Wolf - Western Great Lakes
Midwest Region


Map of Region 3 Minnesota Wisconsin Michigan


Proposal to Delist Wolves in the Western Great Lakes

Questions and Answers

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Close up of gray wolf.

Photo by USFWS; Scott Flaherty

1. What is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposing to do with wolves in the western Great Lakes?

In a Proposed Rule that is expected to be published in the Federal Register on May 5, 2011, the Service will propose to identify and remove the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment  of gray wolves (Canis lupus) from the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. In addition, the Service will propose removing federal protection for critical habitat for the species in Minnesota and Michigan, and to remove the gray wolf special rules, which define the circumstances when gray wolves can be taken in Minnesota. The Service will also propose removing Endangered Species Act  protection for gray wolves in all or parts of 29 eastern and southeastern states because that area is outside of historical gray wolf range.


This proposed rule will initiate a Canis lycaon status assessment. Details are provided in the proposed rule published in the Federal Register - also, see Question and Answer #11.


2. What is a Distinct Population Segment?

The ESA allows the listing and delisting of species, subspecies, and distinct population segments of vertebrate animals. A Distinct Population Segment, or DPS, is a significant population that occurs in a distinct portion of a species’ or subspecies’ range. The DPS is usually described geographically, such as “all members of XYZ species north of 40 degrees north latitude.”


The Western Great Lakes DPS encompasses a core area where wolf recovery has occurred. This core area includes northern and central forested areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The DPS also includes Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and portions of adjacent states that are within the range of wolves dispersing from the core area.



Map of gray wolf Western Great Lakes distinct population segement.


3. Why is the Service proposing to delist gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS?

The Service is proposing to delist the gray wolf in the Western Great Lakes DPS because that DPS supports a healthy, self-sustaining population of wolves. In the past, human-caused mortality resulted in the near extinction of gray wolves in the conterminous U.S. With state management plans in place, each of the states would manage wolf populations in accordance with population objectives, which would ensure survival of the species in the DPS into the foreseeable future.


The goal of the Endangered Species Act is to improve the status of a listed species to the point that it no longer needs ESA protection. Generally, this means reducing or removing threats to its survival, resulting in increasing numbers and distribution of the species.


The approved recovery plan for the gray wolf in the eastern United States sets forth population criteria that, when achieved, will ensure the survival of the gray wolf into the future. Those population criteria are:


  • The Minnesota population’s continued survival is assured.
  • A second population outside of Minnesota and Isle Royale (Michigan) is re-established, having at least 100 wolves in late winter if located within 100 miles of the Minnesota wolf population or having at least 200 wolves if located beyond that distance. A Wisconsin-Michigan population of 100 is considered viable because continued immigration of Minnesota wolves will supplement it.
  • These population levels (outside of Minnesota) are maintained for five consecutive years (that is, for six annual wolf surveys).


Wolf numbers and distribution in the Western Great Lakes DPS have exceeded the population criteria identified in the recovery plan. The estimated population in Minnesota is 2,922, and its continued survival is assured. Wolves are established in Michigan and Wisconsin and number about 557 and 690 in those places, respectively.


In addition to exceeding population criteria set out in the recovery plan, potential threats after delisting have been addressed by Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin state management plans. To prepare for federal delisting, each of those states developed a wolf management plan with the goal of ensuring future survival of the state’s wolf population. Those plans were signed by the head of each state’s Department of Natural Resources after input from wolf experts and extensive public involvement.


4. What will happen to gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS if they are delisted?

Wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS would no longer be protected by the Endangered Species Act. Instead, state and tribal laws would dictate the level of wolf protection and management. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan developed wolf management plans in preparation for the delisting. Those plans would take effect following delisting.


In the portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio that are within the Western Great Lakes DPS, wolves would be protected by state and tribal law. The following is the state regulatory designation or status of wolves in the portions of those states within the DPS:


North Dakota – furbearer, with closed season
South Dakota – protected wildlife, no season
Iowa – furbearer, closed season
Illinois – threatened
Indiana – extirpated, no protection
Ohio – extirpated, no protection


In the portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa outside the boundaries of the DPS, the gray wolf would remain endangered and protected under the ESA. The gray wolf would be removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the portions of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio that are outside the boundaries of the DPS, because those areas are outside the currently known historical range of the gray wolf. For more information, please contact the appropriate state natural resource agency about how wolves are protected and managed.


If this proposed delisting is made final, even though the ESA would no longer protect wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS, the law requires the Service to monitor wolves in the DPS for five years after delisting. The DPS could be re-listed as threatened or endangered if necessary.


5. How do the Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin wolf management plans ensure the survival of wolves in those states?

The state plans implement management actions and protections that will maintain wolf populations above the federal recovery criteria for the foreseeable future. All three state wolf management plans are designed to maintain minimum wolf populations that exceed the recovery criteria identified in the federal Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan for an “isolated wolf population.”


The Michigan plan, revised in July 2008, calls for a minimum sustainable population of 200 wolves in the Upper Peninsula. Habitat, prey, and land-use analysis showed that the Upper Peninsula can support between 590 and 1,300 wolves. No upper population limit is specified, but an upper limit will be strongly influenced by “…public preferences regarding levels of positive and negative wolf–human interactions.”  The plan acknowledges that in the future, “some degree of wolf population stabilization and control” may be needed and that “some wolves will likely need to be killed under controlled conditions.”  The DNR’s goal is to ensure the wolf population remains viable and above a level that would require either federal or state reclassification as a threatened or endangered species.


Under the Minnesota plan, wolves will be allowed to continue to naturally expand their range within the state. The statewide winter population goal is a minimum of 1,600 wolves; there is no maximum goal. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will take appropriate actions to remedy the situation if the population falls below the minimum goal. The plan divides the state into wolf management zones A and B, which correspond to zones 1-4 and zone 5, respectively, in the federal Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan. In zone A, where over 80 percent of the wolves reside, state protections would be nearly as strict as current protections under the ESA, and the Service expects little or no resulting post-delisting population decline there. The protection provided by the plan to the zone A wolves will ensure a state wolf population well above 1,600 in that zone. In zone B, wolves could be killed to protect domestic animals, even if attacks or threatening behavior have not occurred. While a significant decrease in the zone B wolf population may result, such a result would be consistent with the federal recovery plan, which discourages the establishment of a wolf population in that portion of the state.


In Wisconsin, the minimum population management goal is 350 outside of Native American Reservations. Because the wolf population now exceeds this level, the state delisted wolves to Protected Wild Animal status in 2004. If numbers decline and stay below 250 for three years, the state will relist as threatened. If they decline to less than 80 for one year, the state will relist or reclassify the wolf as endangered.


6. How will the Service ensure the state management plans are sufficient to protect the future survival of wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS?

Wolf populations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan would be monitored for a minimum of five years to ensure that delisting has not occurred prematurely. If it appears, at any time, that the gray wolf cannot sustain itself without the protections of the ESA, the Service can initiate the listing process, including emergency listing.


7. How would wolves be monitored if they are delisted?    

A post-delisting monitoring plan for the Western Great Lakes DPS was completed in February 2008. That plan focuses on three areas:  wolf population dynamics, threats, and mechanisms in place to reduce threats. The goal of the plan is to ensure that threats do not arise or increase unexpectedly after delisting. Monitoring will be conducted in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, the core wolf recovery area.

Wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have been surveyed and studied for several decades, primarily by the three state natural resource departments, but with assistance from many partners, including the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey – Biological Resources Division, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture - Wildlife Services, Tribal natural resource agencies, and the Service. All three states are continuing their previous wolf population monitoring practices with only minor changes.


In addition to monitoring population numbers and trends, the monitoring plan includes evaluating threats, in particular disease, human-caused mortality, and any legal or management measures imposed by states or tribes.


If at any time during the monitoring period the Service detects a substantial decline in the populations or a new or expanded threat, it will evaluate and change the monitoring methods, if appropriate, and consider relisting the Western Great Lakes DPS. At the end of the monitoring period, the Service will decide if relisting, continued monitoring, or ending Service monitoring is appropriate. If warranted (for example, data show a significant decline or increased threats), the Service will consider continuing monitoring beyond the specified time.


8. If gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS are delisted, can they be hunted and trapped?

States and tribes would be responsible for wolf protection and management if the Western Great Lakes DPS is delisted. Each state or tribe must decide whether activities such as hunting and trapping will be allowed. For example, Minnesota will not consider public hunting and trapping, except for depredation control, until at least five years after federal delisting. In Wisconsin, public harvest would only be considered if the population continues to exceed 350 wolves outside of Native American Reservations and would require authorization by the Legislature following major public input. The Michigan management plan does not determine whether a public harvest will be used in Michigan, but it discusses developing a “socially and biologically responsible policy regarding public harvest.”  As with Wisconsin, instituting a public harvest in Michigan would require authorization by the Legislature and public input.


The Service does not prescribe the specifics of how states and tribes manage delisted wolves, but rather the agency ensures that they implement management and protective measures that effectively conserve the wolves in their states so federal relisting as threatened or endangered will not be necessary.


9. What is the Service's Federal trust responsibility to Tribes, as it pertains to wolf management, after delisting?

If the WGL DPS is delisted, the Interior Department, the Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs , and other federal agencies will ensure that tribal authority and sovereignty within reservation boundaries are respected as the states implement their wolf management plans and revise those plans in the future. Also, there may be tribal activities or interests associated with the wolf encompassed within the tribes' retained rights to hunt, fish, and gather in treaty-ceded territories. The Department will assist in the exercise of any such rights. If biological assistance is needed, the Service may provide it via field offices. Legal assistance would be provided to the tribes by the Department, and the BIA will be involved, when needed.


10. What is the role of Tribes in post-delisting monitoring?

The Service will annually contact tribes within the DPS to obtain any information the tribes wish to share about wolf populations, the health of those populations, or changes in their management and protection. Reservations within the WGL DPS that may have significant wolf data to provide during the post-delisting period include Bois Forte, Bad River, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, Leech Lake, Menominee, Oneida, Red Lake, Stockbridge-Munsee Community, and White Earth. The Service will annually contact the natural resource agencies of each of these reservations and that of the 1854 Treaty Authority and Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.


11. How does the presence of more than one wolf species in the western Great Lakes region affect the listing status of wolves in that part of the country?

The Service agrees with the recent conclusion presented by Weeldon and White (2009), Fain et al. (2010), Wheeldon et al. (2010), and others that the subspecies of gray wolf known as the eastern timber wolf (Canis lupus lycaon) is actually a unique species of wolf (Canis lycaon), not a subspecies. The Service also agrees with these experts that wolves in the western Great Lakes region consist of an assembly of C. lupus, C. lycaon, and their hybrids.


The procedural aspects of this proposed rule refer to the gray wolf, because that is the named entity currently on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Additionally,  the Service is using this proposed rule to recognize that C. lycaon also occurs in the Western Great Lakes DPS. Furthermore, the Service is initiating a status review for C. lycaon to determine if ESA protection is warranted for that species or a DPS of that species. These two actions, combined, address all individual wolves in the Western Great Lakes region. Additionally, the Service is revising the gray wolf (Canis lupus) listing by removing all or portions of 29 states where the gray wolf never occurred and delisting the Western Great Lakes DPS because that population has recovered.


12. How did wolves in the western Great Lakes fare during the time they were delisted in 2007-2008 and 2009?

During the time wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS were delisted (from March 12, 2007, to September 29, 2008, and from May 4, 2009, to July 1, 2009) the wolf population remained stable under state management. The late winter 2008-2009 population estimates were 2,922 wolves in Minnesota, 626 in Wisconsin, and 580 in Michigan. Although the Minnesota population estimate is down slightly compared to the previous estimate (from 2003-2004), the change is not statistically significant, which indicates that the population has remained stable since the previous survey.


The number of wolf deaths that occurred during the time wolves were delisted closely mirror what the Service predicted in the 2007 final rule. Illegal killing of wolves actually dropped in Wisconsin and remained unchanged in Michigan (no data are available from Minnesota). The number of wolves killed by USDA Wildlife Services and individuals for depredation control increased in both Michigan and Wisconsin, but not any more than predicted in the 2007 final rule. The number remained about the same in Minnesota.


13. When will the Service make a final decision on this proposal?

In general, the Service has a year from the date a proposal is made to finalize the proposed action, however we are striving to complete a final rule by the end of 2011. During that time, the Service solicits public input, often holds public hearings, evaluates comments and other information gathered during the public comment period, and makes a decision on the proposal. The Service can approve the proposal, withdraw it, or approve it in amended form based on information gathered during the comment period.


14. How can the public provide input on the proposal?

The Service will accept comments on the proposal after it is published in the Federal Register - which is expected to be May 5, 2011. Once it is published, you may submit written comments by one of the following methods:


  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS–R3–ES–2011–0029].
  • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn:  Docket No. [FWS–R3–ES–2011–0029]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.


Comments must be received within 60 days of publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register.The Service will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept email or faxes. 


15. Will there be a public hearing on the proposal?

The Service has scheduled two informational meetings followed by public hearings.


  • Ashland, Wisconsin on May 18, 2011, at the Northern Great Lakes Center, 29270 County Highway G. The informational meeting will be held from 6:00 pm to 7:15 pm, followed by a public hearing from 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm.


  • Augusta, Maine on June 8, 2011, at the Augusta Civic Center, 16 Cony Street. The informational meeting will be held from 6:00 pm to 7:15 pm, followed by a public hearing from 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm.


16. Where can I get more information?

The Federal Register publication of the proposed rule, as well as information about gray wolf populations, is available online at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf or can be obtained by writing to:


Before May 27, 2011

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Gray Wolf

1 Federal Drive

Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056


On or After May 27, 2011

U.S Fish & Wildlife Service

Gray Wolf
Region 3 Ecological Services
5600 American Blvd, West; 10th Floor
Bloomington, MN 55437-1173



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Last updated: April 23, 2015