service et al. 2000, 2001). In 2001, we 
estimated that 84 wolves in 7 known breeding pairs occurred; in 2002, 
there were an estimated 108 wolves in 12 known breeding pairs; in 2003, 
there were an estimated 92 wolves in 4 known breeding pairs; in 2004, 
there were an estimated 59 wolves in 6 known breeding pairs; and in 
2005, there were an estimated 130 wolves in 11 known breeding pairs 
(Service et al. 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006).
    The Northwestern Montana Recovery Area has sustained fewer wolves 
than the other recovery areas because there is less suitable habitat. 
Wolf packs in this area may be near their local social and biological 
carrying capacity. Some of the variation in our wolf population 
estimates for northwestern Montana is due to the difficulty of counting 
wolves in the areas thick forests. Wolves in northwestern Montana prey 
mainly on white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and pack size is 
smaller, which also makes packs more difficult to detect (Bangs et al. 
1998). Increased monitoring efforts in northwestern Montana by Montana 
Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) in 2005 were likely responsible for 
some of the sharp increase in the estimated wolf

[[Page 43413]]

population. The MFWP have led wolf management in this area since 
February 2004. It appears that wolf numbers in northwestern Montana are 
likely to fluctuate around 100 wolves. Since 2001, this area has 
maintained an average of nearly 96 wolves and about 8 known breeding 
pairs (Service et al. 2006).
    Northwestern Montana's wolves are demographically and genetically 
linked to both the wolf population in Canada and in central Idaho 
(Pletscher et al. 1991; Boyd and Pletscher 1999). Wolf dispersal into 
northwestern Montana from both directions will continue to supplement 
this segment of the overall wolf population, both demographically and 
genetically (Boyd et al. in prep.; Forbes and Boyd 1996, 1997; Boyd et 
al. 1995).
    Wolf conflicts with livestock have fluctuated with wolf population 
size and prey population density (Service et al. 2005). For example, in 
1997, immediately following a severe winter that reduced white-tailed 
deer populations in northwestern Montana, wolf conflicts with livestock 
increased dramatically, and the wolf population declined (Bangs et al. 
1998). Wolf numbers increased as wild prey numbers rebounded. Unlike 
YNP or the central Idaho Wilderness, northwestern Montana lacks a large 
core refugium that contains overwintering wild ungulates. Therefore, 
wolf numbers are not ever likely to be as high in northwestern Montana 
as they are in central Idaho or the GYA. However, the population has 
persisted for nearly 20 years and is robust today (Service et al. 
2006). State management, pursuant to the Montana State wolf management 
plan, will ensure this population continues to persist (see Factor D).
    Recovery in the Central Idaho Recovery Area--The Central Idaho 
Recovery Area (53,600 km\2\ [20,700 mi\2\]) includes the Selway 
Bitterroot, Gospel Hump, Frank Church River of No Return, and Sawtooth 
Wilderness areas; adjacent, mostly Federal, lands in central Idaho; and 
adjacent parts of southwest Montana (Service 1994). In January 1995, 15 
young adult wolves were captured in Alberta, Canada, and released by 
the Service in central Idaho (Bangs and Fritts 1996; Fritts et al. 
1997; Bangs et al. 1998). In January 1996, an additional 20 wolves from 
British Columbia were released. Central Idaho contains the greatest 
amount of highly suitable wolf habitat compared to either northwestern 
Montana or the GYA (Oakleaf et al. 2006). In 1998, the central Idaho 
wolf population consisted of a minimum of 114 wolves, including 10 
known breeding pairs (Bangs et al. 1998). By 1999, it had grown to 
about 141 wolves in 10 known breeding pairs (Service et al. 2000). By 
2000, this population had 192 wolves in 10 known breeding pairs, and by 
2001, it had climbed to about 261 wolves in 14 known breeding pairs 
(Service et al. 2001, 2002). In 2002, there were 284 wolves in 14 known 
breeding pairs; in 2003, there were 368 wolves in 26 known breeding 
pairs; in 2004, there were 452 wolves in 30 known breeding pairs, and 
by the end of 2005, there were 512 wolves in 36 known breeding pairs 
(Service et al. 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006). As in the Northwestern Montana 
Recovery Area, some of the Central Idaho Recovery Area's increase in 
wolf populations in 2005, was due to an increased monitoring effort by 
the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG). They began to actively 
help with wolf management in Idaho beginning in 2005, and have led 
these efforts since 2006.
    Recovery in the Greater Yellowstone Area--The GYA recovery area 
(63,700 km2 [24,600 mi2]) includes YNP; the 
Absaroka Beartooth, North Absaroka, Washakie, and Teton Wilderness 
areas (the National Park/Wilderness units); and adjacent public and 
private lands in Wyoming; and adjacent parts of Idaho and Montana 
(Service 1994). The wilderness portions of the GYA are rarely used by 
wolves due to those areas' high elevation, deep snow, and low 
productivity in terms of sustaining year-round wild ungulate 
populations. In 1995, 14 wolves from Alberta, representing 3 family 
groups, were released in YNP (Bangs and Fritts 1996; Fritts et al. 
1997; Phillips and Smith 1996). Two of the three groups produced young 
in late April. In 1996, this procedure was repeated with 17 wolves from 
British Columbia, representing 4 family groups. Two of the groups 
produced pups in late April. Finally, 10 5-month-old pups removed from 
northwestern Montana were released in YNP in the spring of 1997 (Bangs 
et al. 1998).
    By 1998, the wolves had expanded from YNP into the GYA with a 
population that consisted of 112 wolves, including 6 breeding pairs 
that produced 10 litters of pups (Service et al. 1999). The 1999 
population consisted of 118 wolves, including 8 known breeding pairs 
(Service et al. 2000). In 2000, the GYA had 177 wolves, including 14 
known breeding pairs, and there were 218 wolves, including 13 known 
breeding pairs, in 2001 (Service et al. 2001, 2002). In 2002, there 
were an estimated 271 wolves in 23 known breeding pairs; in 2003, there 
were an estimated 301 wolves in 21 known breeding pairs; in 2004, there 
were an estimated 335 wolves in 30 known breeding pairs; and in 2005, 
there were an estimated 325 wolves in 20 known breeding pairs (Service 
et al. 2003--2006).
    Wolf numbers in the GYA were stable in 2005, but known breeding 
pairs dropped by 30 percent to only 20 pairs (Service et al. 2006). 
Most of this decline occurred in YNP (which declined from 171 wolves in 
16 known breeding pairs in 2004, to 118 wolves in 7 breeding pairs in 
2005 (Service et al. 2005, 2006)) and likely occurred because: (1) 
Highly suitable habitat in YNP is saturated with wolf packs; (2) 
conflict among packs appears to be limiting population density; (3) 
there are fewer elk (Cervus canadensis) than when reintroduction took 
place (White and Garrott 2006; Vucetich et al. 2005); and (4) a 
suspected, but as yet unconfirmed, outbreak of disease, canine 
parvovirus (CPV) or canine distemper, reduced pup survival to 20 
percent in 2005 (Service et al. 2006; D. Smith, YNP, pers. comm. 2005). 
Additional significant growth in the National Park/Wilderness portions 
of the Wyoming wolf population is unlikely because suitable wolf 
habitat is saturated with resident wolf packs. Maintaining wolf 
populations above recovery levels in the GYA segment of the NRM area 
will likely depend on wolf packs living outside the National Park/
Wilderness portions of Wyoming.

Discussion of the Petition

    Wyoming's Petition advocated that the Service: (1) Establish a NRM 
DPS for the gray wolf composed of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming; (2) 
eliminate the experimental population designations established in 1994; 
and (3) remove the gray wolf within the NRM DPS from protections under 
the ESA. The only substantive disagreements between the Service and 
Wyoming are: (1) Whether there is any emergency or urgency to delist 
wolves in Wyoming and (2) if Wyoming's regulatory framework is adequate 
to maintain the wolf population above its numerical and distribution 
recovery levels in Wyoming should the ESA protections be removed. The 
Wyoming Petition addressed six major issues.
    1 Urgent Action Required--The Wyoming Petition argued that 
delisting was urgent and a priority because of alleged impacts to big 
game populations, economic impacts, introducing wolves into unnatural 
and fragmented habitats, and livestock depredation. Wyoming presented 
this information with an overall perspective that the number of wolves 

[[Page 43414]]

recovery goals and that the wolf population and its impacts were larger 
those analyzed in the Service's 1994 environmental impact statement 
(EIS) on wolf reintroduction (Service 1994). The Wyoming Petition did 
not reveal any issues that were not previously anticipated or predicted 
in the 1994 EIS, nor does there currently appear to be any emergency 
regarding wolves or wolf management in Wyoming (White et al. 2005). In 
addition, the Wyoming segment of the wolf population was stable or 
slightly decreased in 2005, so the rate of predation on wild ungulates 
and livestock did not increase (Service et al. 2006).
    The Wyoming Petition presented data indicating that nearly all 
Wyoming elk herds still exceeded State management objectives, but that 
herds in areas with wolves had lower cow/calf ratios than herds in 
areas without wolves. The Petitionor, however, did not address numerous 
other significant differences between these elk herds. All elk herds 
being preyed on by wolves are also being preyed on by grizzly bears 
(Barber et al. 2005). Elk herds that are living in areas without wolves 
have fewer large predators interacting with them. Elk herds with wolves 
typically summer in remote areas at high elevation, without access to 
as much agricultural forage, possibly making them more susceptible to 
severe winter or summer drought. Summer drought reduces forage for elk, 
which can greatly reduce calf production and survival (Cook et al. 
2004). Some of Wyoming's comparisons made between elk herds with and 
without wolves seemed questionable; for example, the Wiggins Fork herd 
with an objective of 7,000 elk and the largest decrease in cow/calf 
ratios of any herd, was only being preyed upon by one small wolf pack. 
It is highly unlikely that one pack of approximately 10 wolves could 
have any measurable impact on overall herd size or calf ratios among 
7,000 elk (White and Garrott 2006; Hamlin 2005). In addition, Wyoming 
and Montana (North Yellowstone elk herd) initiated deliberate elk herd 
reduction programs (cow elk hunts in winter) in the GYA to bring the 
herd sizes down to habitat management objectives and to alleviate 
landowner complaints about excessive elk competition with livestock for 
forage and crop damage (Hamlin 2005; Vucetich et al. 2005; White and 
Garrott 2006). Identifying wolf predation as the only, or primary, 
cause of differences in elk herd size or calf recruitment is 
    There is no doubt that wolves eat elk and that, in some situations 
and in combination with other factors, wolf predation can affect the 
survival rate of adult cow elk, older calf elk, herd size, and the 
potential surplus available for human harvest. However, wolves are 
territorial, and wolf populations naturally regulate their density with 
prey density (Mech and Boitani 2003); areas with high prey numbers 
support more wolves, while areas with few prey support fewer wolves. 
Wolf populations expand by establishing new packs in new areas, which 
means that those new packs are preying on new elk and other ungulate 
herds. An example of this type of adjustment in wolf density was the 
dramatic decline of wolves in YNP's northern range in 2005, due to 
disease and social conflict in response, in part, to reduced elk 
density (Service et al. 2006). Low neonate calf survival is typically 
related to habitat quality and predation by bears (Barber et al. 2005). 
The potential impact of wolf predation to decrease some elk herds and 
reduce hunter harvest for cow elk was relatively accurately forecast in 
the EIS and has been the subject of a long series of subsequent 
research projects with various conclusions (Hamlin 2005; See Service et 
al. 2006 for additional references). Some studies indicted wolves were 
having minor impacts on elk herds in comparison to other factors 
(Vucetich et al. 2005), while others suggested wolf predation was a 
significant factor (White and Garrott 2006).
    The Wyoming Petition also asserted that wolf predation reduced the 
number of elk that needed to be killed by hunters each year to bring 
herd size down to State management objectives and that reduced harvest 
had economic costs. This is consistent with the predictions in the 1994 
EIS that wolf predation would result in less need to kill cow elk to 
reduce herd size to habitat carrying capacity and to alleviate private 
property damage (Service 1994). The EIS also predicted reduced hunter 
opportunity and the economic losses that would be associated with fewer 
    Additionally, the Wyoming Petition only discussed the negative 
impact of wolf predation on select aspects of the economy (big game 
hunting and livestock depredation), not the entire economic effects of 
wolf restoration. The EIS analyzed the full range of costs and benefits 
of wolf reintroduction and concluded that the presence of wolves in YNP 
would generate many times more economic benefits than costs. A recent 
economic study in YNP indicted that the presence of wolves was 
currently generating over $20 million per year in economic activity in 
Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, similar to that forecasted ($23 million in 
1992) in the EIS (Duffield et al. 2006). Wolf predation on ungulates 
(primarily elk) has a cost to some segments of society (some types of 
big game hunters), but those costs are far outweighed (over 10-fold) by 
the positive economic benefits to GYA States (Service 1994).
    The Wyoming Petition proposed that wolves were reintroduced into 
unnatural and fragmented landscapes and that wolves were living in 
altered or marginally suitable habitats because of other human uses of 
the land. Suitable wolf habitat in North America can be simply 
characterized by moderate rates of human-caused mortality (due to low 
road density, forest cover, regulation of wolf killing by humans), 
adequate wild ungulates, and seasonal or low livestock density 
(Mladenoff and Stickley 1998; Larsen 2004; Oakleaf et al. 2006; Carroll 
et al. 2003, 2006). Wolves are habitat generalists and live in 
landscapes altered by humans throughout the world (Mech and Boitani 
2003). Wolves listed under the ESA have lived in areas where human 
activities occur for decades--in the Midwest for over 30 years, the NRM 
for over 20 years, and the GYA and central Idaho for over 10 years. 
Wolf packs outside the Park Units in the Montana and Idaho portion of 
the GYA have occasional conflicts with livestock just like those in 
Wyoming. Wolf presence and human activity do not have to be mutually 
exclusive. However, just as in the case of any other species of 
wildlife (i.e., mountain lions, bears, elk, deer, skunks, geese, etc.), 
there will be occasional conflicts with people that require management 
to address. Some areas of historic habitat are currently so modified by 
human impacts that they are unsuitable habitat for wolves (Carroll et 
al. 2003, 2006; Oakleaf et al. 2006). However, there are situations 
where livestock and wolves can both live in the same area, and do so 
throughout many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The cost of co-
existence is some livestock losses, some wolf losses, and management to 
reduce the rate of conflict (Woodroffe et al. 2006).
    The Wyoming Petition discussed wintering elk feedground issues, 
moose habitat, and livestock depredation to support its perspective 
that wolves are largely incompatible with current commercial land-uses 
on public and private lands outside YNP. In Wyoming, many elk herds are 
fed in winter, vaccinated against disease, and compensation is paid to 
private landowners whose livestock they compete against for forage. The 
artificial feeding of concentrated wildlife has a host of benefits 
(high elk populations,

[[Page 43415]]

high hunter harvest, reduced private property damage in winter, and 
more food for large predators and scavengers) and costs (funding, 
diseases, property damage, road/human safety hazards, increased 
competition with other wild ungulates/wildlife, and habituation to 
humans) associated with it. Diseases are a particularly difficult 
problem on Wyoming feedgrounds because artificial crowding in winter 
increases disease transmission rates. A high proportion of elk are 
already infected with brucellosis, and chronic wasting disease is being 
documented increasingly closer to the Wyoming elk feedgrounds. However, 
these disease-related issues existed long before wolves were ever 
present and would still be present without wolves. Disease issues, not 
wolf predation, will likely continue to be the most serious issue 
facing winter feeding of high numbers of elk, but wolves have added to 
the complexity of managing wintering elk on feedgrounds (Jimenez and 
Stevenson 2003, 2004; Jimenez et al. 2005).
    As discussed in the Wyoming Petition, moose populations were 
declining before wolves were present in the GYA, and previous Wyoming 
Game and Fish Department (WGFD) research indicated this was largely 
habitat-related. The Service is cooperating with ongoing research by 
the WGFD to investigate factors effecting moose populations in Wyoming. 
Wolves occasionally kill moose, but the effect of wolf predation on 
overall moose population status is unclear. It is unlikely, however, to 
have been the most important factor to date.
    Wolves occasionally depredate livestock. This issue has been 
discussed in detail in the EIS, interagency annual reports (Service 
1999-2006), and many publications (see Literature Cited in Service et 
al. 2006; Bangs et al. in press). Surprisingly, the rate of confirmed 
livestock depredations per 100 wolves (average of 14 cattle and 29 
sheep killed for every 100 wolves in the GYA from 1995-2005) is 
actually lower than the EIS predicted (on average 100 wolves in the GYA 
were predicted to kill 19 cattle and 68 sheep annually) (Service 1994; 
Service et al. 2006). In 2005, the number of livestock depredations in 
Wyoming decreased, despite an increasing wolf population near livestock 
outside of the GYA Park Units. This may be a result of the aggressive 
agency control of problem wolves and the high level of problem wolf 
removal by the Service in Wyoming outside of the GYA Park Units. An 
average of 10% of the GYA wolf population was killed annually by agency 
control from 1995-2005, the highest rate in the NRM (Service et al. 
2006). In Wyoming outside of YNP, about 20% of the wolf population was 
removed in 2004 and 2005 (Service et al. 2006). No information 
presented in the Wyoming Petition suggested there was any greater 
urgency or priority regarding wolf management issues in Wyoming than 
was anticipated in the 1994 EIS or than currently exists in Montana or 
Idaho. If wolves remain listed, all wolf/livestock conflict in Wyoming 
will continue to be aggressively dealt with by the Service.
    2 Current Wolf Numbers and Distribution in the NRM DPS--The Wyoming 
Petition presented the Service's information on wolf numbers and 
distribution in 2004 to reaffirm the Service's position that the wolf 
population has fully achieved both its numerical and distributional 
recovery goals every year since 2002 (Service et al. 2006). The NRM 
wolf population has not significantly increased its overall outer 
distribution in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming since 2000 (Service et al. 
2000-2006) but has continued to grow and expand within that area and 
now occupies almost all suitable habitat in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming 
(71 FR 6643).
    3 Establish a NRM DPS--The Wyoming Petition listed reasons why a 
NRM DPS composed of all Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming is appropriate. In 
2006, the Service proposed a very similar gray wolf DPS that would be 
composed of all of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming; parts of eastern 
Washington and Oregon; and northcentral Utah (71 FR 6643). However, in 
its comments on the ANPR, Wyoming stated that it supported the analysis 
and justification for the NRM DPS proposed by the Service (public 
comment to 71 FR 6643).
    4 Justification for Removing the Gray Wolf in the NRM DPS From the 
List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife--Wyoming presented 
information from the 2003 Reclassification Rule (68 FR 15804) that the 
NRM wolf population was no longer threatened by habitat issues, 
overutilization, disease or predation, or other natural or manmade 
factors. The Service stated in the ANPR (71 FR 6643) that the numerical 
and distributional recovery of the wolf population is not jeopardized 
by these factors. Wyoming also agreed with the Service that if ESA 
protections were removed, the NRM wolf population in Montana and Idaho 
would be conserved above numerical and distributional recovery levels 
due to existing regulatory mechanisms. Both Montana and Idaho State law 
and their State management plans were consistent with one another and 
were approved by the Service (Bangs 2004; Williams 2004; Hogan et al. 
2005). However, the Service has determined that the regulatory 
framework established by Wyoming would not conserve Wyoming's numerical 
and distributional share of the NRM DPS wolf population above recovery 
levels (Williams 2004).
    5 Adequacy of Regulatory Mechanisms in Wyoming--The adequacy of 
Wyoming's regulatory framework to maintain Wyoming's numerical and 
distributional share of the NRM wolf population is the primary area of 
disagreement between the Service and Wyoming. The Service's 
determination that Wyoming's regulatory framework is not adequate is 
fully discussed later in this finding (see Factor D below).
    6 Peer Review of the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan--The 
Service, in cooperation with the affected States, selected 12 
recognized North American biological experts in wolf biology and 
management to review to Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming's State wolf 
management plans in the fall of 2003. The reviewers were not asked to 
examine other aspects of the State's regulatory framework, such as 
State laws, nor were they provided copies of these documents. Eleven 
reviews were completed. In general, most reviewers believed the 
coordinated implementation of all three State plans would be adequate 
to maintain 30 breeding pairs in the NRM. While Wyoming's Plan was 
thought the most extreme in terms of wolf control and minimizing wolf 
numbers and distribution, it was thought adequate by some reviewers, 
primarily because they believed that YNP would carry most of Wyoming's 
share of the NRM wolf population, and that the commitments in the Plan 
could be implemented under State law. The Wyoming Petition asserts that 
since a majority of peer reviewers believed that, in combination, the 
three State plans were adequate to numerically maintain a recovered 
wolf population in the NRM, the Service should approve Wyoming's plan 
and propose delisting of the NRM gray wolf DPS.
    Four critical conditions have changed since the fall of 2003 and 
the peer review of the State Plans. These four conditions support the 
Service's decision to not approve Wyoming's regulatory framework (Bangs 
2004; Williams 2004); (1) Our review of the State law questioned 
whether commitments made in the Plan could actually be implemented 
under the law; (2) the wolf population in YNP (most reviewers believed 
YNP would carry the bulk of Wyoming's share of the wolf

[[Page 43416]]

population) declined rapidly and dramatically by spring 2005; (3) in 
2005, the Federal District Court in Oregon and Vermont ruled on a 2003 
Service rule to establish two large DPSs and reclassify wolves in a 
Western and an Eastern DPS to threatened status (68 FR 15804). Those 
court rulings emphasized the distribution of the wolf population in 
historical and still suitable habitat was a critical component of 
determining if recovery had been achieved. Peer reviewers were not 
asked whether Wyoming's plan would maintain wolf pack distribution in 
suitable habitat outside of YNP; (4) in recent consultation with 
Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, the Nez Perce Tribe, Yellowstone National 
Park, and the University of Montana, the Service recognized that the 
relationship between wolf pack size in winter and breeding pairs was 
not a linear regression as argued in the Wyoming Petition. The Service 
in consultation with the above groups, established a method of 
estimating wolf population status that is scientifically sound and 
consistent with the Service's wolf breeding pair standard (discussed 
below in Recovery by State section) (Ausband 2006). However, the 
definition of a wolf pack in Wyoming law and Plan is not consistent 
with this analysis and the method in the Wyoming definition of a wolf 
pack would not allow the Wyoming segment of the wolf population to be 
maintained above recovery levels.
    The Service considered the entire regulatory framework that could 
affect wolf population recovery, not just State management plans. The 
Service consistently reviewed the overall regulatory framework in 
Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming to determine whether their State laws and 
their State management plans were consistent with one another (Bangs 
2004; Hogan 2005) (see detailed discussion under Factor D).
    Conclusions--The Service agrees with the Wyoming Petition on 
several points regarding the removal of ESA protections for the NRM 
wolf population: (1) The population would not be threatened by four of 
the five categories of threats specified in section 4(a)(1) of the 
ESA--present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of 
habitat or range; overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes; disease or predation; or other 
natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence (71 FR 
6634); and (2) the NRM wolf population in Montana and Idaho would be 
conserved above numerical and distributional recovery levels because of 
the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms in Montana and Idaho. 
Both Montana's and Idaho's State laws and management plans were 
consistent with one another and were approved by the Service.
    The Service disagrees with the Wyoming Petition regarding the 
adequacy of Wyoming's regulatory framework, and we have determined that 
Wyoming's current regulatory framework is not adequate to maintain 
Wyoming's numerical and distributional share of the NRM wolf population 
(See Factor D for a detailed discussion). This shortcoming means that 
the NRM DPS remains subject to a threat that leaves the DPS likely to 
become endangered in the foreseeable future.

Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment Policy Overview

    Under the ESA, we consider for listing any species, subspecies, or, 
for vertebrates, any DPS of these taxa if there is sufficient 
information to indicate that such action may be warranted. The Service 
and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) adopted the Policy 
Regarding the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments 
under the ESA (DPS policy) and published it in the Federal Register on 
February 7, 1996 (61 FR 4722). This policy addresses the recognition of 
a DPS for potential listing, reclassification, and delisting actions. 
Under our DPS policy, three factors are considered in a decision 
regarding the establishment and classification of a possible DPS. These 
are applied similarly for additions to the Lists of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife and Plants, reclassification of already listed 
species, and removals from the lists. The first two factors--
discreteness of the population segment in relation to the remainder of 
the taxon (i.e., Canis lupus) and the significance of the population 
segment to the taxon to which it belongs (i.e., C. lupus)--bear on 
whether the population segment is a valid DPS. If a population meets 
both tests, it is a DPS, and then we apply the third factor--the 
population segment's conservation status in relation to the ESA's 
standards for listing, delisting, or reclassification (i.e., is the 
population segment endangered or threatened).
    A population segment of a vertebrate taxon may be considered 
discrete if it satisfies either one of the following conditions: (1) It 
is markedly separated from other populations of the same taxon (i.e., 
Canis lupus) as a consequence of physical, physiological, ecological, 
or behavioral factors (quantitative measures of genetic or 
morphological discontinuity may provide evidence of this separation); 
or (2) it is delimited by international governmental boundaries within 
which differences in control of exploitation, management of habitat, 
conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms exist that are 
significant in light of section 4(a)(1)(D) of the ESA. If we determine 
a population segment is discrete, we next consider available scientific 
evidence of its significance to the taxon (i.e., C. lupus) to which it 
belongs. Our DPS policy states that this consideration may include, but 
is not limited to, the following: (1) Persistence of the discrete 
population segment in an ecological setting unusual or unique for the 
taxon; (2) evidence that loss of the discrete population segment would 
result in a significant gap in the range of the taxon; (3) evidence 
that the discrete population segment represents the only surviving 
natural occurrence of a taxon that may be more abundant elsewhere as an 
introduced population outside its historic range; and/or (4) evidence 
that the discrete population segment differs markedly from other 
populations of the species in its genetic characteristics.
    Based on our analysis of the best scientific information available, 
wolves in the NRM area are discrete in relation to the remainder of the 
taxon (i.e., Canis lupus) in that: (1) The NRM wolf populations exhibit 
substantial geographic isolation from all other wolf populations in the 
lower 48 States far exceeding the DPS policy's first criterion for 
discreteness; and (2) the international boundary between the United 
States and Canada meets the second discreteness criterion due to 
differences in exploitation and conservation status (see the 2006 ANPR 
(71 FR 6634, February 8, 2006) for a detailed analysis). Based on our 
analysis of the best scientific information available, wolves in the 
NRM area appear to meet the criterion of significance in that NRM 
wolves exist in a unique ecological setting and their loss would 
represent a significant gap in the range of the taxon (see ANPR (71 FR 
6634, February 8, 2006) for a detailed analysis).
    Although this finding has determined that the NRM population of 
gray wolves (currently limited to portions of Wyoming, Idaho, and 
Montana) is both discrete from other wolf populations (found in the 
Great Lakes Region and the southwestern United States) and significant 
to the taxon, therefore qualifying as a DPS, actually designating a DPS 
requires an official rulemaking process. This finding does not 
initiate, nor complete, such a process. While the ANPR put forward our 
preferred DPS boundaries (assuming adequate

[[Page 43417]]

regulatory mechanisms can be assured), the ANPR also discussed and 
requested comments on several other alternatives being considered (see 
the PUBLIC COMMENTS SOLICITED section of the ANPR at 71 FR 6634; 
February 8, 2006). We intend to fully evaluate this issue, including 
suggestions submitted as public comments, before proposing a DPS 
designation. When our evaluation is complete, we will publish another 
document in the Federal Register.
    While the ANPR suggested a preferred DPS that encompasses the 
eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon; a small part of north-
central Utah; and all of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, this 12-month 
finding is limited to Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. This finding focuses 
only on these three States because--(1) This action is a response to a 
petition that proposed an Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming DPS, (2) the most 
suitable wolf habitat in the NRMs and all suitable habitat significant 
to maintaining a recovered wolf population is contained within these 
three States (Service 1987; Carroll et al. 2003, 2006; Oakleaf et al. 
2006; 71 FR 6634), and (3) all ``occupied wolf habitat'' (defined in 
Factor A's ``Currently Occupied Habitat'') in the NRMs is limited to 
portions of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the ESA and regulations (50 CFR part 424) promulgated 
to implement the listing provisions of the ESA set forth the procedures 
for listing, reclassifying, and delisting species. Species may be 
listed as threatened or endangered if one or more of the five factors 
described in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA threaten the continued 
existence of the species. A species may be delisted, according to 50 
CFR 424.11(d), if the best scientific and commercial data available 
substantiate that the species is neither endangered nor threatened 
because of (1) extinction, (2) recovery, or (3) error in the original 
data used for classification of the species.
    A recovered population is one that no longer meets the ESA's 
definition of threatened or endangered. The ESA defines an endangered 
species as one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. A threatened species is one that is 
likely to become an endangered species in the foreseeable future 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Determining 
whether a species is recovered requires consideration of the same five 
categories of threats specified in section 4(a)(1). For species that 
are already listed as threatened or endangered, this analysis of 
threats is an evaluation of both the threats currently facing the 
species and the threats that are reasonably likely to affect the 
species in the foreseeable future following the delisting or 
downlisting and the removal or reduction of the ESA's protections.
    For the purposes of this notice, we consider `foreseeable future' 
to be 30 years. We use 30 years because it is a reasonable timeframe 
for analysis of future potential threats as they relate to wolf 
biology. Wolves were listed in 1973, and reached recovery levels in the 
NRMs by 2002. It has taken about 30 years for the causes of wolf 
endangerment to be alleviated and for those wolf populations to 
recover. The average lifespan of a wolf in YNP is less than 4 years and 
even lower outside the Park (Smith et al. 2006). The average gray wolf 
breeds at 30 months of age and replaces itself in 3 years (Fuller et 
al. 2003). We used 10 wolf generations (30 years) to represent a 
reasonable biological timeframe to determine if impacts could be 
significant. Any serious threats to wolf population viability are 
likely to become evident well before a 30-year time horizon.
    For the purposes of this notice, the ``range'' of the NRM wolf 
population is the area where viable populations of the species now 
exist. However, a species' historic range is also considered because it 
helps inform decisions on the species' status in its current range. 
While wolves historically occurred outside the areas currently 
occupied, large portions of this area are no longer able to support 
viable wolf populations.
    We view significance of a portion of the range in terms of 
biological significance. A portion of a species' range that is so 
important to the continued existence of the species that threats to the 
species in that area can threaten the viability of the species, 
subspecies, or DPS as a whole is considered to be a significant portion 
of the range. In regard to the NRM wolf population, the significant 

portions of the gray wolf's range are those areas that are important or 
necessary for maintaining a viable, self-sustaining, and evolving 
representative metapopulation in order for the NRM wolf population to 
persist into the foreseeable future.
    Our five-factor analysis follows.

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 
of Its Habitat or Range

    We believe that impacts to suitable and potentially suitable 
habitat will occur at levels that will not significantly affect wolf 
numbers or distribution in the NRMs as discussed in detail below. 
Occupied suitable habitat in key areas of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming 
is secure and sufficient to provide for a self-sustaining population of 
gray wolves in the absence of any other threats. These areas include 
Glacier National Park, Teton National Park, YNP, numerous U.S. Forest 
Service (USFS) Wilderness areas, and other State and Federal lands. 
These areas will continue to be managed for high ungulate densities, 
moderate rates of seasonal livestock grazing, moderate-to-low road 
densities that will provide abundant native prey, low potential for 
livestock conflicts, and security from excessive unregulated human-
caused mortality. The core recovery areas also are within proximity to 
one another and have enough public land between them to ensure 
sufficient connectivity to maintain the wolf population above recovery 
    Suitable Habitat--Wolves once occupied or transited most, if not 
all, of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. However, much of the wolf's 
historic range within this area has been modified for human use and is 
no longer suitable habitat. We used two relatively new models, Oakleaf 
et al. (2006) and Carroll et al. (2006), to help us gauge the current 
amount of suitable wolf habitat in the NRMs. Both models ranked areas 
as suitable habitat if they had characteristics that suggested they 
might have a 50 percent or greater chance of supporting wolf packs. 
Suitable wolf habitat in the NRMs was typically characterized by both 
models as public land with mountainous, forested habitat that contains 
abundant year-round wild ungulate populations, low road density, low 
numbers of domestic livestock that are only present seasonally, few 
domestic sheep, low agricultural use, and few people. Unsuitable wolf 
habitat was typically just the opposite (i.e., private land; flat open 
prairie or desert; low or seasonal wild ungulate populations; high road 
density; high numbers of year-round domestic livestock including many 
domestic sheep; high levels of agricultural use; and many people). 
Despite their similarities, there were substantial differences between 
these two models in their analysis area, layers, inputs, and 
assumptions. As a result, the Oakleaf et al. (2006) and Carroll et al. 
(2006) models predicted different amounts of theoretically suitable 
wolf habitat in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
    Oakleaf's basic model was a more intensive effort that only looked 
at potential wolf habitat in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming (Oakleaf et 
al. 2006). It used roads accessible to two-

[[Page 43418]]

wheel and four-wheel vehicles, topography (slope and elevation), land 
ownership, relative ungulate density (based on State harvest 
statistics), cattle (Bos sp.) and sheep (Ovis sp.) density, vegetation 
characteristics (ecoregions and land cover), and human density to 
comprise its geographic information system (GIS) layers. Oakleaf 
analyzed the characteristics of areas occupied and not occupied by NRM 
wolf packs through 2000 to predict what other areas in the NRM might be 
suitable or unsuitable for future wolf pack formation (Oakleaf et al. 
2006). In total, Oakleaf et al. (2006) ranked 170,228 km\2\ (65,725 
mi\2\) as suitable habitat in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
    In contrast, Carroll's model analyzed a much larger area (all 12 
western States and northern Mexico) in a less specific way (Carroll et 
al. 2006). Carroll's model used density and type of roads, human 
population density and distribution, slope, and vegetative greenness as 
``pseudo-habitat'' to estimate relative ungulate density to predict 
associated wolf survival and fecundity rates (Carroll et al. 2006). The 
combination of the GIS model and wolf population parameters were then 
used to develop estimates of habitat theoretically suitable for wolf 
pack persistence. In addition, Carroll predicted the potential effect 
on suitable wolf habitat of increased road development and human 
density expected by 2025 (Carroll et al. 2006). Carroll et al. (2006) 
ranked 265,703 km\2\ (102,588 mi\2\) as suitable habitat in Montana, 
Idaho, and Wyoming.
    We believe that the Carroll et al. (2006) model tended to be more 
liberal in identifying suitable wolf habitat under current conditions 
than either the Oakleaf (et al. 2006) model or our field observations 
indicate is realistic, but Carroll's model provided a valuable relative 
measure across the western United States upon which comparisons could 
be made. The Carroll model did not incorporate livestock density into 
its calculations as the Oakleaf model did (Carroll et al. 2006; Oakleaf 
et al. 2006). However, this ignores the fact that in situations where 
livestock and wolves both live in the same area, there will be some 
livestock losses, some wolf losses, and some wolf removal to reduce the 
rate of conflict. During the past 20 years, wolf packs have been unable 
to persist in areas intensively used for livestock production, 
primarily because of agency control of problem wolves and illegal 
killing. This level of wolf mortality occurred despite wolves being 
protected under the ESA, including areas where wolves are listed as 
    Many of the more isolated primary habitat patches that the Carroll 
model predicted as currently suitable were predicted as unsuitable by 
the year 2025, indicating they were likely on the lower end of what 
ranked as suitable habitat in that model (Carroll et al. 2006). Because 
these types of areas were typically small and isolated from the core 
population segments, we do not believe they are currently suitable 
habitat based upon on our data on wolf pack persistence for the past 10 
years (Bangs et al. 1998; Service et al. 1999-2006).
    Despite the substantial differences in each model's analysis area, 
layers, inputs, and assumptions, both models predicted that most 
suitable wolf habitat in the NRMs was in northwestern Montana, central 
Idaho, and the GYA, and in the area currently occupied by the NRM wolf 
population. They also indicated that these three areas were connected. 
However, northwest Montana and Idaho were more connected to each other 
than the GYA, and collectively the three cores areas were surrounded by 
large areas of unsuitable habitat.
    These models are useful in understanding the relative proportions 
and distributions of various habitat characteristics and their 
relationships to wolf pack persistence, rather than as predictors of 
absolute acreages or areas that can actually be occupied by wolf packs. 
Additionally, both models generally support earlier predictions about 
wolf habitat suitability in the NRM (Service 1980, 1987, 1994). Because 
theoretical models only define suitable habitat as those areas that 
have characteristics with a 50 percent or more chance of supporting 
wolf packs, it is impossible to give an exact acreage of suitable 
habitat that can actually be successfully occupied by wolf packs. It is 
important to note that these areas also have up to a 50 percent chance 
of not supporting wolf packs.
    We considered data on the location of suitable wolf habitat from a 
number of sources in developing our estimate of suitable wolf habitat 
in the NRMs. Specifically, we considered the locations estimated in the 
1987 wolf recovery plan (Service 1987), the primary analysis areas 
analyzed in the 1994 EIS for the GYA (63,700 km\2\ [24,600 mi\2\]) and 
central Idaho (53,600 km\2\ [20,700 mi\2\]) (Service 1994), information 
derived from theoretical models by Carroll et al. (2006) and Oakleaf et 
al. (2006), our nearly 20 years of field experience managing wolves in 
the NRM, and the persistence of wolf packs since recovery has been 
achieved. Collectively, this evidence leads us to concur with the 
Oakleaf et al. (2006) model's predictions that the most important 
habitat attributes for wolf pack persistence are forest cover, public 
land, high elk density, and low livestock density. Therefore, we 
believe that Oakleaf's calculations of the amount and distribution of 
suitable wolf habitat available for persistent wolf pack formation, in 
the parts of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming analyzed, represents the most 
reasonably realistic prediction of suitable wolf habitat in Montana, 
Idaho, and Wyoming.
    Currently Occupied Habitat--The area ``currently occupied'' by the 
NRM wolf population was calculated by drawing a line around the outer 
points of radio-telemetry locations of all known wolf pack (n=110) 
territories in 2004 (Service et al. 2005). We defined occupied wolf 
habitat as that area confirmed as being used by resident wolves to 
raise pups or that is consistently used by two or more territorial 
wolves for longer than 1 month (Service 1994). Although we relied upon 
2004 wolf monitoring data (Service et al. 2005), the overall 
distribution of wolf packs has been similar since 2000, despite a wolf 
population that has more than doubled (Service et al. 2001-2006). 
Because the States must commit to maintain a wolf population above the 
minimum recovery levels (first achieved in 2000), we expect this 
general distribution will be maintained. Occupied habitat changed 
little from 2004 (275,533 km\2\ [106,384 mi\2\]) to 2005 (260,535 km\2\ 
[100,593 mi\2\]) (Service et al. 2006), so we relied on the Montana, 
Idaho, and Wyoming portions of our analysis from the ANPR for this 12-
month finding.
    We included areas between the core recovery segments as occupied 
wolf habitat even though wolf packs did not persist in certain portions 
of it. While models ranked some of it as unsuitable habitat, those 
intervening areas are important to maintaining the metapopulation 
structure since dispersing wolves routinely travel through those areas 
(Service 1994; Bangs 2002). This would include areas such as the 
Flathead Valley and other smaller valleys intensively used for 
agriculture, and a few of the smaller, isolated mountain ranges 
surrounded by agricultural lands in west-central Montana.
    As of the end of 2004, we estimate approximately 275,533 km\2\ 
(106,384 mi\2\) of occupied habitat in parts of Montana (125,208 km\2\ 
[48,343 mi\2\]), Idaho (116,309 km\2\ [44,907 mi\2\]), and Wyoming 
(34,017 km\2\ [13,134 mi\2\]) (Service et al. 2005). As noted above, we 
are focusing on occupancy limited to

[[Page 43419]]

these three States and including both suitable and unsuitable areas 
(especially in the areas between wolf pack territories). Although 
currently occupied habitat includes some prairie (4,488 km\2\ [1,733 
mi\2\]) and some high desert (24,478 km\2\ [9,451 mi\2\]), wolf packs 
did not use these habitat types successfully (Service et al. 2005). 
Since 1986, no persistent wolf pack has had a majority of its home 
range in high desert or prairie habitat. Landownership in the occupied 
habitat area is 183,485 km\2\ (70,844 mi\2\) Federal (67 percent); 
12,217 km\2\ (4,717 mi\2\) State (4.4 percent); 3,064 km\2\ (1,183 
mi\2\) tribal (1.7 percent); and 71,678 km\2\ (27,675 mi\2\) private 
(26 percent) (Service et al. 2005).
    We determined that the current wolf population resembles a three-
segment metapopulation and that the overall area used by the NRM wolf 
population has not significantly expanded its range since the 
population achieved recovery. This indicates there is probably limited 
suitable habitat within Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming for the NRM wolf 
population to expand significantly beyond its current borders. 
Carroll's model predicted that 165,503 km\2\ (63,901 mi\2\) of suitable 
habitat (62 percent) was within the occupied area; however, the model's 
remaining potentially suitable habitat (38 percent) in Montana, Idaho, 
and Wyoming was often fragmented and in smaller, more isolated patches 
(Carroll et al. 2006). Suitable habitat within the occupied area, 
particularly between the population segments, is important to maintain 
the overall population. Habitat on the outer edge of the metapopulation 
is insignificant to maintaining the NRM wolf population's viability.
    Oakleaf et al. (2006) predicted that roughly 148,599 km\2\ (57,374 
mi\2\) or 87 percent of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana's suitable habitat 
was within the area we describe as the area currently occupied by the 
NRM wolf population. Substantial threats to this area would have the 
effect of threatening the viability of the NRM wolf population. These 
core areas are necessary for maintaining a viable, self-sustaining, and 
evolving representative metapopulation in order for the NRM wolf 
population to persist into the foreseeable future. We believe the 
remaining unoccupied, roughly 13 percent, of theoretical suitable wolf 
habitat (as described by Oakleaf et al. [2006]) is unimportant to 
maintaining the recovered wolf population. We nevertheless considered 
potential threats to this area.
    The requirement that Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming each maintain at 
least 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves in mid-winter ensures long-term 
viability of the NRM gray wolf population. The NRM wolf population 
occupies nearly 100 percent of the recovery areas recommended in the 
1987 recovery plan (i.e., the central Idaho, the GYA, and the 
northwestern Montana recovery areas) (Service 1987) and nearly 100 
percent of the primary analysis areas (the areas where suitable habitat 
was believed to exist and the wolf population would live) analyzed for 
wolf reintroduction in central Idaho and the GYA (Service 1994).
    Potential Threats Affecting Suitable and Currently Occupied 
Habitat--Establishing a recovered wolf population in the NRMs did not 
require land-use restrictions or curtailment of traditional land-uses 
because there was enough suitable habitat, enough wild ungulates, and 
sufficiently few livestock conflicts to recover wolves under existing 
conditions (Bangs et al. 2004). We do not believe that any traditional 
land-use practices in the NRMs need be modified to maintain a recovered 
NRM wolf population into the foreseeable future. We do not anticipate 
overall habitat changes in the NRMs occurring at a magnitude that will 
threaten wolf recovery in the foreseeable future because 70 percent of 
the suitable habitat is in public ownership that is managed for 
multiple uses, including maintenance of viable wildlife populations 
(Carroll et al. 2003; Oakleaf et al. 2006).
    The GYA and central Idaho recovery areas, 63,714 km2 
(24,600 mi2) and 53,613 km2 (20,700 
mi2), respectively, are primarily composed of public lands 
(Service 1994) and are the largest contiguous blocks of suitable 
habitat within Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Central Idaho and the GYA 
provide secure habitat and abundant ungulate populations with about 
99,300 ungulates in the GYA and 241,400 in central Idaho (Service 
1994). These areas provide optimal suitable habitat to help maintain a 
viable wolf population (Service 1994). The central Idaho recovery area 
has 24,281 km2 (9,375 mi2) of designated 
wilderness at its core (Service 1994). The GYA recovery area has a core 
including over 8,094 km2 (3,125 mi2) in YNP and, 
although less useful to wolves due to high elevation, about 16,187 
km2 (6,250 mi2) of designated wilderness (Service 
1994). These areas are in public ownership, and no foreseeable habitat-
related threats would prevent them from anchoring a wolf population 
that exceeds recovery levels.
    While the northwestern Montana recovery area (>49,728 
km2 [>19,200 mi2]) (Service 1994) also has a core 
of suitable habitat (Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshal 
Wilderness Complex), it is not as high quality, as large, or as 
contiguous as that in either central Idaho or GYA. The primary reason 
for this is that ungulates do not winter throughout the area because it 
is higher in elevation. Most wolf packs in northwestern Montana live 
west of the Continental Divide, where forest habitats are a fractured 
mix of private and public lands (Service et al. 1999-2006). This 
exposes wolves to higher levels of human-caused mortality, and thus 
this area supports smaller and fewer wolf packs. Wolf dispersal into 
northwestern Montana from the more stable resident packs in the core 
protected area (largely the North Fork of the Flathead River along the 
eastern edge of Glacier National Park and the few large river drainages 
in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex) helps to maintain that segment 
of the NRM wolf population. Wolves also disperse into northwestern 
Montana from Canada and some packs have trans-boundary territories, 
helping to maintain the NRM population (Boyd et al. 1995). Conversely, 
wolf dispersal from northwestern Montana into Canada, where wolves are 
much less protected, continues to draw some wolves into vacant or low 
density habitats in Canada where they are subject to legal hunting 
(Bangs et al. 1998). The trans-boundary movements of wolves and wolf 
packs led to the establishment of wolves in Montana, and will continue 
to have an overall positive effect on wolf genetic diversity and 
demography in the northwest Montana segment of the NRM wolf population.
    Within occupied suitable habitat, enough public land exists so that 
NRM wolf populations can be safely maintained above recovery levels. 
Important suitable wolf habitat is in public ownership, and the States 
and Federal land-management agencies are likely to continue to manage 
habitat that will provide forage and security for high ungulate 
populations, sufficient cover for wolf security, and low road density. 
Carroll et al. (2003, 2006) predicted future wolf habitat suitability 
under several scenarios through 2025, including increased human 
population growth and road development. Those threats were not 
predicted to alter wolf habitat suitability in Montana, Idaho, and 
Wyoming enough to cause the wolf population to fall below recovery 
    The recovery plan (Service 1987), the metapopulation structure 
recommended by the 1994 EIS (Service 1994), and subsequent 
investigations (Bangs 2002) recognize the importance of some

[[Page 43420]]

habitat connectivity between northwestern Montana, central Idaho, and 
the GYA. There appears to be enough habitat connectivity between 
occupied wolf habitat in Canada, northwestern Montana, Idaho, and (to a 
lesser extent) the GYA to ensure exchange of sufficient numbers of 
dispersing wolves to maintain demographic and genetic diversity in the 
NRM wolf metapopulation (Oakleaf et al. 2006; Carroll et al. 2006; 
Wayne et al., 2005; Boyd et al. in prep.). To date, from radio-
telemetry monitoring, we have documented routine wolf movement between 
Canada and northwestern Montana (Pletscher et al. 1991; Boyd and 
Pletscher 1999), occasional wolf movement between Idaho and Montana, 
and at least 11 wolves have traveled into the GYA (Wayne et al., 2005; 
Boyd et al. 1995; Boyd et al. in prep.). Because we know only about the 
30 percent of the wolf population that has been radio-collared, 
additional dispersal has undoubtedly occurred. This demonstrates that 
current habitat conditions allow dispersing wolves to occasionally 
travel from one recovery area to another. Finally, the Montana State 
plan (the key State regarding connectivity) commits to maintaining 
natural connectivity to ensure the genetic integrity of the NRM wolf 
population by promoting land uses, such as traditional ranching, that 
enhance wildlife habitat and conservation.
    Another important factor in maintaining wolf populations is the 
native ungulate population. Wild ungulate prey in these three areas are 
composed mainly of elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer (Odocoileus 
hemionus), moose (Alces alces), and (only in the GYA) bison (Bison 
bison). Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), mountain goats (Oreamnos 
americanus), and pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) also are 
common but not important, at least to date, as wolf prey. In total, 
100,000-250,000 wild ungulates are estimated in each NRM State where 
wolf packs currently exist (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) (Service 
1994). All three States have managed resident ungulate populations for 
decades and maintain them at densities that would easily support a 
recovered wolf population. There is no foreseeable condition that would 
cause a decline in ungulate populations significant enough to threaten 
the recovered status of the NRM wolf population.
    Cattle and sheep are at least twice as numerous as wild ungulates 
even on public lands (Service 1994). The only areas large enough to 
support wolf packs, but lacking livestock grazing, are YNP, Glacier 
National Park, some adjacent United States Forest Service (USFS) 
Wilderness areas, and parts of wilderness areas in central Idaho and 
northwestern Montana. Consequently, many wolf pack territories have 
included areas used by livestock, primarily cattle. Every wolf pack 
outside these areas has interacted with some livestock, primarily 
cattle. Livestock and livestock carrion are routinely used by wolves, 
but management discourages chronic use of livestock as prey. Conflict 
between wolves and livestock has resulted in the annual removal of some 
wolves (Bangs et al. 1995, 2004, 2005, 2006 in press; Service et al. 
2006). This is discussed further under Factors D and E.
    Unoccupied Suitable Habitat--Habitat suitability modeling indicates 
the NRM core recovery areas are atypical of other habitats in the 
western United States because suitable habitat in those core areas 
occurs in such large contiguous blocks (Service 1987; Larson 2004; 
Carroll et al. 2006; Oakleaf et al. 2006). It is likely that without 
core refugia areas, like YNP and the central Idaho wilderness, that 
provide a steady influx of dispersing wolves, other potentially 
suitable wolf habitat would not be capable of sustaining wolf packs. 
Some habitat that is ranked by models as suitable that is adjacent to 
core refugia, like central Idaho, may be able to support wolf packs, 
while some theoretically suitable habitat that is farther away from a 
strong source of dispersing wolves may not be able to support 
persistent packs. This fact is important to consider as suitable 
habitat, as defined by the Carroll (et al. 2006) and Oakleaf (et al. 
2006) models, still only has a 50 percent or greater chance of being 
successfully occupied by wolf packs and significantly contributing to 
overall population recovery. Therefore, not all habitat predicted by 
models as suitable habitat can be successfully occupied by wolf packs.
    Strips and smaller (less than 2,600 km2 [1,000 
mi2]) patches of theoretically suitable habitat (Carroll et 
al. 2006; Oakleaf et al. 2006) (typically isolated mountain ranges) 
often possess higher mortality risk for wolves because of their 
enclosure by, and proximity to, areas of high mortality risk. This 
phenomenon, in which the quality and quantity of suitable habitat is 
diminished because of interactions with surrounding less-suitable 
habitat, is known as an edge effect (Mills 1995). Edge effects are 
exacerbated in small habitat patches with high perimeter-to-area ratios 
(i.e., those that are long and narrow, like isolated mountain ranges) 
and in long-distance dispersing species, like wolves, because they are 
more likely to encounter surrounding unsuitable habitat (Woodroffe and 
Ginsberg 1998). This suggests that even though some habitat outside the 
core areas may rank as suitable in models, it is unlikely to actually 
be successfully occupied by wolf packs. For these reasons, we believe 
that the NRM wolf population will remain centered around the three 
recovery areas. These core population segments will continue to provide 
a constant source of dispersing wolves into surrounding areas, 
supplementing wolf packs in adjacent but less secure suitable habitat.
    Therefore, we do not foresee that impacts to suitable and 
potentially suitable habitat will occur at levels that will 
significantly affect wolf numbers or distribution or affect population 
recovery and long-term viability in the NRMs. Occupied suitable habitat 
is secured by core recovery areas in northwestern Montana, central 
Idaho, and the GYA. These areas include Glacier National Park, Teton 
National Park, YNP, numerous USFS Wilderness areas, and other State and 
Federal lands. These areas will continue to be managed for high 
ungulate densities, moderate rates of seasonal livestock grazing, 
moderate-to-low road densities associated with abundant native prey, 
low potential for livestock conflicts, and security from excessive 
unregulated human-caused mortality. The core recovery areas also are 
within proximity to one another and have enough public land between 
them to ensure sufficient connectivity.
    No significant threats to the suitable habitat in these areas are 
known to exist. These areas have long been recognized as the most 
likely areas to successfully support 30 or more breeding pairs of 
wolves, comprising 300 or more individuals in a metapopulation with 
some genetic exchange between subpopulations (Service 1980, 1987, 1994; 
71 FR 6634). Unsuitable habitat, and small, fragmented areas of 
suitable habitat away from these core areas, largely represent 
geographic locations where wolf packs cannot persist. Although such 
areas may have been historic habitat, these areas are not important or 
necessary for maintaining a viable, self-sustaining, and evolving 
representative wolf population in the NRMs into the foreseeable future. 
These areas are not a significant portion of the range for the NRM wolf 

[[Page 43421]]

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    As detailed below, overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes has not been a significant threat 
to the NRM wolf population, particularly in Idaho, Montana, and 
Wyoming. Delisting NRM wolves would not threaten recovery by excessive 
changes in mortality rates caused by commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes. However, as discussed later in 
Factor D, there are potential concerns that human-caused mortality 
associated with management of delisted wolves in Wyoming as predatory 
animals would exceed sustainable levels.
    Since their listing under the ESA, no gray wolves have been legally 
killed or removed from the wild in the NRMs for commercial, 
recreational, or educational purposes. In the NRMs, about 3 percent of 
the wolves captured for scientific research, nonlethal control, and 
monitoring have been accidentally killed (Service Weekly Reports 1995-
2006). Some wolves may have been illegally killed for commercial use of 
the pelts and other parts, but we believe illegal commercial 
trafficking in wolf pelts or wolf parts is rare. Illegal capture of 
wolves for commercial breeding purposes also is possible, but we 
believe it to be extremely rare. We believe the potential for ``take'' 
prosecution provided for by the ESA has discouraged and minimized the 
illegal killing of wolves for commercial or recreational purposes. 
Although Federal penalties under the ESA will not apply if delisting 
were to be finalized, other Federal laws will still protect wildlife in 
National Parks and on other Federal lands (Service 1994). In addition, 
the States and Tribes have similar laws and regulations that protect 
game or trophy animals from overutilization for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, and educational purposes (See Factor D for a 
more detailed discussion of this issue and weblinks to applicable State 
laws and regulations). We believe these laws will continue to provide a 
strong deterrent to illegal killing by the public as they have been 
effective in State-led conservation programs for other resident 
wildlife. In addition, the State fish and game agencies, National Parks 
and other Federal agencies, and most Tribes have well-distributed 
experienced cadres of professional law enforcement officers to help 
enforce State, Federal, and Tribal wildlife regulations (See Factor D).
    Scientific Research and Monitoring--From 1984 to 2005, the Service 
and our cooperating partners captured about 814 NRM wolves for 
monitoring, nonlethal control, and research purposes with 23 accidental 
deaths. If NRM wolves were delisted, the States, National Parks, and 
tribes would continue to capture and radio-collar wolves in the NRM 
area for monitoring and research purposes in accordance with their 
State wolf management plans (See Factor D). We expect that capture-
caused mortality by Federal agencies, universities, States, and tribes 
conducting wolf monitoring, nonlethal control, and research will remain 
below 3 percent of the wolves captured, and will be an insignificant 
source of mortality to the wolf population.
    Education--We are unaware of any wolves that have been legally 
removed from the wild for solely educational purposes in recent years. 
Wolves that are used for such purposes are usually the captive-reared 
offspring of wolves that were already in captivity for other reasons. 
However, States may get requests to place wolves that would otherwise 
be euthanized in captivity for research or educational purposes. Such 
requests have been, and will continue to be, rare; would be closely 
regulated by the State wildlife management agencies through the 
requirement for State permits for protected species; and would not 
substantially increase human-caused wolf mortality rates.
    Commercial and Recreational Uses--In Idaho and Montana, any legal 
take after delisting would be regulated by State or tribal law so that 
it would not jeopardize each State's share of the NRM wolf population 
(See Factor D). Currently, Wyoming State law does not regulate human-
caused mortality to wolves throughout most of Wyoming (see Factor D for 
a more detailed description of this issue). This was one of the primary 
reasons the Service did not approve the final Wyoming Plan (WGFD 2003; 
Williams, 2004). Because wolves are highly territorial, wolf 
populations in saturated habitat naturally limit further population 
increases through wolf-to-wolf conflict or dispersal to unoccupied 
habitat. Wolf populations can maintain themselves despite a sustained 
human-caused mortality rate of 30 percent or more per year (Keith 1983; 
Fuller et al. 2003), and human-caused mortality can replace up to 70 
percent of natural mortality (Fuller et al. 2003). Wolf pups can be 
successfully raised by other pack members and breeding individuals 
quickly replaced by other wolves (Brainerd et al. in prep.). This means 
that wolf populations are quite resilient to human-caused mortality if 
it can be regulated. Montana and Idaho would regulate human-caused 
mortality to manipulate wolf distribution and overall population size 
to help reduce conflicts with livestock and, in some cases, human 
hunting of big game, just as they do for other resident species of 
wildlife. The States (except for Wyoming) and tribes would allow 
regulated public harvest of surplus wolves in the NRM wolf population 
for commercial and recreational purposes by regulated private and 
guided hunting and trapping. Such take and any commercial use of wolf 
pelts or other parts would be regulated by State or tribal law (See 
discussion of State laws and plans under Factor D). The regulated take 
of those surplus wolves would not affect wolf population recovery or 
viability in the NRM because the States of Montana and Idaho (and 
Wyoming, if its plan is approved in the future) would allow such take 
only for wolves that are surplus to achieving the State's commitment to 
maintaining a recovered population. Regulated hunting and trapping are 
traditional and effective wildlife management tools that are to be 
applied to help achieve State and tribal wolf management objectives as 
    In summary, the States have organizations and regulatory and 
enforcement systems in place to limit human-caused mortality of 
resident wildlife (except for wolves in Wyoming). Montana and Idaho's 
State plans commit these States to regulate all take of wolves, 
including that for commercial, recreational, scientific, and 
educational purposes, and will incorporate any tribal harvest as part 
of the overall level of allowable take to ensure that the wolf 
population does not fall below the NRM wolf population's numerical and 
distributional recovery levels. Wyoming's regulatory framework would 
not adequately regulate human-caused mortality. The States and tribes 
have humane and professional animal handling protocols and trained 
personnel that will ensure that population monitoring and research 
results in few unintentional mortalities. Furthermore, the State 
permitting process for captive wildlife and animal care will ensure 
that few, if any wolves, will be removed from the wild solely for 
educational purposes.

C. Disease or Predation

    As discussed in detail below, there are a wide range of diseases 
that may affect the NRM wolves. However, there are no indications that 
these diseases are of such magnitude that the population is in danger 
of extinction, particularly within Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. 
Similarly, there are no indications that predation poses a

[[Page 43422]]

significant threat to the NRM wolf population. The rates of mortality 
caused by disease and predation are well within acceptable limits, and 
there is no reason to expect those rates to change appreciably if NRM 
wolves were delisted.
    Disease--NRM wolves are exposed to a wide variety of diseases and 
parasites that are common throughout North America. Many diseases 
(viruses and bacteria, many protozoa and fungi) and parasites 
(helminthes and arthropods) have been reported for the gray wolf, and 
several of them have had significant, but temporary impacts during wolf 
recovery in the 48 conterminous States (Brand et al. 1995; Kreeger 
2003). The EIS on gray wolf reintroduction identified disease impact as 
an issue, but did not evaluate it further, as it appeared to be 
insignificant (Service 1994). Infectious disease induced by parasitic 
organisms is a normal feature of the life of wild animals, and the 
typical wild animal hosts a broad multi-species community of 
potentially harmful parasitic organisms (Wobeser 2002). We fully 
anticipate that these diseases and parasites will follow the same 
pattern seen in other areas of North America (Brand et al. 1995; Bailey 
et al. 1995; Kreeger 2003) and will not significantly threaten wolf 
population viability. Nevertheless, because these diseases and 
parasites, and perhaps others, have the potential to impact wolf 
population distribution and demographics, careful monitoring (as per 
the State wolf management plans) will track such events. Should such an 
outbreak occur, human-caused mortality, except in Wyoming, would be 
regulated in an area and over an appropriate time period by the State 
to ensure populations are maintained above recovery levels.
    Canine parvovirus (CPV) infects wolves, domestic dogs (Canis 
familiaris), foxes (Vulpes), coyotes (Canis latrans), skunks (Mephitis 
mephitis), and raccoons (Procyon lotor). The population impacts of CPV 
occur via diarrhea-induced dehydration leading to abnormally high pup 
mortality (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 1999). Clinical 
CPV is characterized by severe hemorrhagic diarrhea and vomiting; 
debility and subsequent mortality is a result of dehydration, 
electrolyte imbalances, and shock. CPV has been detected in nearly 
every wolf population in North America including Alaska (Bailey et al. 
1995; Brand et al. 1995; Kreeger 2003), and exposure in wolves is 
thought to be almost universal. Currently, nearly 100 percent of the 
wolves handled by MFWP (M. Atkinson, MFWP, pers. comm., 2005) had blood 
antibodies indicating exposure to CPV. CPV contributed to low pup 
survival in the northern range of YNP in 1999, and was suspected to 
have done so again in 2005 (Smith, pers. comm., 2005). However, the 
impact to the overall NRM wolf population was localized and temporary, 
as has been documented elsewhere (Bailey et al. 1995; Brand et al. 
1995; Kreeger 2003).
    Canine distemper is an acute, fever-causing disease of carnivores 
caused by a paramyxo-virus (Kreeger 2003). It is common in domestic 
dogs and some wild canids, such as coyotes and foxes in the NRMs 
(Kreeger 2003). The seroprevalence in North American wolves is about 17 
percent (Kreeger 2003). Nearly 85 percent of Montana wolf blood samples 
analyzed in 2005 had blood antibodies indicating non-lethal exposure to 
canine distemper (M. Atkinson, pers. comm., 2005). Mortality in wolves 
has only been documented in Canada (Carbyn 1992), Alaska (Peterson et 
al. 1984; Bailey et al. 1995), and in a single Wisconsin pup (Wydeven 
and Wiedenhoeft 2003). Distemper is not a major mortality factor in 
wolves, because despite exposure to the virus, affected wolf 
populations demonstrate good recruitment (Brand et al. 1995). Mortality 
from canine distemper has never been documented in NRM wolves despite 
the wolves' high exposure to it, but we suspect it contributed to the 
high pup mortality documented in the northern GYA in spring 2005 (Smith 
et al. 2006).
    Lyme disease, caused by a spirochete bacterium, is spread primarily 
by deer ticks (Ixodes dammini). Host species include humans, horses 
(Equus caballus), dogs, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, white-footed 
mice (Peromyscus leucopus), eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus), 
coyotes, and wolves. Lyme disease has not been reported from wolves 
beyond the Great Lakes regions (Wisconsin Department of Natural 
Resources 1999; Johnson et al. 1994). In those populations, it does not 
appear to cause adult mortality, but might be suppressing population 
growth by decreasing wolf pup survival.
    Sarcoptic mange is caused by a mite (Sarcoptes scabeii) that 
infests the skin. The irritation caused by feeding and burrowing mites 
results in intense itching, resulting in scratching and severe fur 
loss, which can lead to mortality from exposure during severe winter 
weather or secondary infections (Kreeger 2003). Advanced sarcoptic 
mange can involve the entire body and can cause emaciation, decreased 
flight distance, staggering, and death (Kreeger 2003). In a long-term 
Alberta wolf study, higher wolf densities were correlated with 
increased incidence of mange, and pup survival decreased as the 
incidence of mange increased (Brand et al. 1995). Mange has been shown 
to temporarily affect wolf population growth rates and perhaps wolf 
distribution (Kreeger 2003).
    Mange has been detected in, and caused mortality to, wolves in the 
NRM, but almost exclusively in the GYA, and primarily east of the 
Continental Divide (Jimenez et al. in prep.). Those wolves likely 
contracted mange from coyotes or fox whose populations experience 
occasional outbreaks. In southwestern Montana, 8 percent of 12 packs in 
2003, 24 percent of 17 packs in 2004, and 61 percent of 18 packs in 
2005, showed evidence of mange, although not all members of every pack 
appeared infested (Jimenez et al. in prep.). In Wyoming, east of the 
YNP, 12.5 percent of 8 packs in 2003, 22 percent of 9 packs in 2003 and 
2004, and 0 percent of 13 packs in 2005, showed evidence of mange 
(Jimenez et al. in prep.). Mange has not been confirmed in wolves from 
Idaho or northwestern Montana (Jimenez et al. in prep.). In packs with 
the most severe infestations, pup survival appeared low, and some 
adults died (Jimenez et al. in prep.). In addition, we euthanized three 
wolves with severe mange. We predict that mange in the NRMs will act as 
it has in other parts of North America (Brand et al. 1995; Kreeger 
2003) and not threaten wolf population viability. Evidence suggests NRM 
wolves will not be infested on a chronic population-wide level given 
the recent response of Wyoming wolf packs that naturally overcame mange 
    Dog-biting lice (Trichodectes canis) commonly feed on domestic 
dogs, but can infest coyotes and wolves (Schwartz et al. 1983; Mech et 
al. 1985). The lice can attain severe infestations, particularly in 
pups. The worst infestations can result in severe scratching, irritated 
and raw skin, substantial hair loss particularly in the groin, and poor 
condition. While no wolf mortality has been confirmed, death from 
exposure and/or secondary infection following self-inflicted trauma, 
caused by the inflammation and itching, appears possible. For the first 
time, we confirmed dog-biting lice on two members of the Battlefield 
pack in the Big Hole Valley of southwestern Montana in 2005, and on a 
wolf in south-central Idaho in early 2006, but their infestations were 
not severe (Service Weekly Wolf Reports 2005-2006). Its source is 
unknown, but was likely domestic dogs.

[[Page 43423]]

    Rabies, canine heartworm, blastomycosis, brucellosis, neosporsis, 
leptospirosis, bovine tuberculosis, canine coronavirus, hookworm, 
coccidiosis, and canine hepatitis have all been documented in wild gray 
wolves, but their impacts on future wild wolf populations are not 
likely to be significant (Brand et al. 1995; Johnson 1995a, b; Mech and 
Kurtz 1999; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 1999; Kreeger 
2003). Canid rabies caused local population declines in Alaska (Ballard 
and Krausman 1997) and may temporarily limit population growth or 
distribution where another species, such as arctic foxes, act as a 
reservoir for the disease. Range expansion could provide new avenues 
for exposure to several of these diseases, especially canine heartworm, 
rabies, bovine tuberculosis, and possibly new diseases such as chronic 
wasting disease and West Nile virus, further emphasizing the need for 
vigilant disease monitoring programs.
    Since several of the diseases and parasites are known to be spread 
by wolf-to-wolf contact, their incidence may increase if wolf densities 
increase. However, because wolf densities appear to be stabilizing 
(Service et al. 2006), wolf-to-wolf contacts will not likely lead to a 
continuing increase in disease prevalence. The wolves' exposure to 
these types of organisms may be most common outside of the core 
population areas, where domestic dogs are most common, and lowest in 
the core population areas because wolves tend to flow out of, not into, 
saturated habitats. Despite this dynamic, we assume that all NRM wolves 
have some exposure to all diseases and parasites in the system. 
Diseases or parasites have not been a significant threat to wolf 
population recovery in the NRM to date, nor are they likely to be.
    In terms of future monitoring, each post-delisting management 
entity (State, tribal, and Federal) in the NRMs has wildlife agency 
specialists with sophisticated wildlife health monitoring protocols, 
including assistance from veterinarians, disease experts, and wildlife 
health laboratories. Each State has committed to monitor the NRM wolf 
population for significant disease and parasite problems. These State 
wildlife health programs often cooperate with Federal agencies and 
universities and usually have both reactive and proactive wildlife 
health monitoring protocols. Reactive strategies are the periodic 
intensive investigations after disease or parasite problems have been 
detected through routine management practices, such as pelt 
examination, reports from hunters, research projects, or population 
monitoring. Proactive strategies often involve ongoing routine 
investigation of wildlife health information through collection and 
analysis of blood and tissue samples from all or a sub-sample of 
wildlife carcasses or live animals that are handled.
    Natural Predation--There are no wild animals that routinely prey on 
gray wolves (Ballard et al. 2003). Occasionally wolves have been killed 
by large prey such as elk, deer, bison, and moose (Mech and Nelson 
1989; Smith et al. 2000, 2006; Mech and Peterson 2003), but those 
instances are few. Since the 1980s, wolves in the NRM have died from 
wounds they received while attacking prey on about a dozen occasions 
(Smith et al. 2006). That level of mortality could not significantly 
affect wolf population viability or stability.
    Since NRM wolves have been monitored, only three wolves have been 
confirmed killed by other large predators. Two adults were killed by 
mountain lions, and one pup was killed by a grizzly bear (Jimenez et 
al. 2006). Wolves in the NRM inhabit the same areas as mountain lions, 
grizzly bears, and black bears, but conflicts rarely result in the 
death of either species. Wolves evolved with other large predators, and 
no other large predators in North America, except humans, have the 
potential to significantly impact wolf populations.
    Other wolves are the largest cause of natural predation among 
wolves. Numerous mortalities have resulted from territorial conflicts 
between wolves and about 3 percent of the wolf population is removed 
annually by territorial conflict in the NRM wolf population (Smith, 
pers. comm., 2005). Wherever wolf packs occur, including the NRM, some 
low level of wolf mortality will result from territorial conflict. Wolf 
populations tend to regulate their own density. Consequently 
territorial conflict is highest in saturated habitats. That cause of 
mortality is infrequent and does not result in a level of mortality 
that would significantly affect a wolf population's viability in the 
NRMs (Smith, pers. comm., 2005).
    Human-caused Predation--Wolves are very susceptible to human-caused 
mortality, especially in open habitats such as those that occur in the 
western United States (Bangs et al. 2004). An active eradication 
program is the sole reason that wolves were extirpated from the NRM 
(Weaver 1978). Humans kill wolves for a number of reasons. In all 
locations where people, livestock, and wolves coexist, some wolves are 
killed to resolve conflicts with livestock (Fritts et al. 2003). 
Occasionally, wolf killings are accidental (e.g., wolves are hit by 
vehicles, mistaken for coyotes and shot, or caught in traps set for 
other animals) (Service et al. 2005). Some of these accidental killings 
are reported to State, Tribal, and Federal authorities.
    However, many wolf killings are intentional, illegal, and are never 
reported to authorities. Wolves do not appear particularly wary of 
people or human activity, and that makes them very vulnerable to human-
caused mortality (Mech and Boitani 2003). In the NRM, mountain 
topography concentrates both wolf and human activity in valley bottoms 
(Boyd and Pletscher 1999), especially in winter, which increases wolf 
exposure to human-caused mortality. The number of illegal killings is 
difficult to estimate and impossible to accurately determine because 
they generally occur in areas with few witnesses. Often the evidence 
has decayed by the time the wolf's carcass is discovered or the 
evidence is destroyed or concealed by the perpetrators. While human-
caused mortality, including illegal killing, has not prevented 
population recovery, it has affected NRM wolf distribution (Bangs et 
al. 2004). In the past 20 years, no wolf packs have successfully 
established and persisted solely in open prairie or high desert 
habitats that are used for intensive agriculture production (Service et 
al. 2006).
    As part of the interagency wolf monitoring program and various 
research projects, up to 30 percent of the NRM wolf population has been 
radio-collared since the 1980s (Service Weekly Wolf Reports 1995-2006). 
The annual survival rate of mature wolves in northwestern Montana and 
adjacent Canada from 1984-1995 was 80 percent (Pletscher et al. 1997); 
84 percent for resident wolves and 66 percent for dispersers. That 
study found 84 percent of wolf mortality to be human-caused. Bangs et 
al. (1998) found similar statistics, with humans causing most wolf 
mortality. Radio-collared wolves in the largest blocks of remote 
habitat without livestock, such as central Idaho and YNP, had annual 
survival rates around 80 percent (Smith et al. 2006). Wolves outside of 
large remote areas had survival rates as low as 54 percent in some 
years (D. Smith pers. comm., 2006). This is among the lower end of 
adult wolf survival rates that an isolated population can sustain 
(Fuller et al. 2003).
    These survival rates may be biased. Wolves are more likely to be 
radio-collared if they come into conflict with people, so the 
proportion of mortality caused by agency depredation control

[[Page 43424]]

actions could be overestimated by radio-telemetry data. People who 
illegally kill wolves may destroy the radio-collar, so the proportion 
of illegal mortality could be underestimated. However, wolf populations 
have continued to expand in the face of ongoing levels of human-caused 
    An ongoing preliminary analysis of the survival data among NRM 
radio-collared wolves (n=716) (D. Smith, pers. comm., 2006) from 1984 
through 2004 indicates that about 26 percent of adult-sized wolves die 
every year, so annual adult survival averages about 74 percent, which 
typically allows wolf population growth (Keith 1983; Fuller et al. 
2003). Humans caused just over 75 percent of all radio-collared wolf 
deaths (D. Smith, pers. comm., 2005). This type of analysis does not 
estimate the cause or rate of survival among pups younger than 7 months 
of age because they are too small to radio-collar. Agency control of 
problem wolves and illegal killing are the two largest causes of wolf 
death; combined these causes remove nearly 20 percent of the population 
annually and are responsible for a majority of all known wolf deaths 
(Smith et al. 2006).
    Wolf mortality from agency control of problem wolves (which 
includes legal take by private individuals under defense of property 
regulations in rules promulgated under section 10(j) of the ESA) is 
estimated to remove around 10 percent of adult radio-collared wolves 
annually. From 1995-2005, 30 wolves were legally killed by private 
citizens under Federal defense of property regulations (Service 1994; 
70 FR 1285) that, except for Wyoming, are similar to State laws that 
would take effect and direct take of problem wolves by both the public 
and agencies if wolves were delisted. Agency control removed 396 
problem wolves from 1987-2005, indicating that private citizen take 
(about 7 percent) under State defense of property laws would not 
significantly increase the overall rate of problem wolf removal (Bangs 
et al. 2006). Wolves have been illegally killed by shooting and 
poisoning, and radio collar tracking data indicate that illegal killing 
is as common a cause of wolf death as agency control, illegal killing 
removes around 10 percent the adult wolf population annually (D. Smith, 
pers. comm. 2006). A comparison of the overall wolf population and the 
number of problem wolves removed indicates agency control removes, on 
average, about 7 percent of the overall wolf population annually 
(Service et al. 2006). Wolf mortality under State and Tribal defense of 
property regulations incidental to other legal activities, agency 
control of problem wolves, and legal hunting and trapping would be 
regulated by the States and Tribes (except in Wyoming) if the ESA's 
protections were removed. Regulated wolf mortality is to be managed so 
it would not reduce wolf numbers or distribution below recovery levels. 
This issue is discussed further below under Factor D.
    The overall causes and rates of annual wolf mortality vary based 
upon a wide number of variables. Wolves in higher quality suitable 
habitat, such as remote, forested areas with few livestock (like 
National Parks), have higher survival rates. Wolves in unsuitable 
habitat and areas without substantial refugia have higher overall 
mortality rates. Mortality rates also vary depending on whether the 
wolves are resident pack members or dispersers, if they have a history 
with livestock depredation, or have been relocated (Bradley et al. 
2005). However, overall wolf mortality has been low enough from 1987 
until the present time that the wolf population in the NRM has steadily 
increased. It is now at least twice as numerous as needed to meet 
recovery levels and is distributed throughout most suitable habitat 
(Service 1987, 1994).
    If the NRM wolf population were to be delisted, State management 
would likely increase the mortality rate outside National Parks, 
National Wildlife Refuges, and Tribal reservations, from its current 
level of about 26 percent annually (D. Smith, pers. comm. 2006). Wolf 
mortality as high as 50 percent annually may be sustainable (Fuller et 
al. 2003). The States, except Wyoming, have the regulatory 
authorization and commitment to regulate human-caused mortality so that 
the wolf population remains above its numerical and distributional 
recovery goals. This issue is discussed further below under Factor D.
    In summary, human-caused mortality to adult radio-collared wolves 
in the NRMs, which averages about 20 percent per year (D. Smith, pers. 
comm. 2006), still allowed for rapid wolf population growth. The 
protection of wolves under the ESA promoted rapid initial wolf 
population growth in suitable habitat. The States, except for Wyoming, 
have committed to continue to regulate human-caused mortality so that 
it does not reduce the wolf population below recovery levels. Except 
for Wyoming, the States have adequate laws and regulations (see Factor 
D). Each post-delisting management entity (State, Tribal, and Federal) 
has experienced and professional wildlife staff to ensure those 
commitments can be accomplished.

D. The Adequacy or Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    To address this factor, we compare the current regulatory 
mechanisms within Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming to the future mechanisms 
that would provide the framework for wolf management after delisting. 
State and Tribal programs are designed to maintain a recovered wolf 
population while minimizing damage to that population by allowing for 
removal of wolves in areas of chronic conflict or in unsuitable 
habitat. The three States have proposed wolf management plans that 
would govern how wolves are to be managed if delisted. As discussed 
below, we have approved Idaho's and Montana's plans because these 
States have proposed management objectives that would likely maintain 
at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves per State by managing for a 
safety margin of 15 packs in each State well into the foreseeable 
future. However, we have been unable to approve the Wyoming law and 
plan because it does not provide for sustainable levels of protection 
(Williams 2004).
Current Wolf Management
    The 1980 and 1987 NRM wolf recovery plans (Service 1980, 1987) 
recognized that conflict with livestock was the major reason that 
wolves were extirpated and that management of conflicts was a necessary 
component of wolf restoration. The plans also recognized that control 
of problem wolves was necessary to maintain local public tolerance of 
wolves and that removal of so few wolves would not prevent the wolf 
population from achieving recovery. In 1988, the Service developed an 
interim wolf control plan that applied to Montana and Wyoming (Service 
1988); the plan was amended in 1990 to include Idaho and eastern 
Washington (Service 1990). We analyzed the effectiveness of those plans 
in 1999, and revised our guidelines for management of problem wolves 
listed as endangered (Service 1999). Evidence showed that most wolves 
do not attack livestock, especially larger livestock such as adult 
horses and cattle, but wolf presence around livestock will result in 
some level of depredation (Bangs et al. 2005). Therefore, we developed 
a set of guidelines under which depredating wolves could be harassed, 
moved, or killed by agency officials (Service 1999). The control plans 
were based on the premise that agency wolf control actions would affect 
only a small number of wolves, but would sustain public tolerance for 
non-depredating wolves, thus enhancing the chances for

[[Page 43425]]

successful population recovery (Mech 1995). Our assumptions have proven 
correct, as wolf depredation on livestock and subsequent agency control 
actions have remained at low levels, and the wolf population has 
expanded its distribution and numbers far beyond, and more quickly 
than, earlier predictions (Service 1994; Service et al. 2006).
    The conflict between wolves and livestock has resulted in the 
average annual removal of 7-10 percent of the wolf population (Bangs et 
al. 1995, 2004, 2005; Service et al. 2006; D. Smith, pers. comm., 
2005). We estimate illegal killing removed another 10 percent of the 
wolf population, and accidental and unintentional human-caused deaths 
have removed 1 percent of the population annually (D. Smith pers. 
comm., 2006). Even with this level of mortality, populations have 
expanded rapidly (Service et al. 2006).
    Wolves within the NRMs are classified as either endangered or 
members of a nonessential experimental population under section 10(j) 
of the ESA. Wolf control in the experimental population areas, as 
directed by the experimental population regulations (59 FR 60252, 
November 22, 1994; 70 FR 1285, January 6, 2005), is more liberal than 
in the areas where wolves are listed as endangered. These regulations 
specify which wolves can be designated as problem animals, what forms 
of control are allowed, and who can carry out control activities. In 
the area where wolves are listed as endangered, only designated 
agencies may conduct control under the conservative protocols 
established by the Service's (1999) wolf control plan.
    Current wolf control consists of the minimum actions believed 
necessary to reduce further depredations, and includes a wide variety 
of nonlethal and lethal measures (Bangs and Shivik 2001; Bangs et al. 
2004, 2005, 2006 in press; Bradley 2004). However, while helpful, 
nonlethal methods to reduce wolf-livestock conflict are often only 
temporarily effective (Bangs and Shivik 2001; Bangs et al. 2004, 2005, 
2006 in press; Woodroffe et al. 2005) and, by themselves, do not offer 
effective long-term solutions to chronic livestock damage. For 
instance, relocation of problem wolves is typically ineffective at 
reducing conflicts or allowing problem wolves to contribute to 
population recovery if vacant suitable habitat is not available 
(Bradley et al. 2005). Since 2001, all suitable areas for wolves have 
been filled with resident packs, and consequently most wolves that 
repeatedly depredate on livestock are now removed from the population 
(Service et al. 2006). Between 1987 and 2006, we removed 396 wolves and 
relocated wolves 117 times to reduce the potential for chronic 
conflicts with livestock (Service et al. 2006).
    At the end of 2005, our analysis indicated that most of the 
suitable wolf habitat in the NRMs was occupied by resident wolf packs 
(Service et al. 2006). NRM wolf distribution has remained largely 
unchanged since the end of 2000 (Service et al. 2001-2006). If the wolf 
population continues to expand, wolves will increasingly disperse into 
unsuitable areas that are intensively used for livestock production. A 
higher percentage of wolves in those areas will become involved in 
conflicts with livestock, and a higher percentage of those wolves will 
probably be removed to reduce future livestock damage. Human-caused 
mortality would have to remove 34 percent or more of the wolf 
population annually before population growth would cease (Fuller et al. 
2003). Preliminary wolf survival data from radio-telemetry studies 
suggests that adult wolf mortality resulting from conflict could be 
doubled to an average of 14-20 percent annually and still not 
significantly impact wolf population recovery (D. Smith, pers. comm., 
2005). The State management laws and plans would balance the level of 
wolf mortality with the recovery goals in each State.
    One of the most important factors affecting the level of wolf/
livestock conflict and the need for wolf control is the availability of 
wild ungulate prey. Important wild ungulate prey in the NRMs are elk, 
white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, and (only in the GYA) bison. A 
large decline in native ungulate populations could result in an 
increase in conflicts with livestock and the level of wolf control. 
However, we do not forecast changes in ungulate populations of a 
magnitude that could jeopardize wolf recovery. Maintenance of wild 
ungulate habitat is discussed under Factor A above.
    Changes in livestock availability also have changed the rate of 
livestock depredations by wolves, thus necessitating control actions. 
Nearly 100,000 wild ungulates were estimated in the GYA and 
northwestern Montana, and 250,000 in central Idaho where wolf packs 
currently exist (Service 1994). However, domestic ungulates, primarily 
cattle and sheep, are typically twice as numerous in those same areas, 
even on public lands (Service 1994). The only areas large enough to 
support wolf packs where the prey is mostly wild ungulates are the GYA, 
Glacier National Park, adjacent USFS Wilderness areas, and parts of 
Wilderness areas in central Idaho and northwestern Montana. 
Consequently, many wolf pack territories have included areas used by 
livestock, primarily cattle (Bradley 2004). This overlap between wolf 
pack territories and livestock has led to the conflict between wolves 
and livestock, but depredation control practices discourage chronic use 
of livestock as prey.
    Other management control tools used for managing wolf conflict are 
using shoot-on-site permits to private landowners and allowing take of 
wolves in the act of attacking or molesting livestock, pets, or other 
domestic animals. Since 1995, only 30 experimental population wolves 
(7-8 percent of the 396 wolves removed for livestock depredations from 
1987 to 2005) were legally shot by private landowners under shoot-on-
sight permits in areas of chronic livestock depredation or as they 
attacked or harassed livestock (Bangs et al. 2006).
    In the NRM wolf recovery area, reports of suspected wolf-caused 
damage to livestock are investigated by the United States Department of 
Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife 
Services (USDA-WS) specialists using standard techniques (Roy and 
Dorrance 1976; Fritts et al. 1992; Paul and Gipson 1994). If the 
investigation confirms wolf involvement, USDA-WS specialists conduct 
the wolf control measures that we specify. If the incident occurs in 
Idaho, USDA-WS also coordinates with Nez Perce Tribal personnel. Since 
the beginning of 2005, USDA-WS has coordinated and conducted wolf 
control in cooperation with MFWP and, since the beginning of 2006, with 
IDFG, who lead wolf management in their States under a cooperative 
agreement and a Memorandum of Agreement with the Service, respectively. 
All investigations of suspected wolf damage on Tribal lands and wolf 
control are conducted in full cooperation with, and under approval by, 
the affected Tribe. A private program has compensated ranchers full 
market value for confirmed, and one-half market value for probable, 
wolf kills of livestock and livestock guard animals (Defenders 2006; 
Fischer 1989). That program paid an average of about $75,000 annually 
from 2000 to 2005 (Defenders 2006).
Regulatory Assurances Within Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming
    In 1999, the Governors of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming agreed that 
regional coordination in wolf management planning among the States, 
Tribes, and other jurisdictions would be necessary to ensure timely 

[[Page 43426]]

They signed a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate cooperation 
among the three States in developing adequate State wolf management 
plans so that delisting could proceed. In this agreement, all three 
States committed to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves 
per State by managing for a safety margin of 15 packs in each State. 
The States were to develop their pack definitions to approximate the 
current breeding pair definition. Governors from the three States 
renewed that agreement in April 2002.
    The wolf population in the NRM achieved its numerical and 
distributional recovery goals at the end of 2000. The temporal portion 
of the recovery goal was achieved at the end of 2002. Because the 
primary threat to the wolf population (human predation and other take) 
still has the potential to significantly impact wolf populations if not 
adequately managed, the Service needs regulatory assurances that the 
States will manage for sustainable mortality levels before we can 
remove ESA protections. Therefore, we requested that the States of 
Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming prepare State wolf management plans to 
demonstrate how they would manage wolves after the protections of the 
ESA were removed. The Service provided varying degrees of funding and 
assistance to the States while they developed their wolf management 
    To provide the necessary regulatory assurances after delisting, we 
encouraged Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming to regulate human-caused 
mortality of wolves. Several issues key to our approval of State plans 
included: Regulations that would allow regulatory control of take; a 
pack definition biologically consistent with the Service's definition 
of a breeding pair; and the ability to realistically manage State wolf 
populations and the number of pairs/packs above recovery levels.
    The final Service determination of the adequacy of those three 
State management plans was based on the combination of Service 
knowledge of State law, the State management plans, wolf biology, our 
experience managing wolves for the last 20 years, peer review of the 
State plans, and the States' response to peer review. Those State plans 
can be viewed at http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov/. After our analysis of 

the State laws, the State plans, and other factors, the Service 
determined that Montana and Idaho's laws and wolf management plans were 
adequate to assure the Service that their share of the NRM wolf 
population would be maintained above recovery levels. Therefore, we 
approved those two State plans. However, we determined that problems 
with the Wyoming legislation and plan, and inconsistencies between the 
law and management plan, did not allow us to approve Wyoming's approach 
to wolf management (Williams, 2004).
    Montana--The gray wolf was listed under the Montana Nongame and 
Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1973 (87-5-101 MCA). Senate Bill 
163, passed by the Montana Legislature and signed into law by the 
Governor in 2001, establishes the current legal status for wolves in 
Montana. Upon Federal delisting, wolves would be classified and 
protected under Montana law as a ``Species in Need of Management'' (87-
5-101 to 87-5-123). Such species are primarily managed through 
regulation of all forms of human-caused mortality in a manner similar 
to trophy game animals like mountain lions and black bears. The MFWP 
and the Commission would then finalize more detailed administrative 
rules, as is typically done for other resident wildlife, but they must 
be consistent with the approved Montana wolf plan and State law. 
Classification as a ``Species in Need of Management'' and the 
associated administrative rules under Montana State law create the 
legal mechanism to protect wolves and regulate human-caused mortality 
beyond the immediate defense of life/property situations. Some illegal 
human-caused mortality would still occur, but is to be prosecuted under 
State law and Commission regulations, which would tend to minimize any 
potential effect on the wolf population.
    In 2001, the Governor of Montana appointed the Montana Wolf 
Management Advisory Council to advise MFWP regarding wolf management 
after the species is removed from the lists of Federal and State-
protected species. In August 2003, MFWP completed a final EIS and 
recommended that the Updated Advisory Council alternative be selected 
as Montana's Final Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (Montana 
2003). See http://www.fwp.state.mt.us to view the MFWP Final EIS and 

the Montana Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
    Under the MFWP management plan, the wolf population would be 
maintained above the recovery level of 10 breeding pairs in Montana by 
managing for a safety margin of 15 packs. Montana would manage problem 
wolves in a manner similar to the control program currently being 
utilized in the experimental population area in southern Montana, 
whereby landowners and livestock producers on public land can shoot 
wolves seen attacking livestock or dogs, and agency control of problem 
wolves is incremental and in response to confirmed depredations. State 
management of conflicts would become more protective of wolves and no 
public hunting would be allowed when there were fewer than 15 packs. 
Wolves would not be deliberately confined to any specific areas of 
Montana, but their distribution and numbers would be managed adaptively 
based on ecological factors, wolf population status, conflict 
mitigation, and human social tolerance. The MFWP plan commits to 
implement its management framework in a manner that encourages 
connectivity among wolf populations in Canada, Idaho, GYA, and Montana 
to maintain the overall metapopulation structure. Montana's plan 
(Montana 2003) predicts that under State management, the wolf 
population would increase to between 328 and 657 wolves with 
approximately 27 to 54 breeding pairs by 2015.
    An important ecological factor determining wolf distribution in 
Montana is the availability and distribution of wild ungulates. Montana 
has a rich, diverse, and widely distributed prey base on both public 
and private lands. The MFWP has and will continue to manage wild 
ungulates according to Commission-approved policy direction and species 
management plans. The plans typically describe a management philosophy 
that protects the long-term sustainability of the ungulate populations, 
allows recreational hunting of surplus game, and aims to keep the 
population within management objectives based on ecological and social 
considerations. The MFWP takes a proactive approach to integrate 
management of ungulates and carnivores. Ungulate harvest is to be 
balanced with maintaining sufficient prey populations to sustain 
Montana's segment of a recovered wolf population. Ongoing efforts to 
monitor populations of both ungulates and wolves will provide credible, 
scientific information for wildlife management decisions.
    Wolves would be managed in the same manner as other resident 
wildlife designated as trophy game, whereby human-caused mortality 
would be regulated by methods of take, seasons, bag limits, areas, and 
conditions under which defense of property take could occur. In 
addition all agency control of problem wolves would be directed by 
MFWP. All forms of wolf take would be more restricted when there are 15 
or fewer packs in the State and less restricted when there are more 
than 15 packs. By managing for 15 packs, MFWP would maintain a safety 
margin to assure that the Montana segment of the wolf population would 
be maintained

[[Page 43427]]

above the 10 breeding pair and 100 wolf minimum population goal. Wolf 
management would include population monitoring, routine analysis of 
population health, management in concert with prey populations, law 
enforcement, control of domestic animal/human conflicts, consideration 
of a wolf-damage compensation program, research, and information and 
public outreach.
    State regulations would allow agency management of problem wolves 
by MFWP and USDA-WS; take by private citizens in defense of private 
property; and, when the population is above 15 packs, some regulated 
hunting of wolves. Montana wildlife regulations allowing take in 
defense of private property are similar to the 2005 experimental 
population regulations, whereby landowners and livestock grazing 
permittees can shoot wolves seen attacking or molesting livestock or 
pets as long as such incidents are reported promptly and subsequent 
investigations confirm that livestock were being attacked by wolves. 
The MFWP has enlisted and directed USDA-WS in problem wolf management, 
just as the Service has done since 1987.
    When the Service reviewed and approved the Montana wolf plan, we 
stated that Montana's wolf management plan would maintain a recovered 
wolf population and minimize conflicts with other traditional 
activities in Montana's landscape. The Service has every confidence 
that Montana would implement the commitments it has made in its current 
laws, regulations, and wolf plan. In June 2005, MFWP signed a 
Cooperative Agreement with the Service, and it now manages all wolves 
in Montana subject to general oversight by the Service.
    Idaho--The Idaho Fish and Game Commission (Idaho Commission) has 
authority to classify wildlife under Idaho Code 36-104(b) and 36-201. 
The gray wolf was classified as endangered until March 2005, when the 
Idaho Commission reclassified the species as a big game animal under 
Idaho Administrative Procedures Act The big game 
classification would take effect upon Federal delisting, and until 
then, wolves will be managed under Federal status. As a big game 
animal, State regulations would adjust human-caused wolf mortality to 
ensure recovery levels are exceeded. Title 36 of the Idaho statutes 
currently has penalties associated with illegal take of big game 
animals. These rules are consistent with the legislatively adopted 
Idaho Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (IWCMP) (IWCMP 2002) and 
big game hunting restrictions currently in place. The IWCMP states that 
wolves will be protected against illegal take as a big game animal 
under Idaho Code 36-1402, 36-1404, and 36-202(h).
    The IWCMP was written with the assistance and leadership of the 
Wolf Oversight Committee established in 1992 by the Idaho Legislature. 
Many special interest groups including legislators, sportsmen, 
livestock producers, conservationists, and IDFG personnel were involved 
in the development of the IWCMP. The Service provided technical advice 
to the Committee and reviewed numerous drafts before the IWCMP was 
finalized. In March 2002, the IWCMP was adopted by joint resolution of 
the Idaho Legislature. The IWCMP can be found at: http://www. 

fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/ wildlife/wolves/ wolf--plan. pdf.
    The IWCMP calls for IDFG to be the primary manager of wolves after 
delisting; like Montana, to maintain a minimum of 15 packs of wolves to 
maintain a substantial margin of safety over the 10 breeding pair 
minimum; and to manage them as a viable self-sustaining population that 
will never require relisting under the ESA. Wolf take would be more 
liberal if there are more than 15 packs and more conservative if there 
are fewer than 15 packs in Idaho. The wolf population would be managed 
by defense of property regulations similar to those now in effect under 
the ESA. Public harvest would be incorporated as a management tool when 
there are 15 or more packs in Idaho to help mitigate conflicts with 
livestock producers or big game populations that outfitters, guides, 
and others hunt. The IWCMP allows IDFG to classify the wolf as a big 
game animal or furbearer, or to assign a special classification of 
predator, so that human-caused mortality can be regulated. In March 
2005, the Idaho Commission proposed that, upon delisting, the wolf 
would be classified as a big game animal with the intent of managing 
wolves similar to black bears and mountain lions, including regulated 
public harvest when populations are above 15 packs. The IWCMP calls for 
the State to coordinate with USDA-WS to manage depredating wolves 
depending on the number of wolves in the State. It also calls for a 
balanced educational effort.
    Elk and deer populations are managed to meet biological and social 
objectives for each herd unit according to the State's species 
management plans. The IDFG will manage both ungulates and carnivores, 
including wolves, to maintain viable populations of each. Ungulate 
harvest would be focused on maintaining sufficient prey populations to 
sustain viable wolf and other carnivore populations and hunting. IDFG 
has conducted research to better understand the impacts of wolves and 
their relationships to ungulate population sizes and distribution so 
that regulated take of wolves can be used to assist in management of 
ungulate populations and vice versa.
    The Mule Deer Initiative in southeast Idaho was implemented by IDFG 
in 2005, to restore and improve mule deer populations. Though most of 
the initiative lies outside current wolf range and suitable wolf 
habitat in Idaho, improving ungulate populations and hunter success 
will decrease negative attitudes toward wolves. When mule deer 
increase, some wolves may move into the areas that are being 
highlighted under the initiative. Habitat improvements within much of 
southeast Idaho would focus on improving mule deer conditions. The 
Clearwater Elk Initiative also is an attempt to improve elk numbers in 
the area of the Clearwater Region in north Idaho where currently IDFG 
has concerns about the health of that once abundant elk herd.
    Wolves are currently classified as endangered under Idaho State 
law, but if delisted under the ESA, they would be classified and 
protected as big game under Idaho fish and game code. Human-caused 
mortality would be regulated as directed by the IWCMP to maintain a 
recovered wolf population. The Service has every confidence Idaho would 
implement the commitments it has made in its current laws, regulations, 
and wolf plan. In January 2006, the Governor of Idaho signed a 
Memorandum of Understanding with the Secretary of the Interior that 
provided the IDFG the power to manage all Idaho wolves.
    Wyoming--In 2003, Wyoming passed a very specific and detailed State 
law that would designate wolves as ``trophy game'' in YNP, Grand Teton 
National Park, John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, and the adjacent 
USFS designated Wilderness areas (Wyoming House Bill 0229) once the 
wolf is delisted from the ESA. A large portion of the area permanently 
designated as ``trophy game'' actually has little to no value to wolf 
packs because it is not suitable habitat for wolves and, thus, is 
rarely used (GYA wilderness, and much of eastern and southern YNP) 
(Jimenez 2006). Many of the wilderness areas, for example, are rarely 
used by wolves because of their high elevation, deep snow, and low 
ungulate productivity. The ``trophy game'' status would allow the 
Wyoming Game and Fish

[[Page 43428]]

Commission (Wyoming Commission) and Wyoming Game and Fish Department 
(WGFD) to regulate methods of take, hunting seasons, types of allowed 
take, and numbers of wolves that could be killed. Wolves in other parts 
of Wyoming could be classified as trophy game only when populations 
dipped below 7 packs outside of the National Park/Wilderness units and 
there were fewer than 15 packs in Wyoming. In this case, the Wyoming 
Commission would determine how large an area to designate as trophy 
game in order to reasonably ensure seven packs are located in Wyoming, 
primarily outside the National Park/Wilderness units, at the end of the 
calendar year.
    The State law requires that when there are 7 or more wolf packs in 
Wyoming `primarily' (this term is undefined) outside of National Park/
Wilderness areas or there are 15 or more wolf packs anywhere in 
Wyoming, all wolves in Wyoming outside of the National Park/Wilderness 
units would be classified as predatory animals. When wolves are 
classified as a ``predatory animal'' they are under the jurisdiction of 
the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and may be taken by anyone, 
anywhere in the predatory animal area, at any time, without limit, and 
by any means (including shoot-on-sight; baiting; possible limited use 
of poisons; bounties and wolf-killing contests; locating and killing 
pups in dens including use of explosives and gas cartridges; trapping; 
snaring; aerial gunning; and use of other mechanized vehicles to locate 
or chase wolves down). Wolves are very susceptible to unregulated 
human-caused mortality, which would be the situation if they were to be 
designated as predatory animals. Wolves are unlike coyotes in that wolf 
behavior and reproductive biology results in wolves being extirpated in 
the face of extensive human-caused mortality. These types and levels of 
take would most likely prevent wolf packs from persisting in areas of 
Wyoming where they are classified as predatory, even in otherwise 
suitable habitat. Moreover, because many southern and eastern YNP packs 
leave the National Park/Wilderness areas in winter and regularly 
utilize habitat on non-wilderness public lands and some private lands, 
these packs would be subject to unregulated and unlimited human-caused 
mortality to the extent wolves are classified as predatory in these 
    The above restrictions present the very real possibility that 
Wyoming would not be able to maintain its share of a recovered wolf 
population. For example, in 2004, under Wyoming Law, the YNP wolf 
population (171 wolves in 16 confirmed breeding pairs) would have 
triggered predatory status outside the National Parks/Wilderness areas 
and allowed for possible elimination of all wolf packs outside YNP (89 
wolves in 8 breeding pairs) (Service et al. 2005). In 2005, disease and 
other factors caused a natural reduction of the YNP wolf population to 
118 wolves in 7 breeding pairs (Service et al. 2006). The year 2005 
marked the first time successful wolf packs outside the National Park/
Wilderness areas (134 wolves in 9 breeding pairs) contributed more to 
Wyoming's overall share of the recovered NRM wolf population than those 
in YNP (118 wolves in 7 breeding pairs) (Service et al. 2005, 2006). 
However, if all wolves outside the National Parks/Wilderness areas had 
been eliminated in 2004 or early 2005, the Wyoming segment of the NRM 
wolf population would have fallen 3 breeding pairs below the 10 
breeding pair recovery level in Wyoming by the end of 2005 (Service et 
al. 2006).
    The State law and plan calls for intensive monitoring using 
standard methods and a review of the Wyoming wolf population's status 
every 90 days. While WGFD would have authority to manage wolves when 
they are classified as trophy game, that authority would end if the 
number of packs increased to 15 in the State or if there were 7 packs 
primarily outside the National Park/Wilderness units (even if there 
were fewer than 15 packs in the State). In essence, as soon as WGFD met 
their management objective, their management authority would be removed 
by State law within a maximum of 90 days. Every time the wolf 
population exceeded the minimum levels, all wolves outside the National 
Park/Wilderness units would be designated as predatory animals and and 
would be subjected to unregulated human-caused mortality which could 
drive the wolf population back down to, or below, the minimum level. We 
believe the real potential for flipping back and forth between 
predatory animal status and trophy game status would result in a 
program that would be nearly impossible to administer and enforce 
because of widespread public confusion about the changing wolf status.
    Additionally, despite assurances that WGFD would regulate human-
caused mortality if wolf populations fell below minimum levels, WGFD 
likely would still control problem wolves and their efforts at 
regulating human-caused mortality under those circumstances, 
particularly with the likely public confusion over the status of the 
wolf, do not seem likely to be highly effective. In other words, 
whenever the wolf population would became low enough that WGFD would 
have the legal authority to regulate some forms of wolf mortality, WGFD 
would have a limited ability to prevent further declines in the wolf 
population. Attempting to manage a wolf population that is constantly 
maintained at minimum levels would likely result in the wolf population 
falling below recovery levels due to factors beyond WGFD's control.
    An essential element to achieving the Service's recovery goal is 
our definition of a breeding pair: An adult male and an adult female 
wolf that have produced at least two pups during the previous breeding 
season that survived until December 31 of that year. Wyoming State law 
defined a pack as simply five wolves traveling together regardless of 
the group's composition. According to this definition, these wolves 
could be with or without offspring and could be traveling together at 
any time of year. The Wyoming plan adopted the same definition of pack 
that is in State law. Wyoming's State law and management plan also 
allows a pack of 10 or more wolves with 2 or 3 breeding females to 
count as 2 or 3 packs, respectively. The Wyoming definition of a pack 
and the 90-day evaluation of population status is inconsistent with 
wolf biology and how the Service has, and will, measure wolf population 
recovery. Wolf packs only breed and produce young once a year (April), 
so a wolf population can only increase once a year. If a pack's 
breeding adults are killed between February and April, the pack will 
not produce young for at least another year. If pups are killed, no 
more will be produced for another year. The Wyoming definition of a 
wolf pack would lead to greater use of the predatory animal designation 
and a minimal wolf population going into summer, when diseases and most 
human-caused wolf mortality occur, including that which WGFD could not 
regulate (control and illegal killing) even under trophy game status. 
For instance, there might be 15 groups of 5 or more wolves (which may 
or may not be ``breeding pairs'') going into summer, but as human-
mortality and other mortality factors continued to operate, the 
population could decline below recovery levels at a time when the only 
opportunity for the population to recover that year had passed. In 
addition, 15 groups of 5 wolves of unknown status that are traveling 
together in winter is only equal to 8.4 breeding pairs because Wyoming 
data show that groups of 5 wolves traveling

[[Page 43429]]

together in winter only have a 0.56 probability of being a breeding 
pair in Wyoming (Ausband 2006).
    Consider the following examples. First, in 1999 and 2005, pup 
production and survival declined significantly (Service et al. 2000, 
2006). Because few pups survived, five wolves traveling together in 
winter would not have equated to an adult male and female with two pups 
on December 31. Second, from 2002 to 2005, mange infested some packs in 
Montana and Wyoming causing them to not survive the winter. In this 
situation, if five wolves traveling together in summer or fall were 
known to have mange, it would be incorrect to rely on them as a 
breeding pair since they would be unlikely to survive until December 
31. Third, at the end of 2005, there were 16 breeding pairs in Wyoming 
under the current Service definition (discussed in the Recovery by 
State section above). But, under Wyoming's definition, even if it were 
used in mid-winter, there would have been 24 packs counted as breeding 
pairs, an overestimate of 50 percent. If Wyoming had been managing for 
15 ``packs'' as they define them, there could have been fewer than 10 
actual ``breeding pairs'' in Wyoming.
    The State wolf management plan generally attempts to implement the 
State law, with some notable exceptions. Those exceptions make the plan 
appear more likely to conserve the wolf population above recovery 
levels than the law allows. Recognizing these inconsistencies, the WGFD 
Director requested that the Wyoming Attorney General's Office review 
Wyoming law regarding the classification of gray wolves as trophy game 
animals (Wyoming Attorney General in litt. 2003). The Attorney 
General's response stated that ``the plain language of the Enrolled Act 
is in conflict and thus suffers from internal ambiguity.'' The letter 

    The noted ambiguities arise when there are either: (1) Less than 
seven (7) packs outside of the Parks, but at least fifteen (15) 
packs in the state, including the Parks; or, (2) at least seven (7) 
packs outside the Parks, but less than fifteen (15) packs in the 
state, including the Parks. W.S. Sec.  23-1-304(b)(ii) states that 
the Commission shall maintain so-called ``dual'' classification, 
that is, maintain classification of the gray wolf as a predatory 
animal ``if it determines there were at least seven (7) packs of 
gray wolves * * * primarily outside of [the Parks] * * * or at least 
fifteen (15) packs within this state, including [the Parks] * * *.'' 
(Emphasis added). If this sentence is read without consideration of 
the stated legislative goals, the following scenarios can occur: 
Scenario 1: 10 packs inside the Parks & 5 packs outside the 
Parks. Classify as a predatory animal because at least 15 packs in 
the state. This scenario leaves less than 7 packs outside of the 
Parks. Scenario 2: 3 packs inside the Parks & 10 packs 
outside the Parks. Classify as a predatory animal because at least 7 
packs outside the Parks. This scenario leaves less than 15 packs 
total in the state. These scenarios defeat the clearly identified 
legislative goals of maintenance of fifteen (15) packs in the state 
and maintenance of seven (7) packs outside the Parks.

    The letter concludes:

    The goals specified by the legislation may be preserved if W.S. 
23-1-304(b) is construed in light of those legislatively defined 
goals. Stated another way, the language of W.S. 23-1-304(b) must not 
be read so restrictively as to prevent the Game and Fish Department 
from crafting a state management plan for gray wolves which achieves 
delisting and satisfies the other stated legislative goals. The 
alternative interpretation, constructing the language of W.S. 23-1-
304(b) in its most restrictive light, will defeat these clearly 
identified legislative goals. Such a result would be contrary to 
Wyoming law.

    The Wyoming Attorney General's Office thus determined that the 
Wyoming State law is internally inconsistent as a key operative 
provision (the requirement in Sec.  23-1-304(b)(ii)) to classify gray 
wolves as predatory if there are at least seven packs primarily outside 
the Parks or at least 15 packs within the entire state) conflicts with 
the legislative purpose of providing appropriate management to 
facilitate delisting of the wolf. The Attorney General's Office 
concluded that Sec.  23-1-304(b) should be construed in light of this 
legislative goal to allow WGFD to craft a management plan that is 
inconsistent with the predatory animal classification requirements of 
Sec.  304(b) if that is what is needed to prepare a plan that would 
achieve delisting. Notwithstanding the Attorney General's opinion, we 
are concerned that WGFD would have no authority to act contrary to the 
categorical requirements of an operative provision of the state law.
    Furthermore, in the fall of 2003, the Service, in cooperation with 
the affected States, selected 12 recognized North American experts in 
wolf biology and management to review the Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming 
State wolf management plans. Eleven reviews were completed. While 
Wyoming's Plan was thought to be the most extreme in terms of wolf 
control and minimizing wolf numbers and distribution, some reviewers 
thought it was adequate, primarily because they assumed in error that 
the Wyoming definition of a pack was equivalent to the Service's 
current breeding pair standard (Ausband 2006), thought that YNP was 
likely to carry most of Wyoming's share of the wolf population, and 
assumed that the commitments in the Plan could be implemented under 
State law. As noted above, the Service now views these three 
assumptions as unrealistic. Other important developments since these 
peer reviews include recent Federal District court rulings in Oregon 
and Vermont emphasizing the importance of suitable habitat in 
calculating the significant portion of the range occupied by wolves 
prior to changing the listing status, the decline of wolves in YNP, and 
an improved method of estimating wolf population status that 
demonstrated that earlier attempts to correlate pack size in winter 
with the probability of being a breeding pair were mathematically 
incorrect and are clearly inconsistent with the both Service's previous 
and current breeding pair standards.
    The potential success of the current Wyoming law and wolf plan to 
maintain its share of wolves in the NRM is greatly dependant on YNP 
having at least eight breeding pairs. However, recent experience tells 
us this is an unrealistic expectation. In 2005, wolf numbers 
substantially declined in YNP (Service et al. 2006). CPV and/or 
distemper are suspected of causing low pup survival in the Park, and 
pack conflicts over territory appear to have reduced the number of 
wolves and packs in YNP from 16 breeding pairs and 171 wolves in 2004, 
to 7 breeding pairs and 118 wolves in 2005 (Service et al. 2006). In 
2005, if each group of 5 or more wolves had been counted as a pack as 
Wyoming law defines a pack, there would have been a total of 24 
``packs'' in Wyoming, 11 inside YNP, and 13 outside YNP. It is likely 
that predatory animal status, if it had been implemented prior to the 
end of 2005, would have quickly reduced or eliminated the number and 
size of wolf packs outside YNP going into the summer and fall of 2005. 
The Wyoming segment of the wolf population would most likely have 
fallen below 10 breeding pairs (to only the 7 breeding pairs in YNP), 
and the distribution of wolf packs in suitable habitat in Wyoming 
outside the National Park/Wilderness units would have been 
significantly reduced. This could have occurred because the State 
definition of five wolves traveling together as constituting a pack 
would have prevented the WGFD Commission from enlarging the area 
designated as trophy game even though there could have been only 7 
breeding pairs in the state. Also, Wyoming would have counted most wolf 
packs in YNP as breeding pairs even though they were

[[Page 43430]]

not because they experienced reproductive failure in 2005.
    Wyoming State law allows no regulation of human-caused mortality 
until the population falls below 7 packs outside the Parks and there 
are less than 15 packs in Wyoming. The Wyoming Petition's claim that 
such extensive removal of wolves is unlikely, even if they receive no 
legal protection, is not supported given the past history of wolf 
extirpation. The WGFD needs to be given the regulatory authority to 
adaptively manage the species throughout suitable habitat in Wyoming, 
outside of the National Park/Wilderness units, to account for wide 
fluctuations in wolf population levels.
    In conclusion, Wyoming State law defines a wolf pack in a manner 
that has little biological relationship to wolf recovery goals or 
population viability, minimizes opportunities for adaptive professional 
wildlife management by WGFD, confines wolf packs primarily to YNP, 
depends on at least eight National Park/Wilderness wolf packs to 
constitute most of the wolves in Wyoming, minimizes the number and 
distribution of wolves and wolf packs outside the National Park/
Wilderness areas, and could lead the Wyoming wolf population to quickly 
slide below recovery goals. Additionally, Wyoming State law would 
prohibit WGFD from responding in a timely and effective manner should 
modification in State management of wolves be needed to prevent the 
population from falling below the recovery levels of at least 10 
breeding pairs and 100 wolves for each of the 3 core States. Based on 
these inadequacies, the Service cannot reasonably be assured that 
Wyoming's State law would allow its wolf management plan to maintain 
the Wyoming segment of the wolf population above recovery levels or 
maintain an adequate distribution of the Wyoming segment of the tri-
State wolf population.
    Tribal Plans--Currently no wolf packs live on, or are entirely 
dependent on, Tribal lands for their existence in the NRMs. About 4,696 
km\2\ (1,813 mi\2\) (2 percent) of all occupied habitat in the NRMs is 
Tribal land (Service 2006). Therefore, while Tribal lands can 
contribute some habitat for wolf packs in the NRM, they will be 
relatively unimportant to maintaining a recovered wolf population in 
the NRMs. Many wolf packs live in areas of public land where Tribes 
have various treaty rights, such as wildlife harvest. Montana and Idaho 
propose to incorporate Tribal harvest into their assessment of the 
potential surplus of wolves available for public harvest in each State, 
each year, to assure that the wolf population is maintained above 
recovery levels. Utilization of those Tribal treaty rights will not 
significantly impact the wolf population or reduce it below recovery 
levels because a small portion of the wolf population could be affected 
by Tribal harvest or lives in areas subject to Tribal harvest rights.
    The overall regulatory framework analyzed depends entirely on 
State-led management of wolves that are primarily on lands where 
resident wildlife is traditionally managed primarily by the States. Any 
wolves that may establish themselves on Tribal lands will be in 
addition to those managed by the States outside Tribal reservations. At 
this point in time, only the Nez Perce Tribe has a wolf management plan 
that was approved by the Service, but that plan only applied to listed 
wolves, and it was reviewed so that the Service could determine whether 
the Tribe could take a portion of the responsibility for wolf 
monitoring and management in Idaho under the 1994 special regulation 
under section 10(j) of the ESA. No other Tribe has submitted a wolf 
management plan. In November 2005, the Service requested information 
from all the Tribes in the NRMs regarding their Tribal regulations and 
any other relevant information regarding Tribal management or concerns 
about wolves (Bangs November 17, 2004). All responses were reviewed, 
and Tribal comments were incorporated into this notice.
    Summary--Montana and Idaho have proposed to regulate wolf mortality 
over conflicts with livestock after delisting in a manner similar to 
that used by the Service to reduce conflicts with private property, and 
that would assure that the wolf population would be maintained above 
recovery levels. These two State plans have committed to using a 
definition of a wolf pack that would approximate the Service's current 
breeding pair definition. Based on that definition, they have committed 
to maintaining at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves per State by 
managing for a safety margin of 15 packs in each State. These States 
would control problem wolves in a manner similar to that currently used 
by the Service (1987, 1994, 1999; 70 FR 1285) and use adaptive 
management principles to regulate and balance wolf population size and 
distribution with livestock conflict and public tolerance. When wolf 
populations are above State management objectives for 15 packs, wolf 
control measures may be more liberal. When wolf populations are below 
15 packs, wolf control as directed by each State would be more 
    Private take of problem wolves under State regulations in Montana 
and Idaho would replace some agency control, but we believe this would 
not dramatically increase the overall numbers of problem wolves killed 
each year because of conflicts with livestock. Under Wyoming State law, 
the predatory animal status allows all wolves, including pups, to be 
killed by any means (except most poisons), anywhere in the predatory 
animal area, without limit, at any time, for any reason, and regardless 
of any direct or potential threat to livestock. Such unregulated take 
could eliminate wolves from some otherwise suitable habitat in 
northwestern Wyoming and reduce population levels to a point at which 
wolves in the NRMs are, within the foreseeable future, likely to become 
in danger of extinction throughout a significant portion of their 
    In contrast to the Service recovery program, currently approved 
State and Tribal management programs are able to incorporate regulated 
public harvest. Only when wolf populations in Montana and Idaho are 
safely above recovery levels of 15 or more packs, will regulated 
harvest be utilized to help manage wolf distribution and numbers to 
minimize conflicts with humans. Wyoming State law and management also 
should meet this requirement. Each of the three core States routinely 
uses regulated public harvest to help successfully manage and conserve 
other large predators and wild ungulates under their authority, and 
should use similar programs to manage wolf populations safely above 
recovery levels when there are more than 15 packs in their State.
    The States of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming have managed resident 
ungulate populations for decades and maintain them at densities that 
would easily support a recovered wolf population. They, and Federal 
land management agencies, will continue to manage for high ungulate 
populations in the foreseeable future. There is no foreseeable 
condition that would cause a decline in ungulate populations 
significant enough to affect a recovered wolf population.
    In accordance with the requirements of the ESA, the Service 
carefully reviewed Wyoming's July 2005 petition to delist; its defense 
of Wyoming's regulatory framework and the reasons why Wyoming believes 
we should consider Wyoming State law and its wolf plan as an adequate 
regulatory mechanism to propose delisting; a May 22, 2003, letter from 
the Wyoming

[[Page 43431]]

Office of the Attorney General regarding the relationship between the 
law and the plan; public comments; Wyoming's further defense of these 
issues in its April 6, 2006, comments on the Service's ANPR (71 FR 
6634); and all other available information on this issue. At this time, 
we continue to determine that current State law and the State wolf plan 
in Wyoming do not provide adequate regulatory assurances that Wyoming's 
share of the NRM wolf population would be maintained into the 
foreseeable future and thus that the overall wolf population's 
distribution and numbers would be maintained above recovery levels. 
However, if Wyoming modified its State law and its wolf management plan 
to address the inadequacies described above and the Service approved 
them, we would then reevaluate whether to propose the delisting of 
wolves throughout the NRMs.
    We are confident that liberal WGFD-regulated public hunting and 
trapping seasons alone could prevent wolf packs from forming throughout 
most of the unsuitable habitat in Wyoming, thus alleviating the State 
concerns expressed in the petition concerning excessive livestock 
damage, compensation for livestock damage, or conflicts with other 
wildlife management objectives. Because wolves occur at low density, 
are fairly visible, and travel in groups, entire packs are very 
susceptible to being killed by people. Legal authority under a trophy 
game status would allow WGFD to regulate human-caused mortality 
throughout unsuitable wolf habitat and provide a remedy for Service 
concerns about WGFD's authority to manage for wolf numbers and 
distribution above numerical and distributional recovery levels.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence

    Public Attitudes Toward the Gray Wolf--The primary determinant of 
the long-term status of gray wolf populations in the United States will 
be human attitudes toward this large predator. These attitudes are 
largely based on the conflicts between human activities and wolves, 
concern with the perceived danger the species may pose to humans, its 
symbolic representation of wilderness, the economic effect of livestock 
losses, the emotions regarding the threat to pets, the conviction that 
the species should never be subject to sport hunting or trapping, and 
the wolf traditions of Native American tribes.
    In recent decades, national support has been evident for wolf 
recovery and reintroduction in the NRM (Service 1999). With the 
continued help of private conservation organizations, the States and 
tribes can continue to foster public support to maintain viable wolf 
populations in the NRMs. We believe that the State management 
regulations that will go into effect if wolves in the NRMs are removed 
from the ESA's protections will further enhance public support for wolf 
recovery. State management provides a larger and more effective local 
organization and a more familiar means for dealing with these conflicts 
(Bangs et al. 2004; Williams et al. 2002; Mech 1995). State wildlife 
organizations have specific departments and staff dedicated to 
providing accurate and science-based public education, information, and 
outreach. Each State plan has committed to provide balanced wolf 
outreach programs.
    Genetics--Genetic diversity in the GYA segment of the NRMs is 
extremely high (Wayne et al. in prep.). A recent study of wolf genetics 
among wolves in northwestern Montana and the reintroduced populations 
found that wolves in those areas were as genetically diverse as their 
source populations in Canada and that inadequate genetic diversity was 
not a wolf conservation issue in the NRM at this time (Forbes and Boyd 
1997; B. Vonholdt et al., UCLA, pers. comm.). Because of the long 
dispersal distances and the relative speed of natural wolf movement 
between Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming (discussed under Factor A), we 
anticipate that NRM wolves will continue to maintain high genetic 
diversity. However, should it become necessary sometime in the distant 
future, all of the three State plans recognize relocation as a 
potentially valid wildlife management tool.
    In conclusion, we reviewed other manmade and natural factors that 
might threaten wolf population recovery in the foreseeable future. 
Public attitudes towards wolves have improved greatly over the past 30 
years, and we expect that, given adequate continued management of 
conflicts, those attitudes will continue to support wolf restoration. 
The State wildlife agencies have professional education, information, 
and outreach components and are to present balanced science-based 
information to the public that will continue to foster general public 
support for wolf restoration and the necessity of conflict resolution 
to maintain public tolerance of wolves. Additionally, there are no 
concerns related to wolf genetic viability or interbreeding 
coefficients that would suggest inadequate connectivity among the 
recovery areas that could affect wolf population viability in the 
foreseeable future. If significant genetic concerns do arise at some 
point in the future, our experience with wolf relocation shows that the 
States could effectively remedy those concerns with occasional wolf 
relocation (Bradley et al. 2005) actions, but it is highly unlikely 
such management action would ever be required.
    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
faced by this species. We reviewed the petition, available published 
and unpublished scientific and commercial information, and information 
submitted to us during the public comment period following our 90-day 
petition finding. This finding reflects and incorporates information we 
received during the public comment period and responds to significant 
issues. We also consulted with recognized gray wolf experts and State, 
Federal and tribal resource agencies. Based on this review, we find 
that (1) there is a NRM population of gray wolves that is both discrete 
from other wolf populations and significant to the taxon, (2) delisting 
of that NRM population is not warranted due to the lack of effective 
regulatory mechanisms in Wyoming, and (3) the NRM population of gray 
wolves should remain listed under the ESA and should not be proposed 
for delisting at this time.
    In making this determination we have followed the procedures set 
forth in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA and regulations implementing the 
listing provisions of the ESA (50 CFR part 424). As required by the 
ESA, we considered the five potential threat factors to assess whether 
the NRM population of wolves are threatened or endangered throughout 
all or a significant portion of their range and, therefore, whether the 
NRM wolf population should remain listed. In regard to the NRM wolf 
population, the significant portions of the gray wolf's range are those 
areas that are important or necessary for maintaining a viable, self-
sustaining, and evolving representative metapopulation in order for the 
NRM wolf population to persist into the foreseeable future. We have 
determined that an essential part of achieving recovery in all 
significant portions of the range is a well-distributed number of wolf 
packs and individual wolves among the three States and the three 
recovery zones.
    The large amount and distribution of suitable habitat in public 
ownership and the presence of three large protected

[[Page 43432]]

core areas that contain highly suitable habitats assures the Service 
that threats to the NRM wolf population's habitat have been reduced or 
eliminated in all significant portions of its range for the foreseeable 
future. Unsuitable habitat and small, fragmented suitable habitat away 
from these core areas within the NRMs, largely represent geographic 
locations where wolf packs cannot persist and are not significant to 
the species. Disease, which would be carefully monitored by the States, 
and natural predation do not threaten wolf population recovery in any 
significant portion of the species' range, nor are they likely to 
within the foreseeable future. Additionally, we believe that other 
relevant natural or manmade factors (i.e., public attitudes and 
genetics) are not significant conservation issues that threaten the 
wolf population in any significant portion of its range within the 
foreseeable future.
    Managing human-caused mortality remains the primary challenge to 
maintaining a recovered wolf population in the foreseeable future. We 
have determined that both the Montana and Idaho wolf management plans 
are adequate to regulate human-caused mortality and that Montana and 
Idaho would maintain their share and distribution of the tri-State wolf 
population above recovery levels if the NRM wolf DPS were delisted.
    At this time, however, we continue to determine that current State 
law and the State wolf plan in Wyoming do not provide adequate 
regulatory assurances that Wyoming's share of the NRM wolf population, 
and thus the overall NRM wolf population, would not become in danger of 
extinction throughout a significant portion of its range within the 
foreseeable future. Therefore, we find that the petitioned action is 
not warranted.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this document is 
available upon request from the Western Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator 


    The primary author of this document is the Western Gray Wolf 
Recovery Coordinator, Montana Ecological Services Office (see 


    The authority for this action is the ESA of 1973, as amended (16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: July 18, 2006.
H. Dale Hall,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 06-6595 Filed 7-31-06; 8:45 am]