[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 29 (Friday, February 11, 2011)]
[Pages 7875-7877]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-3064]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[Docket No. FWS-R1-ES-2011-0009; 10120-1113-0000-C3]

Nonessential Experimental Populations of Gray Wolves in the 
Northern Rocky Mountains; Lethal Take of Wolves in the Lolo Elk 
Management Zone of Idaho; Draft Environmental Assessment

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a draft environmental assessment (EA) of the Idaho 
Department of Fish and Game's (IDFG) proposal to lethally take wolves 
in the Lolo Elk Management Zone of north-central Idaho in response to 
impacts on elk populations. IDFG's proposal was submitted under the 
Endangered Species Act (ESA) and our special regulations under the ESA 
for the central Idaho and Yellowstone area nonessential experimental 
populations of gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains. The draft 
EA describes the environmental effects of two alternatives: (1) The 
preferred alternative, which would approve the IDFG proposal to reduce 
the wolf population in the Lolo Elk Management Zone to a minimum of 20 
to 30 wolves, in 3 to 5 packs, for a period of 5 years, in response to 
impacts on elk populations; and (2) a no-action alternative, which 
would deny the proposal to reduce the wolf population in the Lolo Elk 
Management Zone. Under the no-action alternative, wolves in the Lolo 
Elk Management Zone would continue to be managed as a nonessential 
experimental population and could be removed by the Service or its 
designated agents when livestock, stock animals, or dogs are killed by 

DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive your written comments 
on the draft EA no later than March 14, 2011. Please note that if you 
are using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES section, 
below), the deadline for submitting an electronic comment is 11:59 p.m. 
Eastern Time on this date.

ADDRESSES: Documents: The draft EA is available electronically at 
http://www.fws.gov/idaho/ or http://www.regulations.gov (under Docket 
number FWS-R1-ES-2011-0009). Alternatively, you may request the 
document by writing to: Idaho State Supervisor, Attn: Lolo Wolf 10(j) 
proposal, Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office, 1387 South Vinnell Way, Suite 
368, Boise, ID 83709-1657.
    Comments: Before submitting comments, see the Public Availability 
of Comments section, below, for important information regarding privacy 
and personal identifying information in your comments. Comments and 
materials received will be available for public inspection, by 
appointment, during normal business hours at the Idaho Fish and 
Wildlife Office address. You may submit information by one of the 
following methods:
    Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the box 
that reads ``Enter Keyword or ID,'' enter the Docket number for this 
finding, which is FWS-R1-ES-2011-0009. Check the

[[Page 7876]]

box that reads ``Open for Comment/Submission,'' and then click the 
Search button. You should then see an icon that reads ``Submit a 
Comment.'' Please ensure that you have found the correct document 
before submitting your comment.
    U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-
R1-ES-2011-0009; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, 
VA 22203.
    We will post all information we receive on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any 
personal information you provide us (see the Public Availability of 
Comments section below for more details).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brian Kelly, Idaho State Supervisor, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office (see 
ADDRESSES above), at 208-378-5243; or brian_t_kelly@fws.gov (e-mail). 
Individuals who are hearing impaired or speech impaired may call the 
Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.



    We are evaluating whether or not to authorize lethal take of wolves 
in an ESA-designated nonessential experimental population in the Lolo 
Elk Management Zone (Lolo Zone) in the State of Idaho. The Lolo Zone is 
1 of 29 elk-management zones in Idaho. The proposed action is in 
response to a proposal from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game 
(IDFG) to reduce gray wolf predation on the wild elk population in the 
Lolo Zone for a period of 5 years.
    In 1974, Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves (Canis lupus 
irremotus), as well as three other gray wolf subspecies, were listed as 
endangered under the authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 
(ESA; U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) (January 4, 1974; 39 FR 1171). In 1978, the 
List was updated to reflect new taxonomic information related to gray 
wolf subspecies, and also the fact that all gray wolf subspecies in the 
coterminous United States and Mexico were threatened or endangered (43 
FR 9607).
    ESA Amendments of 1982 (Pub. L. 97-304) made significant changes to 
the ESA, including the creation of section 10(j), which provides for 
the designation of specific populations of listed species as 
``experimental.'' Under previous authorities in the ESA, the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service (Service) was permitted to reintroduce a listed 
species into unoccupied portions of its historical range for 
conservation and recovery purposes. However, in some cases, local 
opposition to reintroduction efforts from parties concerned about 
potential restrictions under sections 7 and 9 of the ESA, made 
reintroductions contentious or even socially unacceptable.
    Under ESA section 10(j), a listed species reintroduced outside of 
its current range--but within its historical range--may be designated, 
at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior, as 
``experimental.'' This designation increases the Service's flexibility 
and discretion in managing reintroduced endangered species, because the 
Service treats experimental populations as threatened species (with a 
few exceptions) and may promulgate special regulations for threatened 
species that provide exceptions to the take prohibitions under section 
9 of the ESA.
    On November 22, 1994, we designated portions of Idaho, Montana, and 
Wyoming as two nonessential experimental population areas for the gray 
wolf under section 10(j) of the ESA: The Yellowstone Experimental 
Population Area (59 FR 60252) and the Central Idaho Experimental 
Population Area (59 FR 60266). These designations, which are found in 
the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 50 CFR 17.40(i), assisted us 
in initiating gray wolf reintroduction projects in central Idaho and in 
the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA). At that time, special regulations 
under section 10(j) allowed, among other things, livestock producers to 
lethally remove wolves in the act of killing, wounding, or biting 
livestock, and allowed the Service to lethally remove problem wolves. 
The 1994 designation did not contemplate removing wolves to protect 
wild game species.
    After being reintroduced to central Idaho in 1995 and 1996 as a 
nonessential experimental population under section 10(j) of the ESA, 
wolves achieved biological recovery objectives in 2002. Following 
biological recovery, the 1994 ESA 10(j) rule was amended in 2005 to 
give State and Tribal governments a role in gray wolf management under 
Service-approved wolf management plans and to allow lethal take of 
wolves in response to ``unacceptable impacts'' to wild ungulate 
populations (70 FR 1286). The 10(j) rule was amended again in 2008 to 
clarify the definition of ``unacceptable impact'' and the factors the 
Service must consider when a State or Tribe requests an exception from 
the take prohibitions of the ESA in response to wolf impacts on wild 
ungulate populations (73 FR 4720).
    Under the 2008 10(j) rule, States or Tribes may lethally take 
wolves within the experimental population if wolf predation is having 
an unacceptable impact on wild ungulate populations (deer, elk, moose, 
bighorn sheep, mountain goats, antelope, or bison) as determined by the 
respective State or Tribe, provided that the State or Tribe prepares a 
science-based document that: (1) Describes the basis of ungulate 
population or herd management objectives, which data indicate that the 
ungulate population or herd is below management objectives, which data 
indicate that wolves are a major cause of the unacceptable impact to 
the ungulate population or herd, why wolf removal is a warranted 
solution to help restore the ungulate population or herd to State or 
Tribal management objectives, the level and duration of wolf removal 
being proposed, and how ungulate population or herd response to wolf 
removal will be measured and control actions adjusted for 
effectiveness; (2) demonstrates that attempts were and are being made 
to address other identified major causes of ungulate herd or population 
declines, or the State or Tribe commits to implement possible remedies 
or conservation measures in addition to wolf removal; and (3) provides 
for an opportunity for peer review and public comment on their proposal 
prior to submitting it to the Service for written concurrence. In 
conducting peer review, the State or Tribe must: (i) Conduct the peer 
review process in conformance with the Office of Management and 
Budget's Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review (70 FR 
2664), and include in their proposal an explanation of how the 
Bulletin's standards were considered and satisfied; and (ii) obtain at 
least five independent peer reviews from individuals with relevant 
expertise; these individuals must not be staff employed by the State, 
Tribal, or Federal agency directly or indirectly involved with predator 
control or ungulate management in Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming.
    Before authorizing lethal removal of wolves in response to 
``unacceptable'' wild ungulate impacts, the Service must determine 
whether an unacceptable impact to wild ungulate populations or herds 
has occurred. We also must determine that the proposed lethal removal 
is science based, will not contribute to reducing the wolf population 
in the State below 20 breeding pairs and 200 wolves, and will not 
impede wolf recovery.

[[Page 7877]]

Draft Environmental Assessment

    We are announcing the availability of a draft Environmental 
Assessment (EA) that was prepared to evaluate potential environmental 
effects associated with our authorization or denial of IDFG's proposal 
to lethally take wolves in the Lolo Zone in an effort to reduce wolf 
populations to a minimum of 20 to 30 wolves in 3 to 5 packs and reduce 
predation pressure on the elk population in that zone. A No Action and 
Preferred Action are described, and the environmental consequences of 
each alternative are analyzed.
    No-Action Alternative (Deny Requested Authorization). Under the No-
Action Alternative, the Service would deny IDFG's 10(j) proposal to 
remove wolves in the Lolo Elk Management Zone, and current management 
direction for wolves would continue. In the Lolo Elk Management Zone, 
wolves would be managed by the Service or their designated agent and 
could be removed when livestock, stock animals, or dogs are killed by 
wolves as currently provided for in the 2008 10(j) rule (73 FR 4720, 
January 28, 2008). The No-Action Alternative management strategy would 
not include lethal removal of wolves in response to predation on wild 
ungulate populations.
    The No-Action Alternative would continue to allow management 
activities by State and Tribal governments to address major causes of 
elk declines other than wolf predation. Past management activities have 
included changes in elk hunting seasons and harvest strategies, changes 
in black bear and mountain lion seasons to address low calf survival, 
and efforts to improve elk habitat. These management activities would 
not be affected under the No-Action Alternative.
    Preferred Alternative (Approve Requested Authorization). Under the 
preferred alternative, the Service would approve the IDFG 10(j) 
proposal to remove wolves in the Lolo Elk Management Zone to reduce 
wolf predation on elk populations over a 5-year period. This 
alternative would provide an adaptive management strategy to reduce the 
wolf population. Wolves would be removed to manage for a minimum of 20 
to 30 wolves in 3 to 5 packs. Based on the 2009 year-end wolf 
population estimate of 76 wolves residing in the Lolo Elk Management 
Zone, the initial removal is estimated to be a minimum of 40 to 50 
wolves. Levels of wolf removal in subsequent years are expected to be 
lower, and would be based on wolf population monitoring. Management 
activities would be intended to protect the elk population in the Lolo 
Elk Management Zone while maintaining wolf populations that meet 
recovery objectives. This alternative includes monitoring both wolf and 
elk populations yearly to determine elk response to the implementation 
of management activities and whether adaptive changes in wolf removal 
are needed based on yearly monitoring results.
    Wolf removal would be accomplished by IDFG personnel and other 
approved agents of the State of Idaho. Wolves that inhabit the Lolo Elk 
Management Zone would be targeted for removal. Removal would be 
accomplished using legal means approved by the Service under provisions 
of the Service's 2008 10(j) rule. Wolf control will occur through 
shooting from aircraft or from the ground, or by capture with foothold 
traps or snares followed by euthanasia. IDFG is not proposing to use 
poison or other chemical means to control wolves. The goal of the 
removal would be to reduce pack sizes and, when appropriate, to remove 
entire packs. The primary removal effort would occur during the winter 
months. Most wolf control would occur on U.S. Forest Service lands 
outside of designated wilderness. IDFG is not proposing to use aircraft 
to remove wolves from within designated wilderness. Wolf carcasses 
would be recovered from the field, when possible, and processed for 
collection of biological data. Hides and skulls would be used for 
educational purposes.

Next Steps

    After the comment period ends, we will analyze comments received 
and determine whether to: (1) Prepare a final EA and Finding of No 
Significant Impact and authorize lethal take of wolves in the Lolo Zone 
under section 10(j) of the ESA in response to wolf impacts on elk 
populations, (2) reconsider our preferred alternative and deny IDFG's 
proposal, or (3) determine that an Environmental Impact Statement 
should be prepared prior to authorizing or denying IDFG's proposal.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be 
aware that your entire comment--including your personal identifying 
information--may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so.


    The Environmental Review of this project will be conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy 
Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.): NEPA 
Regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508); other appropriate Federal laws 
and regulations; Executive Order 12996; and Service policies and 
procedures for compliance with those laws and regulations.

    Dated: February 4, 2011.
Theresa E. Rabot,
Acting Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, 
[FR Doc. 2011-3064 Filed 2-10-11; 8:45 am]