Wolf - Western Great Lakes
Midwest Region


Map of Region 3 Minnesota Wisconsin Michigan


Gray Wolf - Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment

Federal Register Final Rule Delist

Due to a Federal court decision, wolves in the western Great Lakes area (including Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) were relisted under the Endangered Species Act, effective December 19, 2014.


Below are the Summary and portions of the Background Sections of the Final Rule. Download the complete Final Rule - 61-page PDF; 2.4MB.


Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 249 / Wednesday, December 28, 2011 / Rules and Regulations - - 81666



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17 [Docket No. FWS–R3–ES–2011–0029;


RIN 1018–AX57


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revising the Listing of the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) in the Western Great Lakes


AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.


ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service or USFWS) are revising the 1978 listing of the Minnesota population of gray wolves (Canis lupus) to conform to current statutory and policy requirements. We rename what was previously listed as the Minnesota population of the gray wolf as the Western Great Lakes (WGL) Distinct Population Segment (DPS), and delineate the boundaries of the expanded Minnesota population segment to include all of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan and portions of the adjacent states. We are removing the WGL DPS from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. We are taking this action because the best available scientific and commercial information indicates that the WGL DPS does not meet the definitions of threatened or endangered under the Act.


This final rule also removes the designated critical habitat for the wolf in Minnesota and Michigan and the special regulations under section 4(d) of the Act for wolves in Minnesota.


We are separating our determination on the delisting of the Western Great Lakes DPS from the determination on our proposal regarding all or portions of the 29 eastern States we considered to be outside the historical range of the gray wolf. This rule finalizes our determination for the WGL DPS. A subsequent decision will be made for the rest of the eastern United States.


DATES: This rule becomes effective on January 27, 2012.


ADDRESSES: This final rule is available on the Internet at http:// www.regulations.gov and at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Midwest


Regional Office, 5600 American Boulevard West, Suite 990, Bloomington, Minnesota 55437. Comments and materials we received, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this final rule, are available for public inspection on http:// www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS–R3–ES–2011–0029, or by appointment, during normal business hours at the following Ecological Services offices:


• Twin Cities, Minnesota Ecological Services Field Office

4101 American Blvd. E.

Bloomington, MN

(612) 725–3548.


• Green Bay, Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office

2661 Scott Tower Dr.

New Franken, WI

(920) 866–1717.


• East Lansing, Michigan Ecological Services Field Office

2651 Coolidge Road, Suite 101

East Lansing, MI

(517) 351–2555.


FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura Ragan, (612) 713–5350. Direct all questions or requests for additional information to: GRAY WOLF QUESTIONS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 5600 American Boulevard West, Suite 990, Bloomington, Minnesota 55437. Additional information is also available on our Web site at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf. Individuals who are hearingimpaired or speech-impaired may call the Federal Relay Service at 1–(800) 877–8337 for TTY assistance.



Previous Federal Actions for WGL Wolves

The eastern timber wolf (Canis lupus lycaon) was listed as endangered in Minnesota and Michigan in the first list of species that were protected under the 1973 Act, published in May 1974 (USDI 1974). On March 9, 1978, we published a rule (43 FR 9607) reclassifying the gray wolf at the species level (Canis lupus) as endangered throughout the conterminous 48 States and Mexico, except for the Minnesota population, which we classified to threatened. The separate subspecies listings, including C. l. lycaon, thus were subsumed into the listings for the gray wolf in Minnesota and the gray wolf in the rest of the conterminous United States and Mexico. We considered the Minnesota group of gray wolves to be a listable entity under the Act, and listed it as threatened; we considered the gray wolf group in Mexico and the 48 conterminous States other than Minnesota to be another listable entity, and listed it as endangered (43 FR 9607, 9610, respectively, March 9, 1978). This reclassification was undertaken because of uncertainty about the taxonomic validity of some of the previously listed subspecies and because we recognized that wolf populations were historically connected, and that subspecies boundaries were thus malleable.


However, the 1978 rule also stated that ‘‘biological subspecies would continue to be maintained and dealt with as separate entities’’ (43 FR 9609), and offered ‘‘the firmest assurance that [the Service] will continue to recognize valid biological subspecies for purposes of its research and conservation programs’’ (43 FR 9610, March 9, 1978). Accordingly, recovery plans were developed for the wolf populations in the following regions of the United States: the northern Rocky Mountains in 1980, revised in 1987; the eastern U.S. in 1978, revised in 1992; and the Southwest in 1982, the revision of which is now under way.


In the 1978 rule, we also identified Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, and Minnesota wolf management zones 1, 2, and 3, as critical habitat. We also promulgated special regulations under section 4(d) of the Act for operating a wolf management program in Minnesota at that time. The depredation control portion of the special regulation was later modified (50 FR 50793; December 12, 1985); these special regulations are found in 50 CFR 17.40(d)(2).


On April 1, 2003, we published a final rule revising the listing status of the gray wolf across most of the conterminous United States (68 FR 15804). Within that rule, we identified three DPSs for the gray wolf, including an Eastern DPS, which was reclassified from endangered to threatened, except where already classified as threatened. In addition, we established a second section 4(d) rule that applied provisions similar to those previously in effect in Minnesota to most of the Eastern DPS. The special rule was codified in 50 CFR 17.40(o).


U.S. District Court rulings in Oregon and Vermont on January 31, 2005, and August 19, 2005, respectively, invalidated the April 1, 2003, final rule. Consequently, the status of gray wolves outside of Minnesota reverted back to endangered status, as had been the case prior to the 2003 reclassification. The courts also invalidated the three DPSs identified in the April 1, 2003, rule, as well as the associated special regulations.


On March 27, 2006, we published a proposal (71 FR 15266–15305) to identify a WGL DPS of the gray wolf, to remove the WGL DPS from the protections of the Act, to remove designated critical habitat for the gray wolf in Minnesota and Michigan, and to remove special regulations for the gray wolf in Minnesota. The proposal was followed by a 90-day comment period, during which we held four public hearings on the proposal.


On February 8, 2007, the Service issued a rule that identified and delisted the WGL DPS of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) (72 FR 6052). Three parties challenged this rule (Humane Society of the United States v. Kempthorne, 579 F. Supp. 2d 7 (D.D.C. 2008)), and on September 29, 2008, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and vacated the rule and remanded it to the Service.


On December 11, 2008, we published a notice reinstating protections for the gray wolf in the western Great Lakes (and northern Rocky Mountains) pursuant to court orders (73 FR 75356).


On April 2, 2009, we published a final rule identifying the western Great Lakes populations of gray wolves as a DPS and revising the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife by removing the DPS from that list (74 FR 15070). We did not seek additional public comment on the 2009 final rule. On June 15, 2009, five parties filed a complaint against the Department and the Service alleging that we violated the Act, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the court’s remand order by publishing the 2009 final rule (74 FR 15070). On July 2, 2009, pursuant to a settlement agreement between the parties, the court issued an order remanding and vacating the 2009 final rule.


On March 1, 2000, we received a petition from Mr. Lawrence Krak of Gilman, Wisconsin, and on June 28, 2000, we received a petition from the Minnesota Conservation Federation. Mr. Krak’s petition requested the delisting of gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The Minnesota Conservation Federation requested the delisting of gray wolves in a Western Great Lakes DPS. Because the data reviews resulting from the processing of these petitions would be a subset of the review begun by our July 13, 2000, proposal (65 FR 43450) to revise the current listing of the wolf across most of the conterminous United States, we did not initiate separate reviews in response to those two petitions. While we addressed these petitions in our February 8, 2007, final rule (72 FR 6052), this rule was vacated by the subsequent District Court ruling. While we view our actions on these petitions as final upon publication of the Federal Register determinations, we nevertheless restate our 90-day findings that the action requested by each of the petitions may be warranted, as well as our 12-month finding that the action requested by each petition is warranted.


On March 15, 2010, we received a petition from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources requesting that the gray wolf in Minnesota be removed from the List of Endangered or Threatened Wildlife under the Act. Likewise, on April 26, 2010, we received a petition from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requesting that the gray wolf in Minnesota and Wisconsin be delisted. On April 26, 2010, we received a petition from the Sportsmen’s Alliance, representing five other organizations, requesting that gray wolves in the Great Lakes area be delisted. On June 17, 2010, we received a petition from Safari Club International, Safari Club International Foundation, and the National Rifle Association of America requesting that wolves of the western Great Lakes be delisted. In response to those four petitions, on September 14, 2010, we published a 90-day finding determining that the petitions presented substantial information that delisting may be warranted and reinitiated a full status review.


We published a proposal to revise the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife for the gray wolf (Canis lupus) in the eastern United States and to initiate status reviews for the gray wolf and for the eastern wolf (Canis lycaon) on May 5, 2011 (76 FR 26806). On August 26, 2011, we published a notice (76 FR 53379) reopening the public comment period on the May 5, 2011, proposal. We reopened the comment period to allow for additional public review and the inclusion of any new information, specifically concerning North American wolf taxonomy. That notice also informed the public that we were considering issuing separate final rules for our final determinations on the proposed delisting of the Western Great Lakes DPS and the proposed determination regarding all or portions of the 29 States considered to be outside the historical range of the gray wolf. On September 19, 2011, the Service published a notice (76 FR 57943) informing the public that supplementary materials were available. In recognition of intellectual property right laws, the manuscript made available on August 26 provided readers with references to the sources of several copyrighted figures, but did not include the figures themselves. The Service subsequently obtained approval to include all copyrighted figures in the manuscript and on September 7, 2011, uploaded a complete copy of the manuscript to http:// www.regulations.gov.


Conformance With the Act’s Definition of Species

Given the assurances we provided in the 1978 Canis lupus listing that we would continue to treat gray wolf subspecies as separate entities for conservation purposes (as noted in Previous Federal Actions for WGL Wolves, above), we identified a need to reconsider the listing in light of current statutory and policy standards regarding the Act’s definition of species. The Act provides for listing at various taxonomic and subtaxonomic levels through its definition of ‘‘species’’ in section 3(16): The term species includes any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16). As a matter of procedure, then, the Service determines whether it is most appropriate to list an entity as a full species, a subspecies, or a DPS of either a species or subspecies. The gray wolf has a Holarctic range; the current listing encompasses the United States-Mexico segment of the range and consists, in turn, of multiple entities.


The specific provision for listing distinct population segments of vertebrates was enacted through the 1978 amendments to the Act (Pub. L. 95–362, November 10, 1978); these amendments replaced the ability to list ‘‘populations’’ with the ability to list ‘‘distinct population segments’’ and treat them as ‘‘species’’ under the Act. To interpret and implement the 1978 DPS amendment, the Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service jointly published the Policy Regarding the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments Under the Endangered Species Act (DPS policy) (61 FR 4722, February 7, 1996), setting policy standards for designating populations as ‘‘distinct.’’


The March 1978 gray wolf listing predated the November 1978 amendments to the Act. Although the 1978 rule lists two C. lupus entities, i.e., the endangered and threatened entities described above, these listings were not predicated upon a formal DPS analysis and do not comport with current policy standards. Nonetheless, subsequent recovery plans and all gray wolf rulemakings since 1996 have focused on units reflective of the evident intent of the 1978 rule to manage and recover the different gray wolf groups covered by the 1978 listings as ’’separate entities’’ (43 FR 9609), i.e., subspecies or populations. This rule revises the 1978 threatened listing to bring that listing in line, insofar as possible, with the Act’s requirements and current policy standards.


Wolf Taxonomy in the Western Great Lakes Region

The taxonomic status of the wolves in the western Great Lakes region has long been debated. They have been considered a subspecies of gray wolf, Canis lupus lycaon (Goldman 1944; Hall and Kelson 1959); a second subspecies of gray wolves, Canis lupus nubilis (Nowak 1995, 2002, 2003); a Canis lupus population that has been influenced by interbreeding with coyotes (Lehman et al. 1991, Koblmuller et al. 2009; vonHoldt et al. 2011); members of a full species Canis lycaon (or eastern wolf) that is considered separate from Canis lupus (Wilson et al. 2000; Baker et al. 2003); possibly the same species as the red wolf, C. rufus (Wilson et al. 2000); the result of hybridization between C. rufus and C. lupus (Nowak 2002, 2003, 2009); and as a mixed population of C. lupus, C. lycaon, and their intercrosses (hybrids) (Wheeldon and White 2009; Fain et al. 2010; Wheeldon et al. 2010). These varying interpretations of the taxonomic status of western Great Lakes wolves are summarized, respectively, below.


Wolves in Michigan, Wisconsin, and eastern Minnesota were considered by Goldman (1944, p. 437 and Figure 14) to be within the range of the subspecies Canis lupus lycaon. Goldman based his classification on variation in body size and proportions, and in pelage (coat) color. According to Goldman, this was the subspecies of gray wolf historically found across a wide range east of the Mississippi River in the United States and in southeastern Canada. Wolves immediately to the west of the Mississippi River were considered to be part of the subspecies Canis lupus nubilus. This taxonomic interpretation was followed by Hall and Kelson (1959, p. 849) and Hall (1981, p. 932).


Based on a study of DNA variation in North American wolves, Wilson et al. (2000, p. 2165) proposed that the taxonomic standing of eastern wolves be elevated to full species as Canis lycaon. They found that eastern wolves were divergent from Canis lupus in both mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and autosomal microsatellite DNA composition. They considered the geographic range of C. lycaon as extending west across the Great Lakes region to Minnesota and Manitoba.


Nowak’s (2002, p. 119; 2003, p. 243) revision of the subspecies taxonomy reduced the range of C. l. lycaon to southern Ontario and Quebec and northern portions of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Nowak’s classification was primarily based on statistical analysis of measurements of skull features. He considered gray wolves that historically occupied Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota to be within the range of C. l. nubilus. Based on analysis of additional specimens, Nowak (2002, p. 119; 2003; 2009, p. 238) continued to recognize western Great Lakes wolves as C. l. nubilus, but noted that historical specimens from the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan were somewhat transitional between the two subspecies.


Leonard and Wayne (2008, pp. 2–3) have reported on maternally inherited mtDNA sequence haplotypes (DNA sequences or groups of alleles of different genes on a single chromosome that are inherited together as a single unit) from historical (‘‘prerecovery’’) wolves from Ontario, Quebec, Michigan, and Wisconsin compared with the recent population of the area. Their interpretation of these results is that the 6 unique haplotypes) identified in 15 historical individuals indicate that the pre-recovery population was ‘‘an endemic American wolf,’’ which they call ‘‘the Great Lakes wolf’’ (p. 1). However, only the two haplotypes most common in the historical sample still occur in the modern wolf population of the western Great Lakes area. Leonard and Wayne (2008) conclude that the modern population does not contain the diversity of Great Lakes wolf haplotypes found in the prerecovery population and that the current population is primarily a mixture of Canis lupus and coyote hybrids, with minor influence from the endemic Great Lakes wolf (p. 3).


Koblmuller et al. (2009) examined wolves from the Great Lakes region (they do not separate between the western and eastern Great Lakes) using three types of genetic markers: mtDNA; Y-chromosome haplotypes based on microsatellite DNA loci on the Y-chromosome, which is a paternally inherited marker; and autosomal microsatellite DNA, which provides information on recent and ongoing interactions among populations rather than evolutionary lineage information. The historical sample from Minnesota was found to exhibit a third Great Lakes wolf mtDNA haplotype that is common in the modern population. However, the Y-chromosome haplotypes identified in the historical sample were more similar to those of western gray wolves, suggesting that interbreeding between Great Lakes wolves and western gray wolves had taken place before 1910, the year of collection.


Koblmuller et al. (2009) conclude that, despite what they consider to be both ancient and recent incidences of interbreeding with coyotes and western gray wolves, Great Lakes wolves remain morphologically distinct and represent a ‘‘distinct taxon’’ of gray wolf (Canis lupus) that is adapted to the region. They do not, however, conclude that this taxon is differentiated enough to be recognized as a species separate from gray wolves, as proposed by Wilson et al. (2000).


Several recent studies conclude that the eastern wolf is a unique species and should be recognized as C. lycaon (Wheeldon and White 2009; Wilson et al. 2009; Fain et al. 2010, p. 15; Wheeldon et al. 2010). Wheeldon and White (2009, pp. 3–4) state that both the present-day and pre-recovery wolf populations in the western Great Lakes region are genetically similar and that both were derived from hybridization between C. lupus and the eastern wolf, C. lycaon. Fain et al. (2010, p. 10) recognize C. lycaon as a unique species of North American wolf, and based on mtDNA and Y-chromosome haplotypes and autosomal microsatellite markers, they establish that the population of wolves in the western Great Lakes region comprise C. lupus, C. lycaon, and their hybrids. Contrary to Koblmuller et al. (2009), Fain et al. (2010, p. 14) found no evidence of interbreeding with coyotes. Furthermore, they conclude that the western Great Lakes States were included in the historical range of C. lycaon and that hybridization between the two species ‘‘predates significant human intervention’’ (Fain et al. 2010, pp. 13–14).


Wheeldon et al. (2010, p. 2) used multiple genetic markers in an attempt to clarify the taxonomic status of Canis species in the western Great Lakes region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and western Ontario. They conclude that the current western Great Lakes wolf population is ‘‘composed of gray-eastern wolf hybrids that probably resulted from historic hybridization between the parental species’’ (Wheeldon et al. 2010, p. 10), and that the appropriate taxonomic designation for the western Great Lakes hybrid wolves is C. lupus × lycaon.


Recently, vonHoldt et al. (2011) examined single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to investigate the genetic distinctiveness of North American canids. They conclude that wolves from the Great Lakes region are the product of low-level hybridization between coyotes and C. lupus that likely occurred prior to the recent invasion of coyotes into the area and found no evidence that C. lycaon exists as a distinct species (von Holdt et al. 2011, pp. 8–9). They further find that Great Lakes wolves are genetically distinct from other North American gray wolves and coyotes, but to what degree remains controversial (vonHoldt et al. 2011, p. 8). This study represents a new system for genetic testing using the whole genome of organisms. This new genetic testing system using SNPs promises to open new opportunities for studying the ancestry and relatedness of canid populations.


Chambers et al. (2011, in prep.) conducted a review of the available scientific literature to assess the taxonomic standing of wolves in North America. They conclude the most supportable interpretation is that the eastern wolf is not a subspecies (C. lupus lycaon), but a full species (C. lycaon). This is based on the available mtDNA and Y-chromosome haplotype data (pp. 91–95). The Service believes the Chambers et al. (in prep.) manuscript (that includes the information on which we at least partially based our proposal) is an important synthesis of the available data that advances and focuses the debate regarding canid taxonomy in North America. The authors themselves acknowledge, nevertheless, that further research may change some of their conclusions (p. 128).


Wolf taxonomic classification is a fast-changing field in which research capabilities have greatly expanded in recent years. It is clear from the studies discussed above that the taxonomic classification of wolves in the western Great Lakes region is one that has been, and will continue to be, debated in the scientific community. Most researchers, however, agree that there is a unique and genetically identifiable form of wolf that occupies the western Great Lakes region. Researchers differ in whether this unique form of wolf should be recognized as a species, a subspecies, or a distinct taxon or ecotype. The taxonomic identity of eastern wolves has been controversial since Wilson et al. (2000) first claimed that eastern wolves are a separate species (Canis lycaon) from the western wolf (Canis lupus). In our May 5, 2011, proposed rule (76 FR 26806), we proposed to resolve the ongoing controversy over the classification of wolves in the western Great Lakes region by accepting what we considered at the time to be the best scientific interpretation of the available data and information. The scientific community then had the opportunity to review our analysis and respond to it through the public and peer review processes. Comments on the proposed rule, including comments provided by leading researchers in the field of canid biology and genetics, have led us to reconsider our proposed interpretation. While Chambers et al. (in prep.) provide a scientific basis for arguing the existence of eastern wolves as a distinct species, this represents neither a scientific consensus nor the majority opinion of researchers on the taxonomy of wolves, as others continue to argue that eastern wolves are forms of gray wolves (Koblmuller et al. 2009, vonHoldt et al. 2011). In light of the ongoing scientific debate, and the lack of clear resolution concerning the taxonomy of wolves in the western Great Lakes, we are at this time continuing to recognize C. lupus as the only species that occurs in the WGL. The wolves that occupy the WGL DPS have long been accepted as gray wolves, C. lupus, and until greater scientific consensus is reached regarding whether to revise this taxonomic classification, the better conclusion is to continue to recognize them as gray wolves.


Wolf-Coyote Relationships

For a discussion on interpretations of wolf-coyote relationships in the western Great Lakes, see the discussion under Factor E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence in this final rule.


Biology and Ecology of Wolves in the Western Great Lakes

For a discussion of the biology and ecology of wolves in the WGL, see the proposed WGL wolf rule published on May 5, 2011 (76 FR 26806–26145).


Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment Policy Overview

Pursuant to the Act, we consider whether the best scientific and commercial data available are sufficient to indicate that listing, reclassifying, or delisting any species, subspecies, or, for vertebrates, any DPS of these taxa 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 a policy regarding the identification of distinct vertebrate population segments under the Act (Policy Regarding the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments Under the Endangered Species Act, 61 FR 4722, February 7, 1996) (hereafter DPS Policy). Under the DPS policy, two factors are considered in a decision regarding the potential identification of a DPS: (1) Discreteness of the population segment in relation to the remainder of the taxon, and (2) the significance of the population segment to the taxon to which it belongs. If a population meets both tests, it can be identified as a DPS. Then a third factor, the DPS’s conservation status, is evaluated in relation to the Act’s standards for listing, delisting, or reclassification, meaning that we undertake an analysis to determine whether the DPS is endangered or threatened or does not meet the criteria for listing. All three steps are necessary components of a complete DPS analysis.



Above are the Summary and portions of the Background Sections of the Final Rule. Download the complete Final Rule - 61-page PDF; 2.4MB.



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Last updated: September 12, 2016