[Federal Register: February 8, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 26)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 6105-6139]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 6105]]


Part III

Department of the Interior


Fish and Wildlife Service


50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designating the Northern 
Rocky Mountain Population of Gray Wolf as a Distinct Population Segment 
and Removing This Distinct Population Segment From the Federal List of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Proposed Rule

[[Page 6106]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AU53

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designating the 
Northern Rocky Mountain Population of Gray Wolf as a Distinct 
Population Segment and Removing This Distinct Population Segment From 
the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule.


SUMMARY: Under the Endangered Species Act (Act), we, the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service (Service), propose to establish a distinct population 
segment (DPS) of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) in the Northern Rocky 
Mountains (NRM) of the United States. The proposed NRM DPS of the gray 
wolf encompasses the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, a 
small part of north-central Utah, and all of Montana, Idaho, and 
    We are also proposing to remove the gray wolf in the NRM DPS from 
the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife under the Act, because 
threats will have been reduced or eliminated if Wyoming adopts a State 
law and wolf management plan that we believe will adequately conserve 
wolves. The States of Montana and Idaho have adopted State laws and 
management plans that would conserve a recovered wolf population into 
the foreseeable future. However, Wyoming State law and its wolf 
management plan are not sufficient to conserve Wyoming's portion of a 
recovered NRM wolf population at this time. Therefore, if Wyoming fails 
to modify its management regime to adequately conserve wolves, we will 
keep a significant portion of the range in the Wyoming portion of the 
NRM DPS because there are not adequate regulatory mechanisms in that 
area. In this situation, wolves in the significant portion of the range 
in northwestern Wyoming, outside the National Parks, will retain their 
nonessential experimental status under section 10(j) of the Act. We 
will remove the remainder of the NRM DPS from the List of Endangered 
and Threatened Species. Any gray wolves in the remainder of Wyoming 
outside the National Parks and those portions of Washington, Oregon, 
and Utah in the NRM DPS, are not essential to conserving the NRM wolf 
population and these areas do not constitute a significant portion of 
the range in the DPS. Therefore these areas will not remain listed. We 
are also soliciting comments regarding our intention to use section 6 
agreements to allow States outside the NRM DPS with Service-approved 
wolf management plans to assume management of listed wolves, including 
nonlethal and lethal control of problem wolves.

DATES: We request that comments on this proposal be submitted by the 
close of business on April 9, 2007. We will hold six public hearings on 
this proposed rule scheduled between February 27 and March 8, 2007. In 
addition, we have scheduled six open houses that will precede the 
public hearings at each location (see ADDRESSES section for locations). 
Requests for additional public hearings must be received by us on or 
before March 26, 2007.

ADDRESSES: If you wish to comment, you may submit comments and 
materials concerning this proposal, identified by ``RIN number 1018-
AU53,'' by any of the following methods:
    1. Federal e-Rulemaking Portal--http://www.regulations.gov. Follow 

the instructions for submitting comments.
    2. E-mail_WesternGrayWolf@fws.gov. Include ``RIN number 1018-
AU53'' in the subject line of the message.
    3. Fax--(406) 449-5339.
    4. Mail--U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Gray Wolf Recovery 
Coordinator, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, Montana 59601.
    5. Hand Delivery/Courier--U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western 
Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601.
    Comments and materials received, as well as supporting 
documentation used in preparation of this proposed action, will be 
available for inspection following the close of the comment period, by 
appointment, during normal business hours, at our Helena office (see 

Public Hearings

    Six open houses, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. (brief presentations about 
the proposed rule will be given at both 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.) and six 
public hearings, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., will be held on:
    February 27, 2007, Tuesday at Holiday Inn Cheyenne, 204 West Fox 
Farm Road, Cheyenne, WY.
    February 28, 2007, Wednesday at Plaza Hotel, 122 West South Temple, 
Salt Lake City, UT.
    March 1, 2007, Thursday at Jorgenson's Inn & Suites, 1714 11th 
Avenue, Helena, MT.
    March 6, 2007, Tuesday at Boise Convention Center on the Grove, 850 
Front Street, Boise, ID.
    March 7, 2007, Wednesday at Pendleton Red Lion Inn, 304 S.E. Nye 
Street, Pendleton, OR.
    March 8, 2007, Thursday at Oxford Inns & Suites, 15015 East Indiana 
Avenue, Spokane Valley, WA.
    Anyone wishing to make an oral statement for the record is 
encouraged to provide a written copy of their statement and present it 
to us at the hearing. In the event there is a large attendance, the 
time allotted for oral statements may be limited. Speakers can only 
sign up at the open houses and hearing. Oral and written statements 
receive equal consideration. There are no limits on the length of 
written comments submitted to us. If you have any questions concerning 
the public hearings, please contact Sharon Rose 303-236-4580. Persons 
needing reasonable accommodations in order to attend and participate in 
the public hearings in Boise, ID; Pendleton, OR; or Spokane, WA, should 
contact Joan Jewett 503-231-6211 and for hearings in Cheyenne, WY; Salt 
Lake City, UT; or Helena, MT, please contact Sharon Rose at 303/236-
4580 as soon as possible in order to allow sufficient time to process 
requests. Please call no later than one week before the hearing date. 
Information regarding the proposal is available in alternative formats 
upon request.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Edward E. Bangs, Western Gray Wolf 
Recovery Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at our Helena 
office (see ADDRESSES) or telephone (406) 449-5225, extension 204.



    Gray wolves (Canis lupus) are the largest wild members of the dog 
family (Canidae). Adult gray wolves range from 18-80 kilograms (kg) 
(40-175 pounds (lb)) depending upon sex and region (Mech 1974, p. 1). 
In the NRM, adult male gray wolves average over 45 kg (100 lb), but may 
weigh up to 60 kg (130 lb). Females weigh slightly less than males. 
Wolves' fur color is frequently a grizzled gray, but it can vary from 
pure white to coal black (Gipson et al. 2002, p. 821).
    Gray wolves have a circumpolar range including North America, 
Europe and Asia. As Europeans began settling the United States, they 
poisoned, trapped, and shot wolves, causing this once-widespread 
species to be eradicated from most of its range in the 48 conterminous 
States (Mech 1970, pp.

[[Page 6107]]

31-34; McIntyre 1995, pp. 1-461). Gray wolf populations were eliminated 
from Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, as well as adjacent southwestern 
Canada by the 1930s (Young and Goldman 1944, p. 414).
    Wolves primarily prey on medium and large mammals. Wolves have a 
social structure, normally living in packs of 2 to 12 animals. In the 
NRM, pack sizes average about 10 wolves in protected areas, but a few 
complex packs have been substantially bigger in some areas of 
Yellowstone National Park (YNP) (Smith et al. 2006, p. 243; Service et 
al. 2006, Tables 1-3). Packs typically occupy large distinct 
territories 518-1,295 square kilometers (km2) (200-500 
square miles (mi2)) and defend these areas from other wolves 
or packs. Once a given area is occupied by resident wolf packs, it 
becomes saturated and wolf numbers become regulated by the amount of 
available prey, intraspecies conflict, other forms of mortality, and 
dispersal. Dispersing wolves may cover large areas as lone animals as 
they try to join other packs or attempt to form their own pack in 
unoccupied habitat. Dispersal distances in the NRM average about 97 
kilometers (km) (60 miles (mi)), but dispersals over 805 km (500 mi) 
have been documented (Boyd 2006; Boyd and Pletscher 1999, p. 1102).
    Typically, only the top-ranking (``alpha'') male and female in each 
pack breed and produce pups (Packard 2003, p. 38; Smith et al. 2006, 
pp. 243-4; Service et al. 2006, Tables 1-3). Females and males 
typically begin breeding as 2-year-olds and may annually produce young 
until they are over 10 years old. Litters are typically born in April 
and range from 1 to 11 pups, but average around 5 pups (Service et al. 
1989-2006, Tables 1-3). Most years, four of these five pups survive 
until winter (Service et al. 1989-2006, Tables 1-3). Wolves can live 13 
years (Holyan et al. 2005, p. 446) but the average lifespan in the NRM 
is less than 4 years (Smith et al. 2006, p. 245). Pup production and 
survival can increase when wolf density is lower and food availability 
per wolf increases (Fuller et al. 2003, p. 186). Breeding members also 
can be quickly replaced either from within or outside the pack (Packard 
2003, p. 38; Brainerd 2006). Consequently, wolf populations can rapidly 
recover from severe disruptions, such as very high levels of human-
caused mortality or disease. After severe declines, wolf populations 
can more than double in just 2 years if mortality is reduced; increases 
of nearly 100 percent per year have been documented in low-density 
suitable habitat (Fuller et al. 2003, pp. 181-183; Service et al. 2006, 
Table 4).
    For detailed information on the biology of this species see the 
``Biology and Ecology of Gray Wolves'' section of 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).


    Recovery Planning and the Selection of Recovery Criteria--Shortly 
after listing we formed the interagency wolf recovery team to complete 
a recovery plan for the NRM population (Service 1980, p. i; Fritts et 
al. 1995, p. 111). The NRM Wolf Recovery Plan (Rocky Mountain Plan) was 
approved in 1980 (Service 1980, p. i) and revised in 1987 (Service 
1987, p. i). Recovery plans are not regulatory documents and are 
instead intended to provide guidance to the Service, States, and other 
partners on methods of minimizing threats to listed species and on 
criteria that may be used to determine when recovery is achieved. 
Overall, recovery of a species is a dynamic process requiring adaptive 
management and judging the degree of recovery of a species is also an 
adaptive management process.
    The Rocky Mountain Plan (Service 1987, p. 57) specifies a recovery 
criterion of 10 breeding pairs of wolves (defined in 1987 as 2 wolves 
of opposite sex and adequate age, capable of producing offspring) for 3 
consecutive years in each of 3 distinct recovery areas--(1) 
northwestern Montana (Glacier National Park; the Great Bear, Bob 
Marshall, and Lincoln Scapegoat Wilderness Areas; and adjacent public 
and private lands), (2) central Idaho (Selway-Bitterroot, Gospel Hump, 
Frank Church River of No Return, and Sawtooth Wilderness Areas; and 
adjacent, mostly Federal, lands), and (3) the YNP area (including the 
Absaroka-Beartooth, North Absaroka, Washakie, and Teton Wilderness 
Areas; and adjacent public and private lands). The Rocky Mountain Plan 
states that if 2 recovery areas maintain 10 breeding pairs for 3 
successive years, gray wolves in the NRM can be reclassified to 
threatened status and if all 3 recovery areas maintain 10 breeding 
pairs for 3 successive years, the NRM wolf population can be considered 
fully recovered and can be considered for delisting. The Plan also 
states that individual recovery areas meeting recovery objectives can 
be reclassified to threatened status and consideration can be given to 
reclassifying such a population to threatened under similarity of 
appearance regulations after special regulations are established and a 
State management plan is in place for that population (Service 1987, 
pp. 19-20).
    The 1994 environmental impact statement (EIS) reviewed wolf 
recovery in the NRM and the adequacy of the recovery goals (Service 
1994, pp. 6:68-78). The EIS indicated that the 1987 recovery goal was, 
at best, a minimum recovery goal, and that modifications were warranted 
on the basis of more recent information about wolf distribution, 
connectivity, and numbers. This review concluded that, at a minimum, 
the recovery goal should be, ``Thirty or more breeding pairs (i.e., 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) comprising some 300+ wolves in a 
metapopulation (a population that exists as partially isolated sets of 
subpopulations) with genetic exchange between subpopulations should 
have a high probability of long-term persistence'' (Service 1994, pp. 
6:75). We believe that a metapopulation of this size and distribution 
among the three areas of core suitable habitat in the NRM DPS would 
result in a wolf population that is representative, resilient, and 
redundant and would fully achieve our recovery objectives.
    We conducted another review of what constitutes a recovered wolf 
population in late 2001 and early 2002 (Bangs 2002). Based on the 
review, we adopted the 1994 EIS's more relevant and stringent 
definition of wolf population viability and recovery (Service 1994, p. 
6:75) and began using entire States, in addition to recovery areas, to 
measure progress toward recovery goals (Service et al. 2002, Table 4). 
We have determined that an essential part of achieving recovery is a 
well-distributed number of wolf packs and individual wolves among the 
three States and the three recovery zones. While uniform distribution 
is not necessary, a well-distributed population with no one State 
maintaining a disproportionately low number of packs or number of 
individual wolves is needed.
    Fostering Recovery--In 1982, a wolf pack from Canada began to 
occupy Glacier National Park along the United States-Canada border. In 
1986, the first litter of pups documented in over 50 years was born in 
the Park (Ream et al. 1989, pp. 39-40). Also in 1986, a pack denned 
just east of the Park on the Blackfeet Reservation, but was not 
detected until 1987, when they began to depredate livestock (Bangs et 
al. 1995,

[[Page 6108]]

p. 131). The number of wolves resulting from this ``natural'' recovery 
in northwestern Montana steadily increased for the next decade (Service 
et al. 2006, Table 4).
    In 1995 and 1996, we reintroduced wolves from southwestern Canada 
to remote public lands in central Idaho and YNP (Bangs and Fritts 1996, 
pp. 785-786; Fritts et al. 1997, p. 7; Bangs et al. 1998, pp. 407-9). 
These wolves were classified as nonessential experimental populations 
under section 10(j) of the Act to increase management flexibility and 
address local and State concerns (59 FR 60252 and 60266, November 22, 
1994). This reintroduction and accompanying management programs greatly 
expanded the numbers and distribution of wolves in the NRM. Because of 
the reintroduction, wolves soon became established throughout central 
Idaho and the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) (Bangs et al. 1998, pp. 
787-789; Service et al. 2006, Table 4).
    Monitoring and Managing Recovery--By 1989, we formed an Interagency 
Wolf Working Group (Working Group), composed of Federal, State, and 
Tribal agency personnel (Bangs 1991, p. 7; Fritts et al. 1995, p. 109; 
Service et al. 1989, p. 1). The Working Group, whose membership has 
evolved as wolf range has expanded, conducted four basic recovery 
tasks, in addition to the standard enforcement functions associated 
with the take of a listed species. These tasks were: (1) Monitor wolf 
distribution and numbers; (2) control wolves that attacked livestock by 
moving them, conducting other non-lethal measures, or by killing them; 
(3) conduct research on wolf relationships to ungulate prey, other 
carnivores and scavengers, livestock, and people; and (4) provide 
accurate science-based information to the public through reports and 
mass media so that people could develop their opinions about wolves and 
wolf management from an informed perspective (Service et al. 1989-2006, 
pp. 1-3).
    The size and distribution of the wolf population is estimated by 
the Working Group each year and, along with other information, is 
published in interagency annual reports (Service et al. 1989-2006, 
Table 4). Since the early 1980s, the Service and our cooperating 
partners have radio-collared and monitored over 814 wolves in the NRM 
to assess population status, conduct research, and to reduce/resolve 
conflicts with livestock. The Working Group's annual population 
estimates represent the best scientific and commercial data available 
regarding year-end NRM gray wolf population size and trends, as well as 
distributional and other information.
    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, pp. 6:67; 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 adult male, adult female and two pups in winter, 
but there is a strong correlation between wolf pack size then and its 
probability of being classified as a breeding pair. The group size of 
packs of unknown composition in winter can be used to estimate their 
breeding pair status (Ausband 2006). Different habitat characteristics 
result in slightly different probabilities of breeding pair status in 
each State. However, regardless of which State, overall the probability 
of a pack of wolves having a 90 percent chance of being a breeding pair 
does not occur until there are at least nine 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 that meet our breeding 
pair recovery criteria. However, now we can use the best information 
currently available and use pack size in winter as a surrogate to 
reliably identify their contribution toward meeting our breeding pair 
recovery criteria 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, Table 4). This minimum recovery goal was again exceeded in 2001, 
2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 (Service et al. 2002-2006, Table 4). 
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, Table 4). By the end of 2006, the NRM wolf 
population had achieved its numerical and distributional recovery goal 
for 7 consecutive years (Service et al. 2001-2006, Table 4; 68 FR 
15804, April 1, 2003; 71 FR 6634, February 8, 2006).
    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, Table 4). In 2001, 7 
breeding 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, Table 4). 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, Table 4). 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, Table 4). 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, Table 4). 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, Table 4). 
In late 2006, preliminary estimates indicate there are 283 wolves in at 
least 22 breeding pairs in Montana (C. Sime, MFWP, pers. comm.), at 
least 650 wolves in about 42 breeding pairs in Idaho (S. Nadeau, IDFG, 
pers. comm.), and 310 wolves in 25 breeding pairs in Wyoming (M. 
Jimenez, Service, and D. Smith, NPS, pers. comm.) combining to at least 
1,243 wolves in over 89 breeding pairs in the NRM wolf population. The 
NRM wolf population increased an average of 26 percent annually from 
1995-2005 (Service et al. 2006, Table 4). Figure 1 illustrates wolf 
population trends by State from 1979 to 2005.

[[Page 6109]]


    The following section discusses recovery within each of the three 
major recovery areas. Because the recovery areas cross State lines, the 
population estimates may sum differently.
    Recovery in the Northwestern Montana Recovery Area--The 
Northwestern Montana Recovery Area (>49,728 km\2\ (>19,200 mi\2\)) 
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, Table 4). Our 1998 estimate was a minimum 
of 49 wolves in 5 known breeding pairs (Service et al. 1999, Table 4). 
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, Table 4). 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. 
2002-2006, Table 4) (See Figure 1). In 2006, preliminary estimates 
indicate there are about 149 wolves in at least 12 breeding pairs in 
northwestern Montana (C. Sime, MFWP, pers. comm.) and for the first 
time about 10 wolves in two packs (1 breeding pair) were documented in 
the endangered area of the Idaho Panhandle (S. Nadeau, IDFG, pers. 
    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, p. 878). 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 population. MFWP 
has 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, 
Table 4).
    Northwestern Montana's wolves are demographically and genetically 
linked to both the wolf population in Canada and in central Idaho 
(Pletscher et al. 1991, pp. 547-8; Boyd and Pletscher 1999, pp. 1105-
1106). Wolf dispersal into northwestern Montana from both directions 
will continue to supplement this segment of the overall wolf 
population, both demographically and genetically (Boyd 2006; Forbes and 
Boyd 1996, p. 1082; Forbes and Boyd 1997, p. 1226; Boyd et al. 1995, p. 
    Wolf conflicts with livestock have fluctuated with wolf population 
size and prey population density (Service et al. 2005, Table 5). 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

[[Page 6110]]

declined (Bangs et al. 1998, p. 878). Wolf numbers increased as wild 
prey numbers rebounded. Unlike YNP or the central Idaho Wilderness, 
northwestern Montana lacks a large core refugium that contains large 
numbers of 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, Table 4). 
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 to mostly Federal lands in central Idaho; 
and adjacent parts of southwest Montana (Service 1994, p. iv). In 
January 1995, 15 young adult wolves were captured in Alberta, Canada, 
and released by the Service in central Idaho (Bangs and Fritts 1996, p. 
409; Fritts et al. 1997, p. 7). In January 1996, an additional 20 
wolves from British Columbia were released (Bangs et al. 1998, p. 787). 
Central Idaho contains the greatest amount of highly suitable wolf 
habitat compared to either northwestern Montana or the GYA (Oakleaf et 
al. 2006, p. 559). In 1998, the central Idaho wolf population consisted 
of a minimum of 114 wolves, including 10 known breeding pairs (Bangs et 
al. 1998, p. 789). By 1999, it had grown to about 141 wolves in 10 
known breeding pairs (Service et al. 2000, Table 4). 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, Table 4). 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. 2003-2006, Table 4). As in the Northwestern Montana 
Recovery Area, some of the Central Idaho Recovery Area's increase in 
its estimated wolf population in 2005 was due to an increased 
monitoring effort by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) (See 
Figure 1). In 2006, we estimated there were 713 wolves in at least 46 
breeding pairs in central Idaho (S. Nadeau, IDFG, C. Sime, MFWP, pers. 
    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, p. iv). The wilderness portions of the GYA are rarely 
used by wolves due to high elevation, deep snow, and low productivity 
in terms of sustaining year-round wild ungulate populations (Service et 
al. 2006, Figure 3). In 1995, 14 wolves from Alberta, representing 3 
family groups, were released in YNP (Bangs and Fritts 1996, p. 409; 
Fritts et al. 1997, p. 7; Phillips and Smith 1996, pp. 33-43). 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, p. 787).
    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, Table 4). The 
1999 population consisted of 118 wolves, including 8 known breeding 
pairs (Service et al. 2000, Table 4). 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, Table 4). 
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, Table 4) (See Figure 1). In 2006, we 
estimated there were 371 wolves in at least 30 breeding pairs in the 
GYA (D. Smith, NPS, M. Jimenez, Service, C. Sime, MFWP, pers. comm.).
    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, 
Table 4). The population recovered somewhat in 2006, primarily because 
wolves outside YNP in WY grew to about 174 wolves in 15 breeding pairs 
(M. Jimenez, pers. comm.). 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, Table 4) 
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, p. 942; Vucetich et al. 2005, p. 259); 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, Table 2; Smith et al. 2006, p. 244). 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. In 2006, we estimated there were 
about 136 wolves in 10 breeding pairs in YNP (D. Smith, NPS, pers. 
comm.). 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.
    For detailed information on the history of NRM wolf recovery, 
recovery planning (including defining appropriate recovery criteria), 
population monitoring (through the end of 2005), and cooperation and 
coordination with our partners in achieving recovery, see the 
``Recovery'' section of the August 1, 2006, 12-month finding on a 
petition to establish and delist the NRM gray wolf population 
(including population estimates through the end of 2005) (71 FR 43411-

Previous Federal Action

    In 1974, four subspecies of gray wolf were listed as endangered 
including the 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) relisting 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. At that 
time, critical habitat was designated in Minnesota and Isle Royale, 
    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 Act. The Yellowstone 
Experimental Population Area consists of that portion of Idaho east of 
Interstate 15; that portion of Montana that is east of Interstate 15 
and south of the Missouri River from Great Falls, Montana, to the 
eastern Montana border; and all of

[[Page 6111]]

Wyoming (59 FR 60252, November 22, 1994). The Central Idaho 
Experimental Population Area consists of that portion of Idaho that is 
south of Interstate 90 and west of Interstate 15; and that portion of 
Montana south of Interstate 90, west of Interstate 15 and south of 
Highway 12 west of Missoula (59 FR 60266, November 22, 1994). This 
designation assisted us in initiating gray wolf reintroduction projects 
in central Idaho and the GYA (59 FR 60252, November 22, 1994). On 
January 6, 2005, we revised the regulations under section 10(j) and 
liberalized management options for problem wolves (70 FR 1286). We also 
encouraged State and Tribal leadership in wolf management in the 
nonessential experimental population areas (70 FR 1286, January 6, 
2005) where States and Tribes had Service-approved wolf management 
    The wolf population in the NRM achieved its numerical and 
distributional recovery goals at the end of 2000 (Service et al. 2001, 
Table 4). The temporal portion of the recovery goal was achieved at the 
end of 2002 (Service et al. 2001-2003, Table 4). Prior to delisting, 
the Service required that Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming develop wolf 
management plans to provide assurances that adequate regulatory 
mechanisms would exist should the Act's federal protections be removed. 
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 
and 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). 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 from the Friends of the 
Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd, Inc., that sought removal of the NRM 
gray wolf from endangered status under the Act (Knuchel 2001). 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 to revise the listing status for the gray wolf by 
establishing the NRM DPS and to remove the gray wolf in the NRM DPS 
from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species (Freudenthal 
2005). On October 26, 2005, we published a 90-day finding that 
considered the collective weight of evidence and initiated a 12-month 
status review (70 FR 61770, October 26, 2005). On August 1, 2006, we 
announced a 12-month finding that the petitioned action (delisting in 
all of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming) was not warranted because Wyoming 
State law and its wolf management plan did not provide the necessary 
regulatory mechanisms to ensure that Wyoming's numerical and 
distributional share of a recovered NRM wolf population would be 
conserved (71 FR 43410, August 1, 2006).
    On February 8, 2006, we published an Advanced Notice of Proposed 
Rulemaking (ANPR) announcing our intention to conduct a rulemaking to 
establish a DPS of the gray wolf in the NRM and to remove this DPS from 
the List of Endangered and Threatened Species, if Wyoming adopts a 
State law and a State wolf management plan that is approved by the 
Service (71 FR 6634).
    For detailed information on previous Federal actions see the ANPR 
(71 FR 6634, February 8, 2006) and the 2003 Reclassification Rule (68 
FR 15804, April 1, 2003).

Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment Policy Overview

    Pursuant to the Act, we consider for listing any species, 
subspecies, or, for vertebrates, any DPS of these taxa if there is 
sufficient information to indicate that such an action may be 
warranted. To interpret and implement the DPS provision of the Act and 
congressional guidance, the Service and the National Marine Fisheries 
Service (NMFS) published, on December 21, 1994, a draft Policy 
Regarding the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments 
under the Act and invited public comments on it (59 FR 65884-65885). 
After review of comments and further consideration, the Service and 
NMFS adopted the interagency policy as issued in draft form, and 
published it in the Federal Register on February 7, 1996 (61 FR 4722-
4725). This policy addresses the recognition of a DPS for potential 
listing, reclassification, and delisting actions.

Discreteness and Significance of the Proposed DPS

    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 list of endangered and 
threatened species, reclassification of already listed species, and 
removals from the list. The first two factors--discreteness of the 
population segment in relation to the remainder of the taxon; and the 
significance of the population segment to the taxon to which it 
belongs--bear on whether the population segment is a valid DPS. If a 
population meets both tests, it is a DPS and then the third factor is 
applied--the population segment's conservation status is evaluated in 
relation to the Act's standards for listing, delisting, or 
reclassification (i.e., is the DPS endangered or threatened).

Analysis for Discreteness

    Under our Policy Regarding the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate 
Population Segments, a population segment of a vertebrate taxon may be 
considered discrete if it satisfies either one of the following 
conditions--(1) is markedly separated from other populations of the 
same taxon 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) 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 Act.

Defining the Boundaries of the Proposed NRM DPS

    Our DPS policy allows for artificial or manmade boundary such as a 
road or highway to be used as a boundary of convenience in order to 
clearly identify the geographic area included within a DPS designation. 
The boundaries of the proposed NRM DPS include all of Montana, Idaho, 
and Wyoming, the eastern third of Washington and Oregon, and a small 
part of north central Utah. Specifically, the DPS includes that portion 
of Washington east of Highway 97 and Highway 17 north of Mesa and that 
portion of Washington east of Highway 395 south of Mesa. It includes 
that portion of Oregon east of Highway 395 and Highway 78 north of 
Burns Junction and that portion of Oregon east of Highway 95 south of 
Burns Junction. Finally, the DPS includes that portion of Utah east of 
Highway 84 and north of Highway 80. The center of these roads will be 
deemed the border of the DPS (see Figure 2).

[[Page 6112]]


    One factor we considered in defining the boundaries of the proposed 
NRM DPS was the documented current distribution of all known wolf pack 
locations in 2004 (Service et al. 2005, Figure 1). We also viewed the 
annual distribution of wolf packs back to 2002; i.e., the first year 
the population exceeded the recovery goal through 2005 (Service et al. 
2002-2006, Figure 1; Bangs et al. in press b). Our estimate of the 
overall area occupied by wolf packs in the NRM would not have 
substantially changed our conclusions had we included other years of 
data, so we used the 2004 data that had already been analyzed in the 
February 8, 2006 ANPR. All known wolf packs in recent history have only 
been located in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Only occasional lone 
dispersing wolves from the NRM population have been documented beyond 
those three States, in eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, northern 
Utah, central Colorado, and South Dakota (Boyd 2006).
    Dispersal distances played a key role in determining how far to 
extend the DPS. We examined the known dispersal distance of over 200 
marked dispersing wolves from the NRM, primarily using radio-telemetry 
locations and recoveries of the carcasses of marked wolves from the 
1980s until the present time (Boyd and Pletscher 1999, p. 1097; Boyd

[[Page 6113]]

2006). These data indicate the average dispersal distance of wolves 
from the NRM for the last 10 years was about 97 km (60 mi) (Boyd 2006). 
We determined that 180 mi (290 km), three times the average dispersal 
distance, was a break-point in our data for unusually long-distance 
dispersal out from existing wolf pack territories. Only 8 wolves (none 
of which subsequently bred) have dispersed farther and remained in the 
United States. No wolf traveling that far has ever come back to the 
core population in Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming. Only dispersal from the 
NRM packs to areas within the United States was considered in these 
calculations because we were trying to determine the appropriate DPS 
boundaries within the United States. Dispersers to Canada were 
irrelevant because the Canadian border is to form the northern edge of 
the DPS. Thus, we plotted the average dispersal distance and three 
times the average dispersal distance out from existing wolf pack 
territories. The resulting map indicated a wide-band of likely wolf 
dispersal that might be frequent enough to result in additional pack 
establishment from the core wolf population given the availability of 
nearby suitable habitat. Our specific data on wolf dispersal in the NRM 
may not be applicable to other areas of North America (Mech and Boitani 
2003, p. 13-16).
    We also examined suitable wolf habitat in Montana, Idaho, and 
Wyoming (Oakleaf et al. 2006, pp. 555-558) and throughout the western 
United States (Carroll et al. 2003, p. 538, 2006, pp. 27-30) by 
comparing the biological and physical characteristics of areas 
currently occupied by wolf packs with the characteristics of adjacent 
areas that remain unoccupied by wolf packs. The basic findings and 
predictions of those models (Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 559; Carroll et 
al. 2003, p. 541; Carroll et al. 2006, p. 32) were similar in many 
respects. Suitable wolf habitat in the NRM DPS is typically 
characterized by public land, mountainous forested habitat, abundant 
year-round wild ungulate populations, lower road density, lower numbers 
of domestic livestock that were only present seasonally, few domestic 
sheep (Ovis sp.), low agricultural use, and low human populations (see 
Factor A below under Summary of Factors Affecting the Species). The 
models indicate a large block of suitable wolf habitat exists in 
central Idaho and the GYA, and to a lesser extent in northwestern 
Montana. These findings support the recommendations of the 1987 wolf 
recovery plan (Service 1987) that identified those three areas as the 
most likely locations to support a recovered wolf population. The 
models indicate there is little suitable habitat within the portion of 
the NRM DPS in Washington, Oregon, or Utah (see Factor A).
    Unsuitable habitat also is important in determining the boundaries 
of our DPS. Model predictions by Oakleaf et al. (2006, p. 559) and 
Carroll et al. (2003, pp. 540-541, 2006, p. 27) and our observations 
during the past 20 years (Bangs et al. 2004, p. 93; Service et al. 
2006, Figures 1-4, Table 4) indicate that non-forested rangeland and 
croplands associated with intensive agricultural use (prairie and high 
desert) preclude wolf pack establishment and persistence. This 
unsuitability is due to chronic conflict with livestock and pets, local 
cultural intolerance of large predators, and wolf behavioral 
characteristics that make them extremely vulnerable to human-caused 
mortality in open landscapes (see Factor A). We looked at the 
distribution of large expanses of unsuitable habitat that would form a 
`barrier' or natural boundary separating the current population from 
both the southwestern and midwestern wolf populations and from the core 
of any other possible wolf population that might develop in the 
foreseeable future in the northwestern United States.
    Within the NRM DPS, we included the eastern parts of Washington and 
Oregon and a small portion of north central Utah, because--(1) these 
areas are within a 97- to 290-km (60- to 180-mi) band from the core 
wolf population where dispersal is likely; (2) lone dispersing wolves 
have been found in these areas in recent times (Boyd 2006); (3) these 
areas contain some suitable habitat (see Factor A for a more in-depth 
discussion of suitable habitat); and (4) the potential for connectivity 
exists between the relatively small and fragmented habitat patches in 
these areas and the large blocks of suitable habitat in the NRM DPS. If 
wolf packs do establish in these areas, they would likely be more 
connected to the core populations in central Idaho and northwestern 
Wyoming than to any future wolf populations that might become 
established in other large blocks of suitable habitat outside the NRM 
DPS. As noted earlier, large swaths of unsuitable habitat would isolate 
these populations from other suitable habitat patches to the west or 
    Although we have received reports of individual and wolf family 
units in the North Cascades of Washington (Almack and Fitkin 1998, pp. 
7-13), agency efforts to confirm them were unsuccessful and to date no 
individual wolves or packs have ever been confirmed there (Boyd and 
Pletscher 1999, p. 1096; Boyd 2006). Intervening unsuitable habitat 
makes it highly unlikely that wolves from the NRM population have 
dispersed to the North Cascades of Washington in recent history. 
However, if the wolf were to be delisted in the NRM DPS, it would 
remain protected by the Act as endangered outside the DPS.
    We propose to include all of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho in the NRM 
DPS because (1) their State regulatory frameworks apply State-wide; and 
(2) expanding the proposed DPS beyond a 97- to 290-km (60- to 180-mi) 
band of likely dispersal to include the entire State adds only 
unsuitable habitat. Although including all of Wyoming in the NRM DPS 
results in including portions of the Sierra Madre, the Snowy, and the 
Laramie Ranges, we do not consider these areas to be suitable wolf 
habitat. Oakleaf et al. (2006, pp. 558-559; Oakleaf 2006) chose not to 
analyze these areas of southeast Wyoming because they are fairly 
intensively used by livestock and are surrounded with, and interspersed 
by, private land, making pack establishment unlikely. While Carroll et 
al. (2003, p. 541; 2006, p. 32) optimistically predicted these areas 
were suitable habitat, the model predicted that under current 
conditions these areas were largely sink habitat and that by 2025 
(within the foreseeable future) they were likely to be ranked as low 
occupancy because of human population growth and road development. We 
chose not to extend the NRM DPS border beyond eastern Montana and 
Wyoming, although those adjacent portions of North Dakota and South 
Dakota only contain unsuitable habitat.
    Given the available information on potentially suitable habitat, 
expansion of the DPS to include Colorado or larger portions of Utah 
would have required significant expansion of the DPS south and west. 
Given current occupancy, and consideration of the significant portion 
of the range language in the Act's definition of threatened and 
endangered, we concluded that a smaller DPS centered around occupied 
suitable habitat was more appropriate.
    Markedly Separated from Other Populations of the Taxon--The eastern 
edge of the proposed NRM DPS (see Figure 2) is about 644 km (400 mi) 
from the western edge of the area currently occupied by the Western 
Great Lakes wolf population (eastern Minnesota) and is separated from 
it by hundreds of miles of unsuitable habitat (See discussion of 
suitable habitat in Factor A). The southern edge of the NRM DPS

[[Page 6114]]

border is about 724 km (450 mi) from the nonessential experimental 
populations of wolves in the southwestern United States with vast 
amounts of unoccupied marginal or unsuitable habitat separating them. 
Although individual wolves have occasionally been sighted west of the 
DPS boundary (likely individuals dispersing from Idaho or Canada), no 
wolf packs are known to occur west of the proposed DPS. No wolves from 
other U.S. populations are known to have dispersed as far as the 
borders of the NRM DPS.
    Although dispersal distance data for North America (Fritts 1983, 
pp. 166-167; Missouri Department of Conservation 2001, pp. 1-2; Ream et 
al. 1991, pp. 351-352; Boyd and Pletscher 1999, p. 1094; Boyd 2006) 
show that gray wolves can disperse over 805 km (500 mi) from existing 
wolf populations, the average dispersal of NRM wolves is about 97 km 
(60 mi). Only 8 of nearly 200 confirmed NRM wolf dispersal events from 
1994 through 2004 have been over 290 km (180 mi) (Boyd 2006). Six of 
these eight confirmed United States long-distance dispersers remained 
within the proposed DPS. None of those long-distance wolves found mates 
nor survived long enough to breed in the United States (Boyd 2006).
    Of the three wolves that dispersed into eastern Oregon, two died 
and one was relocated by the Service back to central Idaho. Of the two 
wolves that dispersed into eastern Washington, one died and the other 
moved north into Canada. A wolf that dispersed to northern Utah was 
incidentally captured by a coyote trapper and relocated back to Wyoming 
by the Service in late 2002. Another wolf that dispersed into the same 
area of northern Utah was incidentally killed in a coyote trap in 2006. 
The first wolf confirmed to have dispersed (within the United States) 
beyond the border of the proposed NRM DPS was killed by a vehicle 
collision along Interstate 70 in north-central Colorado in spring 2004. 
Although not confirmed, in early 2006, video footage of a black wolf-
like canid was taken near Walden in northern Colorado, suggesting 
another possible dispersing wolf had traveled into Colorado. The 
subsequent status or location of that animal is unknown. Finally, in 
spring 2006, the carcass of a male black wolf was found along 
Interstate 90 in western South Dakota. Genetic testing confirmed it was 
a wolf that had dispersed from the Yellowstone area. We expect that 
occasional lone dispersing wolves will continue to disperse beyond the 
currently occupied wolf habitat area in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, as 
well as into States adjacent to the NRM DPS, but that pack development 
and persistence outside the proposed NRM DPS is highly unlikely in the 
foreseeable future.
    No connectivity currently exists between the three United States 
gray wolf populations, nor are there any resident wolf packs in 
intervening areas. While it is theoretically possible that a lone wolf 
might transverse over 644 km (400 mi) from one population to the other, 
movement between these populations has never been documented and is 
extremely unlikely because of both the distance and the large gaps in 
suitable habitat between the populations. Furthermore, the DPS Policy 
does not require complete separation of one DPS from other populations, 
but instead requires ``marked separation.'' Thus, if occasional 
individual wolves or packs disperse among populations, the NRM DPS 
could still display the required discreteness. Based on the information 
presented above, we have determined that NRM gray wolves are markedly 
separated from all other gray wolves in the United States.
    Management Differences Among the United States and Canadian Wolf 
Populations--The DPS Policy allows us to use international borders to 
delineate the boundaries of a DPS if there are differences in control 
of exploitation, conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms between 
the countries. Significant differences exist in management between 
U.S.-Canadian wolf populations. Therefore, we will continue to use the 
United States-Canada border to mark the northern boundary of the DPS 
due to the difference in control of exploitation, conservation status, 
and regulatory mechanisms between the two countries. About 52,000 to 
60,000 wolves occur in Canada where suitable habitat is abundant 
(Boitani 2003, p. 322). Because of this abundance, protection and 
intensive management are not necessary to conserve the wolf in Canada. 
This contrasts with the situation in the United States, where, to date, 
intensive management has been necessary to recover the wolf. Wolves in 
Canada are not protected by Federal laws and are only minimally 
protected in most Canadian provinces (Pletscher et al. 1991, p. 546). 
If delisted, States in the NRM would carefully monitor and manage to 
retain populations at or above the recovery goal (see Factor D below).

Analysis for Significance

    If we determine a population segment is discrete, we next consider 
available scientific evidence of its significance to the taxon 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. Below we 
address Factors 1 and 2. Factors 3 and 4 do not apply to the proposed 
NRM DPS and thus are not included in our analysis for significance.
    Unusual or Unique Ecological Setting--Within the range of holarctic 
wolves, the NRM has among the highest diversity of large predators 
occupying the same areas as a large variety of native ungulate prey 
species, resulting in complex ecological interaction between the 
ungulate prey, predator, and scavenger groups (Smith et al. 2003, p. 
331). In the NRM DPS, gray wolves share habitats with black bears 
(Ursus americanus), grizzly bears (U. arctos horribilis), cougars 
(Felis concolor), lynx (Lynx canadensis), wolverine (Gulo gulo), 
coyotes (Canis latrans), badgers (Taxidea taxus), bobcats (Felis 
rufus), fisher (Martes pennanti), and marten (Martes americana). The 
unique and diverse assemblage of native prey include elk, mule deer 
(Odocoileus hemionus), white-tailed deer, moose (Alces alces), woodland 
caribou (Rangifer caribou), bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), mountain 
goats (Oreamnos americanus), pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra 
americana), bison (Bison bison) (only in the GYA), and beaver (Castor 
canadensis). This complexity leads to unique ecological cascades in 
some areas, such as in YNP (Smith et al. 2003, pp. 334-338; Robbins 
2004, pp. 80-81; Campbell et al. 2006, pp. 747-753). For example, 
wolves appear to be changing elk behavior and elk relationships and 
competition with other ungulates and other predators (e.g., cougars) 
that did not occur when wolves were absent. These complex interactions 
could be increasing streamside willow production and survival (Ripple 
and Beschta 2004, p. 755), which in turn can affect beaver and nesting 
by riparian birds (Nievelt 2001). This suspected pattern of wolf-

[[Page 6115]]

caused changes also may be occurring with scavengers, whereby wolf 
predation is providing a year-round source of food for a diverse 
variety of carrion feeders (Wilmers et al. 2003, p. 996). The wolf 
population in the NRM has significantly extended the range of the gray 
wolf in the continental United States into a much more diverse, 
ecologically complex, and unique assemblage of species than is found 
elsewhere within historical wolf habitat in the northern hemisphere, 
including Europe and Asia.
    Significant Gap in the Range of the Taxon--Loss of the NRM wolf 
population would represent a significant gap in the holarctic range of 
the taxon. Wolves once lived throughout most of North America. Wolves 
have been extirpated from most of the southern portions of their North 
American range. The loss of the NRM wolf population would represent a 
significant gap in the species' holarctic range in that this loss would 
create a 15-degree latitudinal or over 1,600-km (1,000-mi) gap across 
the Rocky Mountains between the Mexican wolf and wolves in Canada. If 
this potential gap were realized, substantial cascading ecological 
impacts would occur in that area (Smith et al. 2003, pp. 334-338; 
Robbins 2004, pp. 80-81; Campbell et al. 2006, pp. 747-753).
    Given the wolf's historic occupancy of the conterminous States and 
the portion of the historic range the conterminous States represent, 
recovery in the lower 48 States has long been viewed as important to 
the taxon (39 FR 1171, January 4, 1974; 43 FR 9607, March 9, 1978). The 
proposed NRM DPS is significant in achieving this objective, as it is 1 
of only 3 populations of wolves in the lower 48 States and constitutes 
nearly 20 percent of all wolves in the lower 48 States.
    We conclude, based on our analysis of the best available scientific 
information, that the NRM DPS is significant to the taxon in that NRM 
wolves exist in a unique ecological setting and their loss would 
represent a significant gap in the range of the taxon. Therefore, the 
NRM DPS meets the criterion of significance under our DPS policy.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act and regulations (50 CFR Part 424) promulgated 
to implement the listing provisions of the Act set forth the procedures 
for listing, reclassifying, and delisting species. The Act defines 
``species'' to also include any subspecies or, for vertebrates, any 
DPS. Because the NRM gray wolf population is discrete and significant, 
as defined above, it warrants recognition as a DPS under the Act and 
our policy (61 FR 4722). Species may be listed as threatened or 
endangered if one or more of the five factors described in section 
4(a)(1) of the Act 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 Act's 
definition of threatened or endangered. Determining whether a species 
is recovered requires consideration of the same five categories of 
threats specified in section 4(a)(1). 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 Act's protections.
    For the purposes of this proposed rule, 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. The average gray wolf breeds at 30 months of age and 
replaces itself in 3 years (Fuller et al. 2003, p. 175; Smith et al. 
2006, pp. 244-245). We used 10 wolf generations (30 years) to represent 
a reasonable biological timeframe to determine if impacts could be 
significant. To the extent practical, we assessed all potential threats 
to the wolf population based upon that 30-year foreseeable timeframe.
    A species is ``endangered'' for purposes of the Act if it is in 
danger of extinction throughout all or a ``significant portion of its 
range'' and is ``threatened'' if it is likely to become endangered 
within the foreseeable future throughout all or a ``significant portion 
of its range.'' The following describes how we interpret the terms 
``range'' and ``significant'' as used in the phrase ``significant 
portion of its range,'' and explains the bases for our use of those 
terms in this rule.


    The word ``range'' in the phrase ``significant portion of its 
range'' refers to the range in which a species currently exists, not to 
the historical range of the species where it once existed. The context 
in which the phrase is used is crucial. Under the Act's definitions, a 
species is ``endangered'' only if it ``is in danger of extinction'' in 
the relevant portion of its range. The phrase ``is in danger'' denotes 
a present-tense condition of being at risk of a future, undesired 
event. To say that a species ``is in danger'' in an area that is 
currently unoccupied, such as unoccupied historical range, would be 
inconsistent with common usage. Thus, ``range'' must mean ``currently-
occupied range,'' not ``historical range.'' This interpretation of 
``range'' is further supported by the fact that section 4(a)(1)(A) of 
the Act requires us to consider the ``present'' or ``threatened'' 
(i.e., future), rather than the past, ``destruction, modification, or 
curtailment'' of a species' habitat or range in determining whether a 
species is endangered or threatened.
    However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals appeared to conclude, 
without any analysis or explanation that the ``range'' referred to in 
the SPR phrase includes the historical range of the species. The court 
stated that a species ``can be extinct `throughout * * * a significant 
portion of its range' if there are major geographical areas in which it 
is no longer viable but once was,'' and then faults the Secretary for 
not ``at least explain[ing] her conclusion that the area in which the 
species can no longer live is not a significant portion of its range.'' 
Defenders of Wildlife v. Norton, 258 F.3d 1136, 1145 (emphasis added). 
This would suggest that the range we must analyze in assessing 
endangerment includes unoccupied historical range--i.e., the places 
where the species was once viable but no longer exists.
    The statute does not support this interpretation. This 
interpretation is based on what appears to be an inadvertent misquote 
of the relevant statutory language. In addressing this issue, the Ninth 
Circuit states that the Secretary must determine whether a species is 
``extinct throughout * * * a significant portion of its range.'' Id. If 
that were true, we would have to study the historical range. But that 
is not what the statute says, and the Ninth Circuit quotes the statute 
correctly elsewhere in its opinion. Under the Act, we are not to 
determine if a species is ``extinct throughout * * * a significant 
portion of its range,'' but are to determine if it ``is in danger of 
extinction throughout * * * a significant portion of its range.'' A 
species cannot presently be ``in danger of extinction'' in that portion 
of its range where it ``was once viable but no longer is''--if by the 
latter phrase the court meant lost historical habitat. In that portion 
of its range, the species has by definition ceased to exist. In such 
situations, it is not ``in danger of extinction''; it is extinct.

[[Page 6116]]

    Although we must focus on the range in which the species currently 
exists, data about the species' historical range and how the species 
came to be extinct in that location may be relevant in understanding or 
predicting whether a species is ``in danger of extinction'' in its 
current range and therefore relevant to our 5 factor analysis. But the 
fact that it has ceased to exist in what may have been portions of its 
historical range does not necessarily mean that it is ``in danger of 
extinction'' in a significant portion of the range where it currently 
exists. For the purposes of this notice we consider the range of the 
gray wolf to be the entire geographic area delineated by the boundaries 
of the NRM DPS.


    The Act does not clearly indicate what portion(s) of a species' 
range should be considered ``significant.'' Most dictionaries list 
several definitions of ``significant.'' For example, one standard 
dictionary defines ``significant'' as ``important,'' ``meaningful,'' 
``a noticeably or measurably large amount,'' or ``suggestive'' 
(Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 1088 10th ed. 2000). If it 
means a ``noticeably or measurably large amount,'' then we would have 
to focus on the size of the range in question, either in relation to 
the rest of the range or perhaps even in absolute terms. If it means 
``important,'' then we would have to consider factors in addition to 
size in determining a portion of a species' range is ``significant.'' 
For example, would a key breeding ground of species be ``significant,'' 
even if it was only a small part of the species' entire range?
    One district court interpreted the term to mean ``a noticeably or 
measurably large amount'' without analysis or any reference to other 
alternate meanings, including ``important'' or ``meaningful.'' 
Defenders of Wildlife v. Norton, 239 F. Supp. 2d 9, 19 (D.D.C. 2002). 
We consider the court's interpretation to be unpersuasive because the 
court did not explain why we could not employ another, equally 
plausible definition of ``significant.'' It is impossible to determine 
from the word itself, even when read in the context of the entire 
statute, which meaning of ``significant'' Congress intended. Moreover, 
even if it were clear which meaning was intended, ``significant'' would 
still require interpretation. For example, if it were meant to refer to 
size, what size would be ``significant'': 30 percent, 60 percent, 90 
percent? Should the percentage be the same in every case or for each 
species? Moreover, what factors, if any, would be appropriate to 
consider in making a size determination? Is size all by itself 
``significant,'' or does size only become ``significant'' when 
considered in combination with other factors? On the other hand, if 
``significant'' were meant to refer to importance, what factors would 
need to be considered in deciding that a particular portion of a 
species' range is ``important'' enough to trigger the protections of 
the Act?
    Where there is ambiguity in a statute, as with the meaning of 
``significant,'' the agency charged with administering the statute, in 
this case the Service, has broad discretion to resolve the ambiguity 
and give meaning to the term. As the Supreme Court has stated:

    In Chevron, this Court held that ambiguities in statutes within 
an agency's jurisdiction to administer are delegations of authority 
to the agency to fill the statutory gap in reasonable fashion. 
Filling these gaps, the Court explained, involves difficult policy 
choices that agencies are better equipped to make than courts. If a 
statute is ambiguous, and if the implementing agency's construction 
is reasonable, Chevron requires a federal court to accept the 
agency's construction of the statute, even if the agency's reading 
differs from what the court believes is the best statutory 

Nat'l Cable & Telecomms. Ass'n v. Brand X Internet Servs., 545 U.S. 
967, 980 (2005) (internal citations omitted).
    We have broad discretion in defining what portion of a species' 
range is ``significant.'' No ``bright line'' or ``predetermined'' 
percentage of historical range loss is considered ``significant'' in 
all cases, and we may consider factors other than simply the size of 
the range portion in defining what is ``significant.'' In light of the 
general ecosystems conservation purposes and findings in section 2 of 
the Act, out goal is to define ``significant'' in such a way as to 
insure the conservation of the species protected by the Act. In 
determining whether a range portion is significant, we consider the 
ecosystems on which the species that use that range depend as well as 
the values listed in the Act that would be impaired or lost if the 
species were to become extinct in that portion of the range or in the 
range as a whole.
    However, our discretion in defining ``significant'' is not 
unlimited. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, while acknowledging that 
we have ``a wide degree of discretion in delineating'' what portion of 
a range is ``significant,'' appeared to set outer limits of that 
discretion. See Defenders of Wildlife v. Norton, 258 F.3d 1136. On the 
one hand, it rejected what it called a quantitative approach to 
defining ``significant,'' where a ``bright line'' or ``predetermined'' 
percentage of historical range loss is considered ``significant'' in 
all cases. 258 F.3d. at 1143. As the court explained:

    First, it simply does not make sense to assume that the loss of 
a predetermined percentage of habitat or range would necessarily 
qualify a species for listing. A species with an exceptionally large 
historical range may continue to enjoy healthy population levels 
despite the loss of a substantial amount of suitable habitat. 
Similarly, a species with an exceptionally small historical range 
may quickly become endangered after the loss of even a very small 
percentage of habitat.

    The Ninth Circuit concluded that what is ``significant'' must 
``necessarily be determined on a case by case basis,'' and must take 
into account not just the size of the range but also the biological 
importance of the range to the species. 258 F.3d. at 1143. At the other 
end of the spectrum, the Ninth Circuit rejected what it called ``the 
faulty definition offered by us,'' a definition that holds that a 
portion of a species' range is ``significant'' only if the threats 
faced by the species in that area are so severe as to threaten the 
viability of the species as a whole. 258 F.3d. at 1143, 1146. It thus 
appears that within the two outer boundaries set by the Ninth Circuit, 
we have wide discretion to give the definitive interpretation of the 
word ``significant'' in the phrase ``significant portion of its 
    Based on these principles, we consider the following factors in 
determining whether a portion of a range is ``significant''--quality, 
quantity, and distribution of habitat relative to the biological 
requirements of the species; the historical value of the habitat to the 
species; the frequency of use of the habitat; the uniqueness or 
importance of the habitat for other reasons, such as breeding, feeding, 
migration, wintering, or suitability for population expansion; genetic 
diversity; and other biological factors. We focus on portions of a 
species' range that are important to the conservation of the species, 
such as ``recovery units'' identified in approved Section 4 recovery 
plans; unique habitat or other ecological features that provide 
adaptive opportunities that are of conservation importance to the 
species; and ``core'' populations that generate additional individuals 
of a species that can, over time, replenish depleted populations or 
stocks at the periphery of the species' range. We do not apply the term 
``significant'' to portions of the species' range that constitute less-
productive peripheral habitat, artificially-created habitat, or areas

[[Page 6117]]

where wildlife species have established themselves in urban or suburban 
settings-- such portions of the species' range are not ``significant,'' 
in our view, to the conservation of the species as required by the Act.
    In order to finalize this rule as proposed, Wyoming would have to 
adopt a State law and wolf management plan that would adequately 
conserve a recovered wolf population into the foreseeable future in the 
significant portion of range outside the National Parks in northwestern 
Wyoming. If Wyoming takes these steps and provides the Service with a 
statute and wolf management plan that we approve and which contains the 
necessary adequate regulatory measures, it is our intent to reopen the 
public comment period with respect to this proposed rule in order to 
receive comments on the Wyoming statute and wolf management plan before 
we would issue a final rule.
    However, if Wyoming has not taken these steps by the date that a 
final decision is to be made, we have carefully considered the 
requirements of the Act and the record before us and concluded that an 
alternative approach may be in order. Specifically, it would then be 
our intention instead to reclassify the portions of the DPS in the 
States of Idaho and Montana, Washington, Oregon, and Utah as ``not 
listed.'' We would also reclassify the portion of Wyoming that is not a 
significant portion of the range and the portion that is in the 
National Parks in Wyoming as ``not listed''. The DPS would no longer 
exist. The significant portion of the range that exists outside the 
National Parks within the State of Wyoming would continue to be listed 
as ``nonessential experimental'' based on the biologically significant 
nature of that portion of the species' range and the continuing 
unacceptable level of threats that occur under the State's current 
statute and management plan. Accordingly, we request that comments also 
be submitted which specifically address this alternative as well as the 
proposal to establish this DPS.
    The following analysis examines all significant factors currently 
affecting the NRM wolf population or likely to affect it within the 
foreseeable future.

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

    The NRM DPS is approximately 980,803 km2 (378,690 
mi2) and includes 411,308 km2 (158,807 
mi2) of Federal land (42 percent); 53,701 km2 
(20,734 mi2) of State land (5 percent); 39,026 
km2 (15,068 mi2) of Tribal land (4 percent); and 
467,604 km2 (180,543 mi2) of private land (48 
percent). The DPS contains large amounts of three Ecoregion Divisions--
Temperate Steppe (prairie) (312,148 km2 [120,521 
mi2]); Temperate Steppe Mountain (forest) (404,921 
km2 [156,341 mi2]); and Temperate Desert (high 
desert) (263,544 km2 [101,755 mi2]) (Bailey 1995, 
p. iv). The following analysis focuses on suitable habitat within the 
DPS and currently occupied areas (which may include intermittent 
unsuitable habitat). Finally, unsuitable habitat, ungulate populations, 
and connectivity are discussed.
    Suitable Habitat--Wolves once occupied or transited most, if not 
all, of the proposed NRM DPS. However, much of the wolf's historical 
range within this area has been modified for human use and is no longer 
suitable habitat. We have reviewed the quality, quantity, and 
distribution of habitat relative to the biological requirements of 
wolves; the historic value of the habitat to wolves; the frequency of 
use of the habitat; the uniqueness or importance of the habitat for 
other reasons, such as breeding, feeding, migration, wintering, or 
suitability for population expansion; genetic diversity; and other 
biological factors. In doing so we used two relatively new models, 
Oakleaf et al. (2006, pp. 555-558) and Carroll et al. (2006, pp. 27-
31), to help us gauge the current amount and distribution of suitable 
wolf habitat in the NRM. 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 NRM 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, these two models had substantial differences in their 
analysis area, layers, inputs, and assumptions. As a result, the 
Oakleaf et al. (2006, p. 559) and Carroll et al. (2006, p. 33) models 
predicted different amounts of theoretically suitable wolf habitat 
where their models overlapped (i.e., portions of Montana, Idaho, and 
    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, p. 555). It used roads accessible to two-wheel and four-wheel 
vehicles, topography (slope and elevation), land ownership, relative 
ungulate density (based on State harvest statistics), cattle (Bos sp.) 
and sheep 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, p. 555). In total, Oakleaf et al. 
(2006, p. 559) ranked 170,228 km2 (65,725 mi2) 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, pp. 27-31). 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, p. 29). 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, pp. 30-31). 
Within the proposed DPS, Carroll et al. (2006, pp. 27-31) ranked 
277,377 km2 (107,096 mi2) as suitable including 
105,993 km2 (40,924 mi2) in Montana; 82,507 
km2 (31,856 mi2) in Idaho; 77,202 km2 
(29,808 mi2) in Wyoming; 6,620 km2 (2,556 
mi2) in Oregon; 4,286 km2 (1,655 mi2) 
in Utah; and 769 km2 (297 mi2) in Washington. 
Approximately 96 percent of the suitable habitat (265,703 
km2 (102,588 mi2)) within the DPS occurred in 
Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. According to the Carroll model, 
approximately 28 percent of the NRM DPS would be ranked as suitable 
habitat (Carroll et al. 2006, pp. 27-31).
    We believe that the Carroll et al. (2006, pp. 31-34) model tended 
to be more liberal in identifying suitable wolf habitat under current 
conditions than either the Oakleaf (et al. 2006, pp. 558-560) model or 
our field observations indicate is realistic, but Carroll's model 
provided a valuable relative measure across the western United States 

[[Page 6118]]

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, pp. 27-29; Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 556). Thus, 
this model 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.
    Furthermore, many of the more isolated primary habitat patches that 
the Carroll model predicted as currently suitable were predicted to be 
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, p. 32). 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, p. 788; Service 
et al. 1999-2006, Figure 1). Even if one views these habitat areas as 
suitable, they are not a significant portion of the range.
    Despite the substantial differences in each model's analysis area, 
layers, inputs, and assumptions, both models predicted that most 
suitable wolf habitat in the NRM 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 core 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, p. 9; 1987, p. 7; 
1994, p. vii). 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 NRM. Specifically, we considered the locations estimated in the 
1987 wolf recovery plan (Service 1987, p. 23), the primary analysis 
areas analyzed in the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement (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, p. iv), information derived from 
theoretical models by Carroll et al. (2006, p. 25) and Oakleaf et al. 
(2006, p. 554), our nearly 20 years of field experience managing wolves 
in the NRM, and locations of persistent wolf packs since recovery has 
been achieved. Collectively, this evidence leads us to concur with the 
Oakleaf et al. (2006, p. 559) 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. We do not predict that changes 
in habitat quantity, quality, and distribution of suitable habitat nor 
land-uses in the foreseeable future in all or a significant portion of 
range in the NRM DPS will threaten wolf population recovery. However, 
Oakleaf predicted that most of the suitable habitat in the GYA recovery 
area outside the National Parks is in northwestern Wyoming. 
Additionally, an important component of suitable habitat is a reduction 
or lack of risk to excessive human-caused mortality. Therefore, that 
area of northwestern Wyoming outside the National Parks that is listed 
as ``predatory animal'' under Wyoming state law and plan would sustain 
such a high level of excessive human-caused mortality that otherwise 
suitable wolf habitat there would be rendered unsuitable and the range 
of the GYA segment of the NRM wolf population would fall below that 
needed to assure its continued existence into the future.
    The area that we conclude is suitable habitat is generally depicted 
in Oakleaf's et al. (2006) map on page 559. Although some areas outside 
this depiction have been temporarily occupied and used by wolves, or 
even packs, we consider them to be unsuitable habitat because wolf 
packs have generally failed to persist there long enough to be 
categorized as breeding pairs and successfully contribute toward our 
recovery goals. Generally this area of suitable habitat is located in 
western Montana, Idaho north of Interstate 84, and the NW corner of 
Wyoming, east of state highway 120, along the western border of the 
Wind River Reservation, and USDA Forest Service lands north of Boulder, 
WY. Although Carroll determined there may be some potentially suitable 
wolf habitat in the NRM DPS outside of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, we 
believe it is marginally suitable at best and is insignificant to wolf 
population recovery because it occurs in small isolated fragmented 
areas. Therefore, we consider such areas as containing unsuitable 
habitat and that dispersing wolves attempting to colonize those areas 
are unlikely to significantly contribute to population recovery.
    Significant Portion of Range--We determined whether a portion of 
the species range is significant based on the biological needs of the 
species and the nature of the threats to the species. As stated above, 
the factors we used to determine significance include, but may not be 
limited to the following: quality, quantity, and distribution of 
habitat relative to the biological requirements of the species; the 
historic value of the habitat to the species; the frequency of use of 
the habitat; the uniqueness or importance of the habitat for other 
reasons, such as breeding, feeding, migration, wintering, or 
suitability for population expansion; genetic diversity (the loss of 
genetically based diversity may substantially reduce the ability of the 
species to respond and adapt to future environmental changes or 
perturbations); and other biological factors. In determining whether a 
portion of a species' range is significant we have also considered the 
portion's contribution to the representation (involves conserving the 
breadth of the genetic makeup of the species to conserve its adaptive 
capabilities; populations in peripheral areas may be important in terms 
of affecting future evolutionary processes), resilience (a species 
ability to recover from periodic disturbances or environmental 
variability; this is often related to habitat quality because it is 
assumed that the species is most resilient in its best habitat), or 
redundancy (ensuring a sufficient number of populations to provide a 
margin of safety for the species to withstand catastrophic events) of 
the species as a whole.
    After careful examination of the NRM DPS in the context of our 
definition of

[[Page 6119]]

``significant portion of the range'' we have determined that portions 
of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming each constitute a biologically 
significant portion of the NRM DPS because: (1) Idaho, Montana, and 
Wyoming contain the lion's share of suitable habitat within the DPS 
(approximately 96 percent of suitable habitat within the DPS according 
to Carroll (2006) (see Factor A below); (2) the suitable habitat within 
portions of these 3 States is of sufficient quality, extent, and 
distribution to support a viable wolf metapopulation (Service 1980, pp. 
12-13; Service 1987, pp. 12, 23; Service 1994, pp. v, 3:1-109, 4:1-103; 
Carroll et al. 2003, p. 541; Carroll et al. 2006, p. 32; Oakleaf et al. 
2006, pp. 70-71); (3) suitable habitat in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming 
currently support all of the known wolf breeding pairs in the NRM 
(Service et al. 2006, Figure 1); and (4) maintenance of at least 30 
breeding pairs and 300 wolves well distributed among these States, long 
considered necessary to maintain a viable wolf population in the NRM 
(Service 1987, p. 12; Service 1994, pp. 6:74-75; Bangs 2002, pp. 1-7), 
requires maintenance of wolf breeding pairs in each State. The ability 
to declare the NRM wolf population recovered at such relatively modest 
recovery goals is dependent as much on its overall distribution as 
simply maintaining at least 30 breeding pairs and at least 300 wolves 
in the three recovery areas/states. Therefore, that is the reason a 
significant portion of range is dependent on each of the three states 
contributing its share of suitable habitat. Current predatory animal 
status in Wyoming would jeopardize the GYA significant portion of range 
and the overall NRM wolf population. Thus, if Wyoming fails to modify 
its regulatory framework, the Act's protections will be necessary to 
ensure the GYA portion of the NRM wolf population is maintained above 
recovery levels into the foreseeable future.
    Suitable habitat within the occupied area, particularly between the 
population segments, is important to maintain the overall population 
and is a significant portion of the range in the DPS. Habitat on the 
outer edge of the metapopulation is not capable of supporting wolf 
breeding pairs, is insignificant to maintaining the NRM wolf 
population's viability, and is not a significant portion of the range.
    Oakleaf et al. (2006, p. 559) predicted that roughly 148,599 
km2 (57,374 mi2) or 87 percent of Wyoming's, 
Idaho's, 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, p. 561) is not capable of supporting wolf breeding pairs, 
is insignificant to maintaining the NRM wolf population's viability, 
and is not a significant portion of the range. We nevertheless 
considered potential threats to this area.
    Additionally, the portions of Oregon, Washington, and Utah within 
the DPS are not a significant portion of the NRM DPS because: (1) These 
portions of Oregon, Washington, and Utah contain only about 4 percent 
of suitable habitat within the DPS (Carroll 2005); (2) habitat in these 
States is generally lower quality and more fragmented (Carroll et al. 
2006, p. 541); (3) Oregon, Washington, and Utah do not currently 
support any wolf packs (although, on occasion, a few dispersing wolves 
have been documented in these areas) (Service et al. 1989-2006, Tables 
1-3); and (4) if wolf packs did form in these areas, they might 
contribute to a viable wolf population in the NRM, but would not be 
essential for its continued existence.
    In summary, a total of about 275,533 km2 (106,384 
mi2) of occupied habitat in parts of western Montana 
(125,208 km2 [48,343 mi2]), Idaho (116,309 
km2 [44,907 mi2]), and northwestern Wyoming 
(34,017 km2 [13,134 mi2]) (Service et al. 2005, 
Figure 1) are a significant portion of range in the NRM DPS. All other 
areas in the NRM DPS are not a significant portion of range. This area 
is roughly western Montana west of I-15 and North of I-90, Idaho north 
of I-84 and in Wyoming west of state highway 120, along the western 
border of the Wind River Reservation, and USDA Forest Service lands 
north of Boulder, WY to the Idaho border. More specifically, this area 
of northwestern Wyoming is described as: the junction of U.S. Highway 
120 and the Wyoming/Montana State line; running southerly along state 
Highway 120 to the Greybull River; southwesterly up said river to the 
Wood River; running southwesterly up said river to the U.S. Forest 
Service boundary; following the U.S. Forest Service boundary southerly 
to the northern boundary of the Wind River Indian Reservation; 
following the Reservation boundary westerly, then southerly across U.S. 
Highway 26/287 to the Continental Divide; following the Continental 
Divide southeasterly to Middle Fork of Boulder Creek; following the 
Middle Fork of Boulder Creek and then Boulder Creek westerly to the 
U.S. Forest Service boundary; following the U.S. Forest Service 
boundary northwesterly to its intersection with U.S. Highway 189/191; 
following U.S. Highway 189/91 northwesterly to the intersection with 
Wyoming state highway 22 in the town of Jackson; following Wyoming 
state highway 22 westerly to the Wyoming/Idaho State line.
    The significant portion of range for the NRM wolf population 
includes habitat where there are large blocks of contiguous public 
land; habitat is primarily forest in Temperate Steppe Regime Mountains 
(Bailey 1995); elk and/or white-tailed and mule deer are common; 
livestock are primarily cattle, grazed seasonally, and are at lower 
density than on private land; road density is low; and human presence 
is low or seasonal. The amount, connectivity, and location of these 
habitat characteristics in western Montana, central Idaho, and the GYA 
is sufficient to support a metapopulation of at least 30 breeding pairs 
and 300 gray wolves equitably distributed in western Montana, central 
Idaho and northwestern Wyoming. These areas in the NRM DPS are depicted 
in Figure 2. We do not predict that changes in habitat quantity, 
quality, or distribution of suitable habitat nor land-uses in the 
foreseeable future in all or a significant portion of range in the NRM 
DPS will threaten wolf population recovery.
    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, p. 7; Larson 
2004, p. 49; Carroll et al. 2006, p. 35; Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 559). 
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 ranked by models as suitable that 
is adjacent to core refugia 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, p. 30) and Oakleaf (et al. 2006, 
p. 559) models, only has a 50 percent or greater chance of being 

[[Page 6120]]

occupied by wolf packs. Therefore, model predictions regarding habitat 
suitability do not always translate into successful wolf occupancy and 
wolf breeding pairs.
    Strips and smaller (less than 2,600 km2 [1,000 
mi2]) patches of theoretically suitable habitat (Carroll et 
al. 2006, p. 34; Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 559) (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, pp. 400-401). 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, p. 2128). Because of edge 
effects, some habitat areas outside the core areas may rank as suitable 
in models but are unlikely to actually be successfully occupied by wolf 
packs. For these reasons, we believe that the NRM wolf population will 
remain centered in 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.
    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 territories 
in 2004 (n=110) (Service et al. 2005, Figure 1). 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, pp. 6:5-6). We relied 
upon 2004 wolf monitoring data (Service et al. 2005, Figure 1). 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, 
Figure 1; Bangs et al. in pressb). Because the States, except Wyoming, 
have committed to maintain a wolf population above the minimum recovery 
levels (first achieved in 2000) we expect this general distribution 
will be maintained. We do not believe the Wyoming state law and plan 
provide enough assurance that the significant portion of range outside 
the National Parks in northwestern Wyoming would remain occupied by 
enough wolf breeding pairs to maintain that segment of the 
metapopulation above recovery levels. However, if Wyoming does not 
modify its management plan and law, that portion of the wolf population 
will be maintained through the protections afforded by the Act in the 
significant portion of the wolves' range outside of the National Parks 
in Wyoming. Occupied habitat changed little (about 5 percent) from 2004 
(275,533 km\2\ [106,384 mi\2\]) to 2005 (260,535 km\2\ [100,593 mi\2\]) 
(Service et al. 2006, Figure 1), so we used the currently occupied 
habitat analysis from the February 8, 2006 ANPR (71 FR 6634) for this 
proposed rule (Bangs et al. in pressb).
    We included areas between the core recovery segments as occupied 
wolf habitat because they are important for connectivity between 
segments even though wolf packs did not persist in certain portions of 
these areas. While models ranked some of this habitat as unsuitable, 
those intervening areas are important to maintaining the metapopulation 
structure because dispersing wolves routinely travel through those 
areas (Service 1994, pp. 6:5-6; Bangs 2002, p. 3). 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 estimated 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, Figure 1). 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, 
Figure 1). 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, Figure 1).
    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 since the population achieved 
recovery. Stagnant distribution patterns indicate there is probably 
limited suitable habitat 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) was often fragmented and in smaller, more 
isolated patches (Carroll et al. 2006, p. 35).
    Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming must each manage for 15 breeding pairs 
and maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves in mid-winter to 
ensure 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., central Idaho, the GYA, 
and the northwestern Montana recovery areas) (Service 1987, p. 23) 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, p. 1:6). Because of this success and the continued 
management of public lands in the significant portion of range in the 
NRM DPS for high ungulate densities, low to moderate road and livestock 
densities, and other factors contributing to successful wolf occupancy, 
we conclude that the threats to habitat under Factor A are not 
substantial enough to threaten or endanger wolf populations within the 
NRM in the foreseeable future.
    Potential Threats Affecting a Significant Portion of Range--
Establishing a recovered wolf population in the NRM 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, pp. 95-96). We do not believe that any 
traditional land-use practices in the NRM need be modified to maintain 
a recovered NRM wolf population into the foreseeable future. We do not 
anticipate overall habitat changes in the NRM 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, p. 542; Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 560).
    The GYA and central Idaho recovery areas, 63,714 km\2\ (24,600 
mi\2\) and 53,613 km\2\ (20,700 mi\2\), respectively, are primarily 
composed of public lands (Service 1994, p. iv) and are the largest

[[Page 6121]]

contiguous blocks of suitable habitat within the proposed NRM DPS. 
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, pp. viii-ix). These areas provide optimal 
suitable habitat to help maintain a viable wolf population (Service 
1994, p. 1:4). The central Idaho recovery area has 24,281 km\2\ (9,375 
mi\2\) of designated wilderness at its core (Service 1994, p. 3:85). 
The GYA recovery area has a core including over 8,094 km\2\ (3,125 
mi\2\) in YNP and, although less useful to wolves due to high 
elevation, about 16,187 km\2\ (6,250 mi\2\) of designated wilderness 
(Service 1994, p. 3:45). 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 km\2\ 
[>19,200 mi\2\]) (Bangs et al. 1998, p. 786) 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. 1989-2006, Figure 1). This mix 
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, p. 790). Despite mortalities that occur in Canada, 
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 maintained above recovery levels. Most 
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, moderate and seasonal 
levels of livestock grazing, and low road density. Carroll et al. 
(2003, p. 541; 2006, p. 31) 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 the proposed NRM DPS 
enough to cause the wolf population to fall below recovery levels in 
the foreseeable future.
    The recovery plan (Service 1987, p. 13), the metapopulation 
structure recommended by the 1994 EIS (Service 1994, pp. 6:74-75), and 
subsequent investigations (Bangs 2002, p. 3) recognize the importance 
of 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, p. 559; Carroll et al. 
2006, p. 32; Wayne 2005; Boyd 2006). To date, from radio-telemetry 
monitoring, we have documented routine wolf movement between Canada and 
northwestern Montana (Pletscher et al. 1991, p. 544; Boyd and Pletscher 
1999, pp. 1095-1096), occasional wolf movement between Idaho and 
Montana, and at least 11 wolves have traveled into the GYA (Wayne 2005; 
Boyd et al. 1995, pp. iii-3-1; Boyd 2006). Because we know only about 
the 30 percent of the wolf population that has been radio-collared, 
additional dispersal has undoubtedly occurred. This documentation 
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, moose, and (only 
in the GYA) bison. Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and pronghorn 
antelope 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 (Service 1994, pp. viii-ix). 
The States in the NRM DPS have managed resident ungulate populations 
for decades and maintain them at densities that would easily support a 
recovered wolf population. We know of 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, p. viii). The only areas lacking 
livestock large enough to support wolf packs are YNP, Glacier National 
Park, some adjacent USFS Wilderness Areas, and parts of Wilderness 
Areas in central Idaho and northwestern Montana. Consequently, 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 and Shivik 1991, pg 2; Bangs et al. 1995, 
p. 131; 2004, p. 92; 2005a, pp. 342-344; Service et al. 2006, Table 
5a). This issue is discussed further under Factors D and E.
    Therefore, except for Wyoming's predatory animal status, 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 NRM. Occupied suitable habitat is secured by core recovery areas in 
northwestern Montana, central Idaho, and the GYA, except for the area 
of northwestern Wyoming outside the National Parks. These areas include 
Glacier National Park, Grand 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

[[Page 6122]]

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 into the foreseeable 
    No significant threats to the significant portion of range in 
Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming are known to exist in the foreseeable 
future, except for Wyoming's predatory animal status. 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, pp. 1-4; 1987, p. 23; 1994, pp. 6, 74-75; 71 FR 6634, 
February 8, 2006). Unsuitable habitat and small fragmented areas of 
suitable habitat away from these core areas, largely represent 
geographic locations where wolves are likely to persist in low numbers, 
if at all. Although such areas may historically have contained suitable 
habitat (and may contribute to a healthy wolf population in the NRM), 
wolf packs in these areas are not important or necessary for 
maintaining a viable, self-sustaining, and evolving representative wolf 
population in the NRM into the foreseeable future. These areas are not 
a significant portion of the range for the NRM wolf population.

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

    As detailed below, overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes have not been a significant threat 
to the NRM wolf population. Mortality rates caused by commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes are not anticipated 
to exceed sustainable levels following delisting. These activities have 
not been a threat to the viability of the wolves in the past and we 
have no reason to believe that they would become a threat to the 
viability of the wolves in the foreseeable future. However, as 
discussed later in Factor D, we have determined that human-caused 
mortality associated with Wyoming's current management strategy for 
treating delisted wolves as ``predatory animals'' would exceed 
sustainable levels if the species were delisted in the State.
    Since their listing under the Act, no gray wolves have been legally 
killed or removed from the wild in the NRM for commercial, 
recreational, or educational purposes. In the NRM, about 3 percent of 
the wolves captured for scientific research, nonlethal control, and 
monitoring have been accidentally killed (Bangs et al. in pressa). 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 have no evidence that it 
occurs in the NRM. We believe the prohibition against ``take'' provided 
for by Section 9 of the Act has discouraged and minimized the illegal 
killing of wolves for commercial or recreational purposes. Although 
Federal penalties under Section 11 of the Act will not apply if 
delisting is finalized, other Federal laws will still protect wildlife 
in National Parks and on other Federal lands (Service 1994, pp. 1:5-9). 
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 world wide 
web links to applicable State laws and regulations). We believe these 
laws will continue to provide a strong deterrent to illegal killing of 
wolves by the public as they have been effective in State-led 
conservation programs for other resident wildlife such as black bears 
and mountain lions. In addition, the State fish and game agencies, 
National Parks, 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'' and ``Post-Delisting 
Monitoring'' sections). 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 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 threaten 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 unaddressed threat was 
one of the primary reasons the Service did not approve the final 
Wyoming Plan (71 FR 43410, August 1, 2006; WGFD 2003; Williams 2004). 
If Wyoming changes its law and plan in a satisfactory manner, this will 
no longer be a threat.
    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, pp. 182-184), and human-caused mortality can replace up to 70 
percent of natural mortality (Fuller et al. 2003, p. 186). Wolf pups 
can be successfully raised by other pack members and breeding 
individuals can be quickly replaced by other wolves (Brainerd 2006). 
Collectively, these factors 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. Idaho and 
Montana, and some Tribes in those States, 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

[[Page 6123]]

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.
    State laws in Washington, Oregon, and Utah do not allow public take 
of wolves for recreational or commercial purposes. Regulated hunting 
and trapping are traditional and effective wildlife management tools 
that may be applied to help achieve State and Tribal wolf management 
objectives as needed.
    In summary, the States have organizations and regulatory and 
enforcement systems in place to limit human-caused mortality of wolves 
(except for Wyoming at this time). Montana's 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 current State regulatory framework would not adequately 
regulate human-caused mortality so Wyoming's portion of a recovered 
wolf population will be maintained through the protections afforded by 
the Act, unless Wyoming updates its State law and management plan. The 
States and Tribes have humane and professional animal handling 
protocols and trained personnel that will ensure that population 
monitoring and research results in limited 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. . We do not predict that 
changes in threats to wolves from overuse for commercial, scientific or 
educational purposes in all or a significant portion of range in the 
NRM DPS will threaten wolf population recovery for the foreseeable 
future. In the significant portion of the range in northwestern 
Wyoming, either an approved state law and plan or the Act's protection 
will provide the necessary conservation measures and adequate 
regulation of these potential threats into the foreseeable future.

C. Disease or Predation

    As discussed in detail below, a wide range of diseases may affect 
the NRM wolves. However, no diseases are of such magnitude that the 
population is likely to become in danger of extinction in the 
foreseeable future. Similarly, predation does not pose a significant 
threat to the NRM wolf population. The rates of mortality caused by 
disease and predation are well within acceptable limits, and we do not 
expect those rates to change appreciably if NRM wolves are delisted. 
More information on disease and predation are discussed below.
    Disease--The 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, p. 428; 
Kreeger 2003, pp. 202-214). 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, pp. 1:20-21).
    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, p. 160). We fully anticipate that these 
diseases and parasites will follow the same pattern seen in other areas 
of North America (Brand et al. 1995, pp. 428-429; Bailey et al. 1995, 
p. 445; Kreeger 2003, pp. 202-204) 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 would be regulated over an 
appropriate area and time period to ensure wolf population numbers in 
the NRM DPS are maintained above recovery levels in those portions of 
the DPS.
    CPV infects wolves, domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), foxes (Vulpes 
spp.), coyotes, 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, p. 61). Clinical CPV is 
characterized by severe hemorrhagic diarrhea and vomiting; debility and 
subsequent mortality is a result of dehydration, electrolyte 
imbalances, and shock. The CPV has been detected in nearly every wolf 
population in North America including Alaska (Johnson et al. 1994, p. 
270; Bailey et al. 1995, p. 441; Brand et al. 1995, p. 421; Kreeger 
2003, pp. 210-211), and exposure in wolves is thought to be almost 
universal. Currently, nearly 100 percent of the wolves handled by 
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) (Atkinson 2005) had blood 
antibodies indicating exposure to CPV. The 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 et al. 2006, p. 244). Preliminary 
monitoring data suggest 2006 pup production and survival in YNP 
returned to normal levels (Smith 2006). The impact of such disease 
outbreaks to the overall NRM wolf population has been localized and 
temporary, as has been documented elsewhere (Bailey et al. 1995, p. 
441; Brand et al. 1995, p. 421; Kreeger 2003, pp. 210-211).
    Canine distemper is an acute, fever-causing disease of carnivores 
caused by a paramyxo-virus (Kreeger 2003, p. 209). It is common in 
domestic dogs and some wild canids, such as coyotes and foxes in the 
NRM (Kreeger 2003, p. 209). The seroprevalence in North American wolves 
is about 17 percent (Kreeger 2003, p. 209). Nearly 85 percent of 
Montana wolf blood samples analyzed in 2005 had blood antibodies 
indicating non-lethal exposure to canine distemper (Atkinson 2005). 
Mortality in wolves has been documented in Canada (Carbyn 1982, p. 
109), Alaska (Peterson et al. 1984, p. 31; Bailey et al. 1995, p. 441), 
and in a single Wisconsin pup (Wydeven and Wiedenhoeft 2003, p. 7). 
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, pp. 420-421). Mortality from canine 
distemper has only been confirmed once in NRM wolves despite their high 
exposure to it, but we suspect it contributed to the high pup mortality 
documented in the northern GYA in spring 2005.
    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, p. 61). In those populations, it does not appear to 
cause adult mortality, but might be

[[Page 6124]]

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, pp. 207-208). Advanced 
sarcoptic mange can involve the entire body and can cause emaciation, 
decreased flight distance, staggering, and death (Kreeger 2003, p. 
207). 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, pp. 
427-428). Mange has been shown to temporarily affect wolf population 
growth rates and perhaps wolf distribution (Kreeger 2003, p. 208).
    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 2006). Those wolves likely contracted mange 
from coyotes or fox whose populations experience occasional outbreaks. 
In southwestern Montana, 1 of 12 packs in 2003, 4 of 17 packs in 2004, 
and 11 of 18 packs in 2005, showed evidence of mange, although not all 
members of every pack appeared infested (Jimenez 2006b). In Wyoming, 
east of the YNP, 1 of 8 packs in 2003, 2 of 9 packs in 2003 and 2004, 
and none of 13 packs in 2005, showed evidence of mange (Jimenez 2006). 
Mange has not been confirmed in wolves from Idaho or northwestern 
Montana (Jimenez 2006).
    In packs with the most severe infestations, pup survival appeared 
low, and some adults died (Jimenez 2006). In addition, we euthanized 
three wolves with severe mange. We predict that mange in the NRM will 
act as it has in other parts of North America (Brand et al. 1995, pp. 
427-428; Kreeger 2003, pp. 207-208) 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 a mange infestation.
    Dog-biting lice (Trichodectes canis) commonly feed on domestic 
dogs, but can infest coyotes and wolves (Schwartz et al. 1983, p. 372; 
Mech et al. 1985, p. 404). 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 inflammation and itching, appears 
possible. Dog-biting lice were first confirmed in NRM wolves 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 et al. 2006, p. 15). 
The source of this infestation is unknown, but was likely domestic 
    Rabies, canine heartworm (Dirofilaria immitus), blastomycosis, 
brucellosis, neosporsis, leptospirosis, bovine tuberculosis, canine 
coronavirus, hookworm, tapeworm, 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, pp. 419-429; Johnson 1995a, pp. 5-73, 1995b, pp. 5-49; Mech and 
Kurtz 1999, p. 305; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 1999, p. 
61; Kreeger 2003, pp. 202-214). Canid rabies caused local population 
declines in Alaska (Ballard and Krausman 1997, p. 242) and may 
temporarily limit population growth or distribution where another 
species, such as arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus), 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.
    Because 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, Table 1 & Figure 1), 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 most NRM wolves have some exposure to most 
diseases and parasites in the system. Diseases or parasites have not 
been a significant threat to wolf population recovery in the NRM to 
date, and we have no reason to believe that they will become a 
significant threat to their viability in the foreseeable future.
    In terms of future monitoring, 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. We do not believe 
that diseases or changes in disease monitoring by the states or tribes 
in the foreseeable future in all or a significant portion of range in 
the NRM DPS will threaten wolf population recovery.
    Natural Predation--There are no wild animals that routinely prey on 
gray wolves (Ballard et al. 2003, pp. 259-260). Occasionally wolves 
have been killed by large prey such as elk, deer, bison, and moose 
(Mech and Nelson 1989, p. 207; Smith et al. 2006, p. 247; Mech and 
Peterson 2003, p. 134), 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, p. 247). 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 
2006a). 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 
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

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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 NRM (Smith 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, p. 93). An active eradication 
program is the sole reason that wolves were extirpated from the NRM 
(Weaver 1978, p. i). 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, p. 310; 
Woodroffe et al. 2005, pp. 86-107, 345-7). 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) (Bangs et al. 
2005a, p. 346). 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, pp. 300-302). In the NRM, 
mountain topography concentrates both wolf and human activity in valley 
bottoms (Boyd and Pletscher 1999, p. 1105), 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, p. 93). 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, Figure 1).
    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 (Bangs et al. in press). The annual 
survival rate of mature wolves in northwestern Montana and adjacent 
Canada from 1984 through 1995 was 80 percent (Pletscher et al. 1997, p. 
459); 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, p. 790) found similar statistics, with humans causing 
most of the wolf mortality in the NRM. 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 p. 245). Wolves outside of large remote areas had survival 
rates as low as 54 percent in some years (Smith et al. 2006, p. 245). 
This percentage is among the lower end of adult wolf survival rates 
that an isolated population can sustain (Fuller et al. 2003, p. 185).
    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 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) (Smith 2005) 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, p. 66; Fuller et al. 2003, 
p. 182). Humans caused just over 75 percent of all radio-collared wolf 
deaths (Smith 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, p. 245).
    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 Act) is 
estimated to remove around 10 percent of adult radio-collared wolves 
annually. From 1995 through 2005, 30 wolves were legally killed by 
private citizens under Federal defense of property regulations (Service 
1994, pp. 2:13-14; 70 FR 1285, January 6, 2005) that are similar to 
Idaho and Montana 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 through 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. in press a, pp. 19-20).
    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, Table 5). 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 Montana, Idaho, and Tribes (and in Wyoming if it changes 
its law and management plan) if the Act's protections were removed. 
Specifically, the States would ensure that recovery levels are met 
after delisting, while the Service would continue to have oversight in 
the significant portion of the range in northwestern Wyoming outside 
the National Parks unless, or until, the State has a statute and plan 
that adequately conserves wolves in the State and the northwestern 
Wyoming wolf population is delisted in a separate rulemaking. This 
issue is discussed further below under Factor D.
    The overall causes and rates of annual wolf mortality are affected 
by several 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, p. 1506). 
However, overall wolf mortality has been low enough since 1987 that the 
wolf population in the NRM has steadily increased. The wolf population 
is now nearly three times as numerous as needed to meet recovery levels 
and is distributed throughout most suitable habitat within the DPS 
(Service 1987, p. 23; Service 1994, p. 1:6).
    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 (Smith 2005). Wolf mortality as high 
as 50 percent annually may be sustainable (Fuller et al. 2003, p. 185). 
Idaho and Montana have the regulatory authorization and commitment to

[[Page 6126]]

regulate human-caused mortality so that the wolf population remains 
above its numerical and distributional recovery goals. If Wyoming 
changes its law and management plan consistent with the Service's 
recommendations, it will also sufficiently regulate human-caused 
mortality. If no changes occur, excessive human-caused mortality as 
allowed under state law would alone remain a threat to wolves in a 
significant portion of the range in Wyoming outside the National Parks. 
However, if a new Wyoming regulatory framework cannot be approved by 
the Service, then the Act's protections will remain in effect and they 
will provide adequate assurance into the foreseeable future that human-
caused mortality will not become a threat to wolves in all or a 
significant portion of their range in Wyoming. This issue is discussed 
further below under Factor D.
    In summary, human-caused mortality to adult radio-collared wolves 
in the NRM, which averages about 20 percent per year (Smith 2006), 
still allows for rapid wolf population growth. The protection of wolves 
under the Act promoted rapid initial wolf population growth in suitable 
habitat. Idaho and Montana have committed to continue to regulate 
human-caused mortality so that it does not reduce the NRM wolf 
population below recovery levels. Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, 
and Utah have adequate laws and regulations to ensure that the NRM wolf 
population remains above recovery levels (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 the proposed NRM DPS to the future mechanisms that 
would provide the framework for wolf management after delisting. These 
regulatory mechanisms are carried out by the State governments included 
in the DPS. Idaho and Montana's wolf management programs are designed 
to maintain a recovered wolf population while minimizing damage caused 
by it by allowing for removal of wolves in areas of chronic conflict or 
in unsuitable habitat. The three States with occupied habitat 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 maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 
wolves per State by managing for a safety margin of 15 breeding pairs 
in each State. We expect Wyoming to adopt a State law and wolf 
management plan that will adequately conserve a recovered wolf 
population into the foreseeable future by the time we finalize this 
proposed rule. However, at this time, we have been unable to approve 
the Wyoming law and plan because it does not provide for sustainable 
levels of protection (Williams 2004; 71 FR 43427-43432, August 2, 
2006). Any wolf conservation by the Tribes and the States of 
Washington, Oregon, and Utah will be beneficial, but is not necessary 
to either achieving or maintaining a recovered wolf population in the 

Current Wolf Management

    The 1980 and 1987 NRM wolf recovery plans (Service 1980, p. 4; 
1987, p. 3) 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 some 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, p. 1); the plan was amended in 1990 to include 
Idaho and eastern Washington (Service 1990, p. 1). We analyzed the 
effectiveness of those plans in 1999, and revised our guidelines for 
management of problem wolves listed as endangered (Service 1999, p. 1). 
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, pp. 348-350). Therefore, we developed a set of guidelines under 
which depredating wolves could be harassed, moved, or killed by agency 
officials (Service 1999, pp. 39-40). 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 successful 
population recovery (Mech 1995, pp. 276-276). 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, p. 2:12; Service et al. 2006, 
Table 4).
    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, p. 130; Bangs et al. 2004, p. 92; Bangs et al. 2005a, pp. 
342-344; Service et al. 2006, Tables 4, 5; Smith 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 (Smith 2005). Even with this level of 
mortality, populations have expanded rapidly (Service et al. 2006, 
Table 5). Despite the more liberal regulations, all suitable areas for 
wolves have been filled with resident packs (Service et al. 2006, 
Figure 1). The outer NRM wolf pack distribution has remained largely 
unchanged since the end of 2000 (Service et al. 2001-2006, Figure 1).
    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. In 2006, about 12 percent of the NRM wolf population 
was removed because of conflicts with livestock but it still increased 
over 20 percent. 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, pp. 184-185). 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 
(Smith 2005). The State management laws and plans would balance the 
level of wolf mortality with the recovery goals in each State.

Regulatory Assurances Within the Proposed NRM DPS

    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 
delisting. 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

[[Page 6127]]

100 wolves per 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 (maintaining numerical and distributional recovery 
goals for the 3 consecutive years) 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 the Act's 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 Act were removed. Wolf management for the Tribes and 
the States of Washington, Oregon, and Utah will be beneficial, but is 
not necessary to either achieving or maintaining a recovered wolf 
population in the NRM. The Service provided varying degrees of funding 
and assistance to the States while they developed their wolf management 
plans. Several issues key to our approval of State plans include 
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 breeding pairs above recovery levels.
    The final Service determination of the adequacy of those three key 
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 
following delisting. Therefore, we approved those two State plans. 
However, 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 (Bangs 2004a; Williams 
2004; FR 71:43410). Though we have not approved Wyoming's current plan, 
we anticipate that Wyoming will revise its statute and develop a plan 
that we can approve prior to finalizing this proposed rule. Tribal and 
State management (in the portions of Washington, Oregon, and Utah 
included in the proposed DPS) also are discussed below. If Wyoming 
changes its law and management plan consistent with the Service's 
recommendations, it will sufficiently regulate human-caused mortality, 
just as the Montana and Idaho regulatory frameworks now do. If 
acceptable changes do not occur to the Wyoming regulatory framework, 
then the potential for excessive human-caused mortality as allowed 
under Wyoming state law would remain the lone threat to wolves in a 
significant portion of the range in Wyoming outside the National Parks. 
Therefore, if a new Wyoming regulatory framework cannot be approved by 
the Service, then the Act's protections will remain in effect in a 
significant portion of the range outside the National Parks in Wyoming 
and they will provide adequate assurance into the foreseeable future 
that human-caused mortality will not become a threat to wolves in all 
or a significant portion of their range in northwestern Wyoming.
    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.
    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, p. 131). See http://www.fwp.state.mt.us to view the MFWP Final 

EIS and the Montana Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
    Under the management plan, the wolf population would be maintained 
above the recovery level of 10 breeding pairs by managing for a safety 
margin of 15 breeding pairs. MFWP would manage problem wolves in a 
manner similar to the control program currently being implemented 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 breeding pairs. 
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. 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. 
Montana's plan (Montana 2003, p. 132) 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

[[Page 6128]]

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.
    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 by the State 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 Act. 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 Act. 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 Act, 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 that 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 once the wolf is delisted from the 
Act. Wolves in other portions of the State would alternate back-and-
forth between ``trophy game'' and ``predatory animal'' status based on 
oscillating population numbers.

[[Page 6129]]

    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 2006c). For example, 
many of the wilderness areas 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 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.
    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.
    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. 
When this situation occurs, 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. 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 lands. Wolf packs 
are highly territorial and are reluctant to trespass on other pack 
territories (Mech and Boitani 2003, p. 19-34). A distribution of wolf 
packs outside Yellowstone National Park may be necessary to act as a 
biological fence to reduce Park pack movements out of the Park. If 
packs outside the Park are removed, that may cause their in-Park 
neighbors to investigate their absence, and thus expose those Park 
packs to the same mortality sources that removed their neighbors. The 
security of Park packs may partly rely on having at least one layer of 
neighboring packs outside the Park Units.
    The above restrictions present the very real possibility that 
Wyoming would not be able to maintain its share of a recovered wolf 
population, despite Wyoming's proposal to default to trophy game status 
when wolf populations get below 15 packs (defined as simply 5 wolves 
traveling together at any time of year). 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 the elimination of all 
wolf packs outside YNP (89 wolves in 8 breeding pairs) (Service et al. 
2005, Figure 3). 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, Table 4). 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, Table 2; 2006, Table 2). However, 
if all wolves outside the National Parks/Wilderness Areas had been 
eliminated in 2004 or early 2005, as allowed by state law, 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, Table 2).
    The State law and plan (WGFD 2003) 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 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 fluctuating 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. 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, Montana, and Idaho 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

[[Page 6130]]

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-caused 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.
    Making this problem worse, Wyoming could well be overestimating the 
number of breeding pairs. Wyoming incorrectly used, as the Service 
initially did, a linear regression to predict a relationship between 
wolf group size and its potential to be a breeding pair. This was 
mathematically incorrect and greatly overestimated wolf breeding pairs 
in Wyoming, because the relationship is logistic (Ausband 2006). 
Wyoming data show that groups of 5 wolves traveling together in winter 
only have a 0.56 probability of being a breeding pair in Wyoming 
(Ausband 2006). Thus, 15 groups of 5 wolves of unknown status that are 
traveling together in winter is only equal to 8.4 breeding pairs. This 
could lead Wyoming to trigger predatory status with only 8.4 breeding 
pairs, a level below recovery goals.
    Consider the following examples. First, in 1999 and 2005, pup 
production and survival declined significantly (Service et al. 2000, 
Table 2; 2006, Table 2). 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 not to 
survive the winter (mange can lead to mortality from exposure during 
severe winter weather or secondary infections (Kreeger 2003, pp. 207-
208). In this situation, if five wolves traveling together in summer or 
fall (instead of mid-winter) had mange, it would be unreasonable to 
rely on them as a breeding pair since they would be unlikely to survive 
until December 31. Third, conflict between the Service definition of a 
breeding pair and Wyoming's definition would result in over-counting 
the number of packs and overuse of predatory status. For example, by 
the end of 2005 there were 16 breeding pairs in Wyoming, 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 (by declaring predatory status outside of the National Park/
Wilderness units), fewer than 10 actual ``breeding pairs'' would have 
been left in Wyoming.
    The State wolf management plan (WGFD 2003) 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 (O'Donnell 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 states:

    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 
    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. Should the legislature decide to endorse or change the 
result reached as a result of the current statutory language, it 
will in all likelihood have an opportunity to do so before delisting 
is complete.

    ;The Wyoming Attorney General's Office thus determined that the 
Wyoming State law is internally inconsistent as a key operative 
provision (the requirement in '23-1-304(b)(ii)) to classify gray wolves 
as predatory if there are at least 7 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 
'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 '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 (1) assumed in error 
that the Wyoming definition of a pack was equivalent to the Service's 
current breeding pair standard (Ausband 2006), (2) thought that YNP was 
likely to carry most of Wyoming's portion of the wolf population, and 
(3) 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 emphasizing consideration of 
suitable habitat in calculating the significant portion of the range 
occupied by wolves, the decline of YNP wolves, and an improved method 
of estimating wolf population status. This new methodology demonstrates 
that earlier attempts to correlate pack size in winter with the 
probability of being a breeding pair were mathematically incorrect and

[[Page 6131]]

are clearly inconsistent with both the 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 dependent 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, Table 2). The CPV 
and/or distemper are suspected of causing low pup survival in YNP, 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, Table 
2). 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 Wyoming Commission from enlarging the area 
designated as trophy game even though there could have been only seven 
breeding pairs in the State. Also, Wyoming would have counted most wolf 
packs in YNP as breeding pairs even though they were 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. We conclude that the NRM wolf population is not 
threatened or endangered in a significant portion of its range except 
for that significant portion of its range outside the National Parks in 
northwestern Wyoming. Wyoming state regulatory mechanisms in such areas 
are inadequate to prevent excessive human-caused mortality from 
reducing that segment of the wolf population in that significant 
portion of its range below its recovery levels. However, retention of 
the Act's protections, should Wyoming fail to enact an adequate statute 
and plan, will assure that the segment of the NRM wolf population in 
Wyoming outside the National Parks will not become threatened or 
endangered in the foreseeable future.
    Future Service approval of a regulatory framework for wolf 
management in Wyoming--The Service and Wyoming have continued to 
discuss approaches to post-delisting wolf management in Wyoming that 
would address our respective concerns and allow the Service to approve 
Wyoming's wolf management strategy. Ideas under consideration by the 
Wyoming legislature in the 2006 session includes; (1) The concept of a 
state Trophy Game Area large enough to adequately support the wolf 
population levels required for Wyoming, with predator status (with 
mandatory reporting of all take) in the remainder of the State; (2) 
acknowledgement that the State would manage for 15 breeding pairs in 
mid-winter and that the State's responsibility is 7 breeding pairs 
outside the National Parks, based on the assumption that segment of the 
Wyoming wolf population will be supplemented by 8 breeding pairs living 
on lands managed by the National Park Service; and, (3) that the State 
of Wyoming would be responsible for assuring that the absolute minimum 
of 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves required to achieve Wyoming's share 
of the overall wolf recovery goal would be conserved. If such a 
regulatory framework was established by Wyoming law and was to be 
implemented by a Wyoming state plan, the Service intends to approve it. 
In addition, there are assurances from the National Park Service that 
adequate monitoring of wolf packs within Park managed properties will 
continue and that information will continue to be readily shared 
between the National Park Service and Wyoming. Acceptance of an 
adequate regulatory framework in Wyoming by the Service would allow 
Wyoming residents to have increased flexibility under the provisions of 
the 2005 experimental population regulations (FR 70:1286-1311, Jan 
2005) for problem wolf management and would allow the Service to 
finalize delisting for that portion of the NRM DPS wolf population in 
    The recovery goal for the NRM wolf population requires that it be 
comprised of at least 30 breeding pairs and 300 wolves that are 
equitably distributed in potentially suitable habitat in Montana, 
Idaho, and Wyoming. To ensure this goal is achieved, each of the three 
States (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) committed to manage for an 
equitable distribution of the overall population and assume a 
management target of 15 breeding pairs in mid-winter within each State. 
The 15 breeding pair management target was not intended to be the 
minimum goal for each State. It was an objective so that each State's 
management would provide a reasonable cushion to ensure each State's 
share of the wolf population did not fall below the 10 breeding pairs 
requirement and that the 30 breeding pairs minimum would always be met 
or exceeded. Within Wyoming, the 15 breeding pair management target 
would be divided between lands where wildlife are managed by the 
National Park Service and lands where the Wyoming Game and Fish 
Department (WYGF) had primary management responsibility. Under the 
current proposal, the WYGF's responsibility for the overall 15 breeding 
pair target would be 7 breeding pairs in mid-winter

[[Page 6132]]

outside the National Park Units in Wyoming. We assume that the 
remaining 8 breeding pairs will be supported primarily on National Park 
Service lands. That said, the minimum recovery goal for the State of 
Wyoming of 10 breeding pairs must always be met or exceeded. Therefore, 
in the unlikely event that the wolf population within properties 
managed by the National Park Service ever dropped below a level that 
jeopardized Wyoming's recovery objective, additional management 
responsibility by the State of Wyoming may be required to avoid 
emergency listing actions.
    State regulations would be enacted to ensure that wolves would be 
managed to prevent the need for relisting in the future. Therefore, the 
State of Wyoming would designate wolves as a Trophy Game Species within 
an area similar to that defined below which is capable of supporting at 
least 15 breeding pairs (USFWS et al. 2006, Figure 3). The area under 
consideration in northwestern Wyoming is approximately that beginning 
at the junction of U.S. Highway 120 and the Wyoming/Montana State line; 
running southerly along state Highway 120 to the Greybull River; 
southwesterly up said river to the Wood River; running southwesterly up 
said river to the U.S. Forest Service boundary; following the U.S. 
Forest Service boundary southerly to the northern boundary of the Wind 
River Indian Reservation; following the Reservation boundary westerly, 
then southerly across U.S. Highway 26/287 to the Continental Divide; 
following the Continental Divide southeasterly to Middle Fork of 
Boulder Creek; following the Middle Fork of Boulder Creek and then 
Boulder Creek westerly to the U.S. Forest Service boundary; following 
the U.S. Forest Service boundary northwesterly to its intersection with 
U.S. Highway 189/91; following U.S. Highway 189/91 northwesterly to the 
intersection with Wyoming state highway 22 in the town of Jackson; 
following Wyoming state highway 22 westerly to the Wyoming/Idaho State 

    Within the Trophy Game Area, WYGF would have management control 
over the species outside the National Parks and would manage problem 
wolves and set harvest regulations in such a way as to assure that the 
targets of 15 breeding pair for the State and 7 breeding pairs in 
Wyoming outside the National Park Units are met. Outside of the Trophy 
Game Area, the State of Wyoming would manage the species as predatory 
animals but would monitor the take of all wolves under the State's 
predatory animal status.
    If this type of regulatory framework was enacted by Wyoming state 
law and its wolf management plan it would provide assurance that 
Wyoming's share of the tri-state NRM wolf population would be 
maintained above recovery levels into the foreseeable future and that a 
significant portion of the range in Wyoming was occupied by wolf packs. 
This type of management framework is consistent in its general 
principles to those already enacted and accepted as being adequate 
regulatory frameworks for wolves post-delisting in the states of 
Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Montana, and Idaho and would provide 
adequate assurances that a viable wolf population will be maintained in 
the NRM DPS.
    Washington--Wolves in Washington are listed as endangered under the 
State's administrative code (WAC 232.12.014; these provisions may be 
viewed at: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/). Under Washington's 

administrative code (WAC 232.12.297), ``endangered'' means any wildlife 
species native to the State of Washington that is seriously threatened 
with extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range 
within the State. Endangered species in the State of Washington are 
protected from hunting, possession, and malicious harassment, unless 
such taking has been authorized by rule of the Washington Fish and 
Wildlife Commission (RCW 77.15.120; these provisions can be viewed at: 
http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/). If the NRM DPS is delisted, those areas 

in Washington included in the NRM DPS would remain listed as endangered 
by Washington State law until the wolf was no longer seriously 
threatened with extinction throughout all or a significant portion of 
its range within the State. The areas in Washington not included in the 
NRM DPS would remain listed as endangered under both State and Federal 
    Although we have received reports of individual and wolf family 
units in the North Cascades of Washington (Almack and Fitkin 1998), 
agency efforts to confirm them were unsuccessful and to date, no 
individual wolves or packs have ever been documented there (Boyd and 
Pletscher 1999; Boyd 2006). Intervening unsuitable habitat makes it 
highly unlikely that wolves from the NRM population have dispersed to 
the North Cascades of Washington in recent history.
    There is currently no Washington State recovery or management plan 
for wolves, but the State has established an advisory committee and is 
preparing a plan. Interagency Wolf Response Guidelines are being 
developed by the Service, WDFW, and USDA-WS to provide a checklist of 
response actions for five situations that may arise in the future. Wolf 
management in Washington is likely to be beneficial to the NRM wolf 
population, but is not necessary for achieving or maintaining a 
population of wolves in the NRM DPS that is unlikely to become 
threatened or endangered in the foreseeable future.
    Oregon--The gray wolf has been classified as endangered under the 
Oregon Endangered Species Act (ORS 496.171-192) since 1987. The law 
requires the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to conserve the 
species in Oregon. Anticipating the reestablishment of wolves in Oregon 
from the growing Idaho population, the Commission directed the 
development of a wolf conservation and management plan to meet the 
requirements of both the Oregon Endangered Species Act and the Oregon 
Wildlife Policy. The ORS 496.012 states in relevant part: ``It is the 
policy of the State of Oregon that wildlife shall be managed to prevent 
serious depletion of any indigenous species and to provide the optimum 
recreational and aesthetic benefits for present and future generations 
of the citizens of this state.''
    In February 2005, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted 
the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. The plan was built to 
meet the five delisting criteria identified in State statutes and 
administrative rules: (1) The species is not now (and is not likely in 
the foreseeable future to be) in danger of extinction in any 
significant portion of its range in Oregon or in danger of becoming 
endangered; (2) the species' natural reproductive potential is not in 
danger of failure due to limited population numbers, disease, 
predation, or other natural or human-related factors affecting its 
continued existence; (3) most populations are not undergoing imminent 
or active deterioration of range or primary habitat; (4) 
overutilization of the species or its habitat for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes is not occurring or 
likely to occur; and (5) existing State or Federal programs or 
regulations are adequate to protect the species and its habitat.
    The Plan describes measures the Oregon Department of Fish and 
Wildlife (ODFW) will take to conserve and manage the species. This 
includes actions that could be taken to protect livestock from wolf 
depredation and address human safety concerns. The following summarizes 
the primary components of the plan:
     Wolves that naturally disperse into Oregon will be 
conserved and managed under the plan. Wolves will not be

[[Page 6133]]

captured outside of Oregon and released in the State.
     Wolves may be considered for Statewide delisting once the 
population reaches four breeding pairs for 3 consecutive years in 
eastern Oregon (note--the boundary between east and west wolf 
management zones is defined by U.S. Highway 97 from the Columbia River 
to the junction of U.S. Highway 20, southeast on U.S. Highway 20 to the 
junction with U.S. Highway 395, and south on U.S. Highway 395 to the 
California border). Four breeding pairs are considered the minimum 
conservation population objective, also described as Phase 1. The plan 
calls for managing wolves in western Oregon, as if the species remains 
listed, until the western Oregon wolf population reaches four breeding 
pairs. This means, for example, that a landowner would be required to 
obtain a permit to address depredation problems using injurious 
     While the wolf remains listed as a State endangered 
species, the following will be allowed: (1) Wolves may be harassed 
(e.g., shouting, firing a shot in the air) to distract a wolf from a 
livestock operation or area of human activity; (2) harassment that 
causes injury to a wolf (e.g., rubber bullets or bean bag projectiles) 
may be employed to prevent depredation, but only with a permit; (3) 
wolves may be relocated to resolve an immediate localized problem from 
an area of human activity (e.g., wolf inadvertently caught in a trap) 
to the nearest wilderness area; (4) relocation will be done by ODFW or 
USDA-WS personnel; (4) livestock producers who witness a wolf ``in the 
act'' of attacking livestock on public or private land must have a 
permit before taking any action that would cause harm to the wolf; and 
(5) wolves involved in chronic depredation may be killed by ODFW or 
USDA-WS personnel; however, nonlethal methods will be emphasized and 
employed first in appropriate circumstances.
     Once the wolf is delisted, more options are available to 
address wolf-livestock conflict. While there are five to seven breeding 
pairs, landowners may kill a wolf involved in chronic depredation with 
a permit. Five to seven breeding pairs is considered the management 
population objective, or Phase 2.
     Under Phase 3 a limited controlled hunt could be allowed 
to decrease chronic depredation or reduce pressure on wild ungulate 
     The plan provides wildlife managers with adaptive 
management strategies to address wolf predation problems on wild 
ungulates if confirmed wolf predation leads to declines in localized 
     In the unlikely event that a person is attacked by a wolf, 
the plan describes the circumstances under which Oregon's criminal code 
and the Federal Act would allow harassing, harming or killing of wolves 
where necessary to avoid imminent, grave injury. Such an incident must 
be reported to law enforcement officials.
     A strong information and education program is proposed to 
ensure anyone with an interest in wolves is able to learn more about 
the species and stay informed about wildlife management activities.
     Several research projects are identified as necessary for 
future success of long-term wolf conservation and management. 
Monitoring and radio-collaring wolves are listed as critical components 
of the plan both for conservation and communication with Oregonians.
     An economic analysis provides estimates of costs and 
benefits associated with wolves in Oregon and wolf conservation and 
     Finally, the plan requires annual reporting to the 
Commission on program implementation.
    The Oregon Wolf Management Plan, as approved by the Oregon Fish and 
Wildlife Commission in February 2005, called for three legislative 
actions which the 2005 Oregon Legislative Assembly considered, but did 
not adopt. These actions were: (1) Changing the legal status of the 
gray wolf from protected non-game wildlife to a ``special status 
mammal'' under the ``game mammal'' definition in ORS 496.004; (2) 
amending the wildlife damage statute (ORS 498.012) to remove the 
requirement for a permit to lethally take a gray wolf caught in the act 
of attacking livestock; and (3) creating a State-funded program to pay 
compensation for wolf-caused losses of livestock and to pay for 
proactive methods to prevent wolf depredation. As a result, the Fish 
and Wildlife Commission is currently going through a public review 
process to amend the Oregon Plan and discuss legislative proposals. The 
Commission remains on record as calling for those legislative 
enhancements; however, implementation of the Oregon Plan does not 
depend upon them.
    Under the Oregon Wolf Management Plan, the gray wolf will remain 
classified as endangered under State law until the conservation 
population objective for eastern Oregon is reached (i.e., four breeding 
pairs for 3 consecutive years). Once the objective is achieved, the 
State delisting process will be initiated. Following delisting from the 
State Endangered Species Act, wolves will retain their classification 
as nongame wildlife under ORS 496.375. If a legislative change is made 
to reclassify the gray wolf as a ``special status mammal'' under the 
``game mammal'' definition in Oregon, the Commission will retain the 
authority to regulate (and, where appropriate, prohibit) take of the 
wolf as necessary.
    Utah--If federally delisted, wolves in that portion of the NRM DPS 
in Utah would remain listed as protected wildlife under State law. In 
Utah, wolves fall under three layers of protection--(1) State code, (2) 
Administrative Rule and (3) Species Management Plan. The Utah Code can 
be found at http://www.le.state.ut.us/~code/TITLE23/TITLE23.htm.

    The relevant administrative rules that restrict wolf take can be 
found at http://www.rules.utah.gov/publicat/code/r657/r657-003.htm and 

http://www.rules.utah.gov/publicat/code/r657/r657-011.htm. These 

regulations restrict all potential taking of wolves in Utah, including 
that portion in the NRM DPS. Wolf management in Utah will have no 
effect on the recovered wolf population that resides in suitable 
habitat in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
    In 2003, the Utah Legislature passed House Joint Resolution 12 
(HJR-12), which directed the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) 
to draft a wolf management plan for ``the review, modification and 
adoption by the Utah Wildlife Board, through the Regional Advisory 
Council process.'' In April 2003, the Utah Wildlife Board directed UDWR 
to develop a proposal for a wolf working group to assist the agency in 
this endeavor. The UDWR created the Wolf Working Group in the summer of 
2003. The Wolf Working Group is composed of 13 members that represent 
diverse public interests regarding wolves in Utah.
    On June 9, 2005, the Utah Wildlife Board passed the Utah Wolf 
Management Plan (Utah 2005). The goal of the Plan is to manage, study, 
and conserve wolves moving into Utah while avoiding conflicts with the 
elk and deer management objectives of the Ute Indian Tribe; minimizing 
livestock depredation; and protecting wild ungulate populations in Utah 
from excessive wolf predation. The Utah Plan can be viewed at http://www.wildlife.utah.gov/wolf/.
 Its purpose is to guide management of 

wolves in Utah during an interim period from Federal delisting until 
2015, or until it is determined that wolves have become established in 
Utah, or the assumptions of the plan (political, social, biological, or 
legal) change. During this interim

[[Page 6134]]

period, immigrating wolves will be studied to determine where they are 
most likely to settle without conflict.
    Tribal Plans--Approximately 20 Tribes are within the proposed NRM 
DPS. Currently no wolf packs live on, or are entirely dependent on 
Tribal lands for their existence in the NRM DPS. In the NRM DPS about 
32,942 km \2\ (12,719 mi \2\) (3 percent) of the area is Tribal land. 
In the NRM wolf occupied habitat, about 4,696 km \2\ (1,813 mi \2\) (2 
percent) is Tribal land (Service 2006; 71 FR 6645, February 8, 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 NRM DPS. 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 ensure 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 in this proposed rule 
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 
Service approved wolf management plan, but that plan only applied to 
listed wolves, and it was reviewed so the Service could determine if 
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). No other Tribe has submitted a wolf management 
plan. In November 2005, the Service requested information from all the 
Tribes in the NRM regarding their Tribal regulations and any other 
relevant information regarding Tribal management or concerns about 
wolves (Bangs 2004). All responses were reviewed, and Tribal comments 
were incorporated into this proposed rule.


    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 promote the maintenance of wolf populations 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 breeding pairs in each State. These 
States are to control problem wolves in a manner similar to that used 
by the Service (1988, p. 8; 1994, pp. 2, 9-12; 1999, pp. 39-40; 70 FR 
1306-1311, January 6, 2005) 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 breeding pairs, wolf control 
measures may be more liberal. When wolf populations are below 15 
breeding pairs, wolf control as directed by each State will be more 
    Current Wyoming law provides a definition of pack that is not 
consistent with the Service's definition of a breeding pair. In 
addition, Wyoming uses the State definition of pack in a complicated 
structure for determining when wolves are protected under the 
regulatory mechanisms of the ``trophy game'' status and absent 
management structure under the ``predatory animal'' status. Wyoming's 
plan does not provide for sufficient regulatory control to balance wolf 
population size and distribution with livestock conflict and public 
tolerance. If Wyoming adopts a State management plan that is consistent 
with the requirements outlined above, and that have been already 
incorporated into Montana's and Idaho's regulatory framework, we intend 
to delist the entire NRM DPS.
    If the Service delists the wolf in the NRM DPS, the major 
difference between the previous Federal management and the new State 
management of problem wolves will be the slightly increased authority 
to take wolves in the act of attacking or molesting livestock or other 
domestic animals on private land by private landowners or on grazing 
allotments by permittees and public harvest programs to help regulate 
wolf distribution and density to meet state management objectives.
    Private take of problem wolves under State regulations 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. However, if Wyoming does not finalize an 
adequate State management plan consistent with the requirements 
outlined above, current Wyoming State law designates predatory animal 
status that allows all wolves, including pups, to be killed by any 
means, 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 significant portion of the 
range habitat in northwestern Wyoming. Therefore, without an adequate 
State management plan, wolf management in northwestern Wyoming will 
remain under the protections of the Act and continue to be conducted by 
the Service after this proposal is finalized.
    In contrast to the Service recovery program, currently approved 
State and Tribal management programs also are to incorporate regulated 
public harvest, only when wolf populations in Montana and Idaho are 
safely above recovery levels of 15 or more breeding pairs, to help 
manage wolf distribution and numbers to minimize conflicts with humans. 
Wyoming State law and management also should meet this requirement 
before wolves in that State also could be delisted. 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. Idaho and Montana will use similar 
programs to manage wolf populations safely above recovery levels, when 
there are more than 15 breeding pairs in their State. Wyoming will 
likely have a similar program prior to the Act's protections being 
    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. Native ungulate populations also 
are maintained at high levels by Washington, Oregon, and Utah in the 
portions of those States that are in the proposed NRM DPS. No 
foreseeable condition would cause a decline in ungulate populations 
significant enough to affect a recovered wolf population.

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 

[[Page 6135]]

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 concerns regarding the threat to pets, opinions 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 1994, pp. 5:11-111). 
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 NRM. We have concluded that the State 
management regulations that will go into effect if wolves in the NRM 
are removed from the Act'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 (Mech 1995, pp. 275-276; Williams et al. 2002, p. 582; 
Bangs et al. 2004, p. 102). State wildlife organizations have specific 
departments and staff dedicated to providing accurate and science-based 
public education, information, and outreach.
    Genetics--Genetic diversity in the GYA segment of the NRM is 
extremely high (Wayne 2005). A recent study of 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, p. 
1089; Vonholdt 2006). Because of the long dispersal distances and the 
relative speed of natural wolf movement within the NRM DPS (discussed 
under Factor A), we anticipate that populations of NRM wolves will 
continue to intermix at a sufficient rate to maintain high genetic 
diversity into the foreseeable future. However, should it become 
necessary sometime in the distant future, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming 
recognize relocation as a potentially valid wildlife management tool.
    No manmade and natural factors threaten wolf population recovery 
within the foreseeable future. Public attitudes toward 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.

Conclusion of the 5-Factor Analysis

    As required by the Act, we considered the five potential threat 
factors to assess whether wolves are threatened or endangered 
throughout all or a significant portion of their range in the NRM DPS 
and, therefore, whether the NRM DPS should remain listed. While wolves 
historically occurred over most of the proposed DPS, large portions of 
this area are no longer able to support viable wolf populations, and 
the wolf population in the NRM DPS will remain centered in northwestern 
Montana, central Idaho, and the GYA. This area represents the 
biologically significant portion of the species' range. If Wyoming 
develops an adequate State management plan, the NRM DPS would no longer 
be threatened or endangered in all or any significant portion of its 
range for the foreseeable future. Gray wolves in those portions of 
Oregon, Utah, and Washington that are within the boundaries of the 
distinct population segment do not constitute a significant portion of 
the range of this distinct population segment for the reasons outlined 
above. We reviewed all potential threats to the wolf population in the 
NRM DPS and we concluded that none except the current state regulatory 
framework in Wyoming would threaten wolves in any significant portion 
of the range in the NRM DPS in the foreseeable future. Such a 
regulatory framework would also threaten the suitable habitat and wolf 
range in Wyoming outside the National Parks. If Wyoming changes its law 
and management plan consistent with the Service's recommendations, it 
will also sufficiently regulate human-caused mortality. However, if no 
changes occur, excessive human-caused mortality as allowed under 
Wyoming state law would remain the lone threat to wolves in a 
significant portion of the range in northwestern Wyoming outside the 
National Parks. If a new Wyoming regulatory framework cannot be 
approved by the Service, then the Act's protections will remain in 
effect in a significant portion of range in Wyoming, outside the 
National Parks, and they will provide adequate assurance into the 
foreseeable future that human-caused mortality will not become a threat 
to wolves in all or a significant portion of their range, even in 
northwestern Wyoming outside the National Parks.
    The large amount and distribution of suitable habitat in public 
ownership in the States of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, land-use 
practices that will maintain the suitability of these areas for wolves, 
the presence of three large protected core areas that contain high-
quality suitable habitat assures the Service that threats to wolf 
habitat in the NRM DPS have been reduced or eliminated in all or a 
significant portion of its range for the foreseeable future, except for 
northwestern Wyoming outside the National Parks. Unsuitable habitat and 
small, fragmented suitable habitat away from these core areas within 
the NRM DPS, largely represent geographic locations where wolf packs 
cannot persist and are not significant to the conservation of wolves in 
the NRM DPS. Disease and natural predation do not threaten wolf 
population recovery in all or a 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 all or a significant 
portion of its range within the foreseeable future.
    Human-caused mortality remains the primary threat to the gray wolf. 
Therefore, managing mortality (i.e., overutilization of wolves for 
commercial, recreational, scientific and educational purposes and human 
predation) remains the primary challenge to maintaining a recovered 
wolf population into the foreseeable future. Wolf management by the 
Tribes and the States of Washington, Oregon, and Utah will be 
beneficial, but is not necessary to either achieving or maintaining a 
recovered wolf population in the NRM DPS, as these areas do not 
constitute a significant portion of the DPS. We have determined that if 
Wyoming develops an adequate State management plan, the wolf management 
plans in the 3 States will be adequate to regulate human-caused 
mortality and that each State will maintain its share and distribution 
of the NRM wolf population above recovery levels for the foreseeable 
future. In this case, we propose to establish the NRM DPS of the gray 
wolf and to delist all gray wolves in the entire NRM DPS.
    In the past, the Service has approached delisting of ``species'' 
(as that term is defined by the Act) due to recovery to require that 
the entity being delisted must be neither threatened nor endangered 
throughout all or a

[[Page 6136]]

significant portion of its range. In practice, this has meant that we 
have delisted entire species, subspecies, or distinct population 
segments of vertebrate animals. In the current situation, i.e., without 
an adequate management plan in place in Wyoming, we propose to 
establish a Northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment of gray 
wolf and to delist wolves in all areas of that DPS exclusive of the 
significant portion of the range in the State of Wyoming outside of the 
National Parks in northwestern Wyoming. As clearly indicated by the 
discussion in this proposed delisting, we currently regard a portion of 
Wyoming to be a significant portion of the range of the NRM DPS because 
a biologically significant portion of the species' range occurs in 
Wyoming and have determined that the State has not adequately addressed 
the threats to the gray wolf in that portion. Accordingly, the 
protections of the Act will continue to apply to gray wolves in that 
significant portion of the range. We believe that this proposal is in 
the public interest because, by conditionally returning management to 
the States, it rewards those who have undertaken positive efforts to 
conserve the species and alleviate the threats posed by human-caused 
mortality. This approach furthers the Administration's efforts to 
emphasize the importance of cooperative conservation in achieving the 
purposes of the Act.
    Section 4(c)(1) of the Act states, ``The Secretary of the Interior 
shall publish in the Federal Register a list of all species determined 
by him or the Secretary of Commerce to be endangered species and a list 
of all species determined by him or the Secretary of Commerce to be 
threatened species. Each list shall refer to the species contained 
therein by scientific and common name or names, if any, specify with 
respect to such species over what portion of its range it is endangered 
or threatened, and specify any critical habitat within such range'' 16 
U.S.C. 1533(c)(1) (emphasis added). The Service believes the emphasized 
text, in conjunction with the ``significant portion of its range'' 
language in the definition of ``threatened'' and ``endangered,'' U.S.C. 
1532(6), (20), indicates that Congress anticipated situations where the 
protections of the Act might not be extended to an entire species, as 
that term is defined by the Act, and that this provides the authority 
for listing or delisting a portion of a species, subspecies, or 
distinct population segment of vertebrate animal.
    This conclusion is also consistent with the case law, the ESA, and 
the legislative history of the Act. In Defenders of Wildlife v. Norton, 
258 F.3d 1136 (9th Cir. 2001), the Ninth Circuit stated regarding the 
``significant portion of its range'' language: ``It appears that 
Congress added this new language in order to encourage greater 
cooperation between federal and state agencies to allow the Secretary 
more flexibility in her approach to wildlife management.'' Id. at 1144. 
The court went on to recount the Senate floor debate of the ESA, 
interpreting it as suggesting that the bill would allow the Secretary 
to give the American alligator different listing statuses in different 
states. Id. at 1144-45. Finally, in its holding, the court stated that 
a significant portion of a species' range could coincide with State 
boundaries, and that ``[t]he Secretary necessarily has a wide degree of 
discretion in delineating ``a significant portion of its range.'' Id. 
at 1145.
    Therefore, based on the best scientific and commercial information 
available, if Wyoming modifies their wolf management framework we 
propose that the gray wolf in the NRM DPS be removed from the list of 
threatened and endangered species. However, if it fails to modify its 
management plan adequately, wolves in significant portion of the range 
in Wyoming outside of the National Parks in northwestern Wyoming will 
still require the Act's protections and will retain their nonessential 
experimental status under section 10(j) of the Act.

Post-Delisting Monitoring

    Section 4(g)(1) of the Act, added in the 1988 reauthorization, 
requires us to implement a system, in cooperation with the States, to 
monitor for not less than 5 years, the status of all species that have 
recovered and been removed from the Lists of Endangered and Threatened 
Wildlife and Plants (50 CFR 17.11 and 17.12). The purpose of this post-
delisting monitoring (PDM) is to verify that a recovered species 
remains secure from risk of extinction after it no longer has the 
protections of the Act. Should relisting be required, we may make use 
of the emergency listing authorities under section 4(b)(7) of the Act 
to prevent a significant risk to the well-being of any recovered 
    Monitoring Techniques--The NRM area was intensively monitored for 
wolves even before wolves were documented in Montana in the mid-1980s 
(Weaver 1978; Ream and Mattson 1982, pp. 379-381; Kaminski and Hansen 
1984, p. v). Numerous Federal, State, Tribal agencies, universities, 
and special interest groups assisted in those various efforts. Since 
1979, wolves have been monitored using standard techniques including 
collecting, evaluating, and following-up on suspected observations of 
wolves or wolf signs by natural resource agencies or the public; 
howling or snow tracking surveys conducted by the Service, our 
university and agency cooperators, volunteers, or interested special 
interest groups; and by capturing, radio-collaring, and monitoring 
wolves. We only consider wolves and wolf packs as confirmed when 
Federal, State, or Tribal agency verification is made by field staff 
that can reliably identify wolves and wolf signs.
    The wolf monitoring system works in a hierarchical nature. 
Typically we receive a report (either directly or passed along by 
another agency) that wolves or their signs were observed. We make no 
judgment whether the report seems credible or not and normally just 
note the general location of that observation. Unless breeding results, 
reports of single animals are not important unless tied to other 
reports or unusual observations that elicit concern (i.e., a wolf 
reported feeding on a livestock carcass). Lone wolves can wander long 
distances over a short period of time (Mech and Boitani 2003, pp. 14-
15) and may be almost impossible to find again or confirm. However, the 
patterns and clusters of those individual reports are very informative 
and critical to subsequent agency decisions about where to focus agency 
searches for wolf pack activity.
    When we receive multiple reports of multiple individuals that 
indicate possible territoriality and pair bonding (the early stage of 
pack formation), or a report of multiple wolves that seems highly 
credible (usually made by a biologist or experienced outdoors-person), 
we typically notify the nearest Federal, State or Tribal natural 
resource/land management agency and ask them to be on the alert for 
possible wolf activity during their normal course of field activities. 
Once they locate areas of suspected wolf activity, we may ask 
experienced field biologists to search the area for wolf signs (tracks, 
howling, scats, ungulate kills). Depending on the type of activity 
confirmed, field crews may decide to capture, radio-collar, and release 
wolves on site. Radio-collared wolves are then relocated from the air 1 
to 4 times per month dependent on a host of factors including funding, 
personnel, aircraft availability, weather, and other priorities. At the 
end of the year, we compile agency-confirmed wolf observations to 
estimate the numbers and locations of adult wolves and pups that were 
likely alive on December 31 of that year. These data are then

[[Page 6137]]

summarized by packs to indicate overall population size, composition, 
and distribution. This level of wildlife monitoring is intensive 
compared to nearly all others done in North America. We believe the 
results are relatively accurate estimates of wolf population 
distribution and structure (Service et al. 2006, Table 4, Figure 1) in 
the NRM DPS. This monitoring strategy has been used to estimate the NRM 
wolf population for over 20 years.
    Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, as well as Oregon and Utah, committed 
to continue monitoring of wolf populations, according to their State 
wolf management plans (See State plans in Factor D), using similar 
techniques as the Service and its cooperators (which has included the 
States, Tribes, and USDA-WS--the same agencies that will be managing 
and monitoring wolves post-delisting) have used. The States have 
committed to continue to conduct wolf population monitoring through the 
mandatory 5-year PDM period that is required by the Act. The States 
also have committed to publish the results of their monitoring efforts 
in annual wolf reports as has been done since 1989 by the Service and 
its cooperators (Service et al. 1989-2006). Other States and Tribes 
within the DPS adjacent to Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming also have 
participated in this interagency cooperative wolf monitoring system for 
at least the past decade, and their plans commit them to continue to 
report wolf activity in their States and coordinate those observations 
with other States. The annual reports have also documented all aspects 
of the wolf management program including staffing and funding, 
population monitoring, control to reduce livestock and pet damage, 
research (predator-prey interactions, livestock/wolf conflict 
prevention, disease and health monitoring, publications, etc.) and 
public outreach.
    Service Review of the Post-Delisting Status of the Wolf 
Population--To ascertain wolf population distribution and structure and 
to analyze if the wolf population might require a status review (to 
determine whether it should again be listed under the Act), we intend 
to review the State and any Tribal annual wolf reports each year. The 
status of the NRM wolf population will be estimated by estimating the 
numbers of packs, breeding pairs, and total numbers of wolves in mid-
winter throughout the post-delisting monitoring period (Service et al. 
2006, Table 4, Figure 1). By evaluating the techniques used and the 
results of those wolf monitoring efforts, the Service can decide 
whether further action, including re-listing is warranted. In addition, 
the States and Tribes are investigating other, perhaps more accurate 
and less expensive, ways to help estimate and describe wolf pack 
distribution and abundance (Service et al. 2006, Figure 1, Table 4; 
Ausband 2006; Kunkel et al. 2005).
    Data indicate that other survey methods and data can become the 
``biological equivalents'' of the breeding pair definition currently 
used to measure recovery. Those State and Tribal investigations also 
include alternative ways to estimate the status of the wolf population 
and the numbers of breeding pairs that are as accurate, but less 
expensive, than those that are currently used (Ausband 2006). The 
States will continue to cooperate with National Parks and Tribes and 
publish their annual wolf population estimates after the 5-year 
mandatory wolf population monitoring required by the Act is over, but 
this will not be required by the Act.
    We fully recognize and anticipate that State and Tribal laws 
regarding wolves and State and Tribal management will change through 
time as new knowledge becomes available as the States and Tribes gain 
additional experience at wolf management and conservation. We will base 
any analysis of whether a status review and relisting are warranted 
upon the best scientific and commercial data available regarding wolf 
distribution, abundance, and threats in the NRM DPS. For the 5-year PDM 
period, the best source of that information will be the State annual 
wolf reports. We intend to post those annual State wolf reports and our 
annual review and comment on the status of the wolf population in the 
NRM DPS on our Web site (http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov/) by, 

approximately, April 1 of each year. During our yearly analysis for PDM 
(at least 5 years) of the State's annual reports, we also intend to 
comment on any threats that may have increased during the previous 
year, such as significant changes in a State regulatory framework, 
diseases, decreases in prey abundance, increases in wolf-livestock 
conflict, or other factors.
    Our analysis and response for PDM is to track changes in wolf 
abundance, distribution, and threats to the population. If the wolf 
population ever falls below the minimum NRM wolf population recovery 
level (30 breeding pairs of wolves and 300 wolves in Montana, Idaho, 
and Wyoming), we could initiate an immediate analysis of whether an 
emergency listing of gray wolves throughout the NRM DPS was 
appropriate. If the wolf population segment in Montana, Idaho, or 
Wyoming falls below 10 breeding pairs or 100 wolves in any one of those 
States for 3 consecutive years, we could initiate a status review and 
analysis of threats to determine if relisting was warranted. All such 
reviews would be made available for public review and comment, 
including peer review by select species experts. If either of these two 
scenarios (less than 30 breeding pairs or 300 wolves, or less than 10 
breeding pairs or 100 wolves in either Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming) 
occurred in any year during the mandatory PDM period, the PDM period 
would be extended five additional years from that point.

Clarity of the Rule

    Executive Order 12866 requires agencies to write regulations that 
are easy to understand. We invite your comments on how to make this 
proposal easier to understand including answers to questions such as 
the following--(1) Is the discussion in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION 
section of the preamble helpful to your understanding of the proposal? 
(2) Does the proposal contain technical language or jargon that 
interferes with its clarity? (3) Does the format of the proposal 
(groupings and order of sections, use of headings, paragraphing, etc.) 
aid or reduce its clarity? What else could we do to make the proposal 
easier to understand? Send a copy of any comments on how we could make 
this rule easier to understand to--Office of Regulatory Affairs, 
Department of the Interior, Room 7229, 1849 C Street, NW., Washington, 
DC 20240. You also may e-mail the comments to this 

Public Comments Solicited

    We solicit information, data, comments or suggestions from the 
public, other concerned governmental agencies, the scientific 
community, industry, or any other interested party concerning this 
proposal. Generally, we seek information, data, and comments concerning 
the boundaries of the proposed NRM DPS and the status of gray wolf in 
the NRM. Specifically, we seek documented, biological data on the 
status and management of the NRM wolf population and its habitat.

Public Hearing

    The ESA provides for public hearings on this proposed rule. We have 
scheduled six public hearings on this proposed rule as specified above 
in DATES and ADDRESSES. Public hearings are designed to gather relevant 
information that the public may have that we should consider in our

[[Page 6138]]

rulemaking. During the hearing, we will present information about the 
proposed action. We invite the public to submit information and 
comments at the hearing or in writing during the open public comment 
period. We encourage persons wishing to comment at the hearings to 
provide a written copy of their statement at the start of the hearing. 
This notice and the public hearings will allow all interested parties 
to submit comments on the proposed rule for the gray wolf. We are 
seeking comments from the public, other concerned governmental 
agencies, Tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other 
interested parties concerning the proposal.
    The eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, and a small portion 
of northern Utah are included within the proposed DPS. We request 
comments on whether the DPS should, or should not, include more, or 
less, land within these, or any other, State(s). Any such comments 
should provide relevant scientific data. We will consider the 
information so submitted in delineating the boundaries for this DPS.
    We request comment on our approach of removing protections in all 
or a portion of the NRM DPS. If Wyoming adopts a State law and a State 
wolf management plan that the Service approves we will remove Act 
protections for all of the NRM DPS. However, if Wyoming does not, the 
Service would remove the Act's protections for Idaho and Montana and 
parts of Washington, Oregon, and Utah. Northwestern Wyoming outside the 
National Parks would retain its nonessential experimental status under 
section 10(j) of the Act but the rest of the state would be delisted. 
Continued Service management of wolves in northwestern Wyoming would 
ensure their conservation, until a Wyoming regulatory framework can be 
developed and approved. We believe this process is in the public's best 
interest, furthers conservation efforts in the NRM DPS, and is within 
our statutory discretion under the Act.
    Finally, we request comments concerning our intention to use 
section 6 agreements under the Act to allow States with Service-
approved wolf management plans, located adjacent to NRM DPS, to assume 
wolf management including nonlethal and lethal control of problem 
wolves. Such agreements may be entered into with a State for the 
administration of and management for the conservation of endangered or 
threatened species. The protections of the Act would still continue to 
apply to the gray wolves outside the NRM DPS.
    Submit comments as indicated under ADDRESSES. If you wish to submit 
comments by e-mail, please avoid the use of special characters and any 
form of encryption. Please also include your name and return address in 
your e-mail message.
    Our practice is to make comments, including names and home 
addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular 
business hours. Individual respondents may request that we withhold 
their home addresses from the rulemaking record, which we will honor to 
the extent allowable by law. There also may be circumstances in which 
we would withhold from the rulemaking record a respondent's identity, 
as allowable by law. If you wish us to withhold your name and/or 
address, you must state this prominently at the beginning of your 
comment, but you should be aware that the Service may be required to 
disclose your name and address pursuant to the Freedom of Information 
Act. We will not consider anonymous comments. We will make all 
submissions from organizations or businesses, and from individuals 
identifying themselves as representatives or officials of organizations 
or businesses, available for public inspection in their entirety. 
Comments and materials received will be available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at our Helena 
Office. (see ADDRESSES). In making a final decision on this proposed 
rule, we will take into consideration the comments and any additional 
information we receive. Such communications may lead to a final rule 
that differs from this proposed rule.

Peer Review

    In accordance with our joint policy published in the Federal 
Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), we will seek the expert 
opinions of at least three appropriate and independent specialists 
regarding this proposed rule. The purpose of such review is to ensure 
that our delisting decision is based on scientifically sound data, 
assumptions, and analyses. We will send copies of this proposed rule to 
these peer reviewers immediately following publication in the Federal 
Register. We will invite these peer reviewers to comment, during the 
public comment period, on the specific assumptions and conclusions 
regarding the proposed delisting. We will consider all comments and 
information received during the comment period on this proposed rule 
during preparation of a final rulemaking. Accordingly, the final 
decision may differ from this proposed rule.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This rule does not contain any new collections of information other 
than those already approved under the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 
U.S.C. 3501 et seq.) and assigned Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 
control number 1018-0094, which expires on September 30, 2007. An 
agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to 
respond to, a collection of information unless it displays a currently 
valid OMB control number. For additional information concerning permit 
and associated requirements for endangered species, see 50 CFR 17.21 
and 17.22.

National Environmental Policy Act

    The Service has determined that Environmental Assessments and 
Environmental Impact Statements, as defined under the authority of the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, need not be prepared in 
connection with actions adopted pursuant to section 4(a) of the Act. A 
notice outlining the Service's reasons for this determination was 
published in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this document is 
available upon request from the Western Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator 
(see ADDRESSES above).

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter 
I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below:


    1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.

Sec.  17.11  [Amended]

    2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by revising the entry for ``Wolf, gray'' 
under ``MAMMALS'' in the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife to 
read as follows:

Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

[[Page 6139]]

                     Species                                          Vertebrate population
--------------------------------------------------   Historic range    where endangered or      Status      When listed      Critical      Special rules
          Common name            Scientific name                            threatened                                        habitat

                                                                      * * * * * * *
Wolf, gray....................  Canis lupus......  Holarctic........  U.S.A., conterminous   E..........  1, 6, 13, 15,   N/A...........  N/A
                                                                       (lower 48) States,                  35, 561, 562,
                                                                       except: (1) Where                   735.
                                                                       listed as an
                                                                       population below;
                                                                       (2) Minnesota,
                                                                       Wisconsin, Michigan,
                                                                       eastern North Dakota
                                                                       (that portion north
                                                                       and east of the
                                                                       Missouri River
                                                                       upstream to Lake
                                                                       Sakakawea and east
                                                                       of Highway 83 from
                                                                       Lake Sakakawea to
                                                                       the Canadian
                                                                       border), eastern
                                                                       South Dakota (that
                                                                       portion north and
                                                                       east of the Missouri
                                                                       River), northern
                                                                       Iowa, northern
                                                                       Illinois, and
                                                                       northern Indiana
                                                                       (those portions of
                                                                       IA, IL, and IN north
                                                                       of Interstate
                                                                       Highway 80), and
                                                                       northwestern Ohio
                                                                       (that portion north
                                                                       of Interstate
                                                                       Highway 80 and west
                                                                       of the Maumee River
                                                                       at Toledo);
                                                                       (3) except Montana,
                                                                       Wyoming, and Idaho,
                                                                       eastern Washington
                                                                       (that portion of
                                                                       Washington east of
                                                                       Highway 97 and
                                                                       Highway 17 north of
                                                                       Mesa and that
                                                                       portion of
                                                                       Washington east of
                                                                       Highway 395 south of
                                                                       Mesa), eastern
                                                                       Oregon (portion of
                                                                       Oregon east of
                                                                       Highway 395 and
                                                                       Highway 78 north of
                                                                       Burns Junction and
                                                                       that portion of
                                                                       Oregon east of
                                                                       Highway 95 south of
                                                                       Burns Junction), and
                                                                       north central Utah
                                                                       (that portion of
                                                                       Utah east of Highway
                                                                       84 and north of
                                                                       Highway 80); and (4)
                                                                       Mexico. U.S.A.
                                                                       (portions of AZ, NM,
                                                                       and TX--see section
Do............................  do...............  do...............  .....................  XN.........  631...........  N/A...........  17.84(k)

                                                                      * * * * * * *

Sec.  17.84  [Amended]

    3. Amend Sec.  17.84 by removing paragraphs (i) and (n).

    Dated: January 29, 2007.
H. Dale Hall,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 07-487 Filed 2-7-07; 8:45 am]