Wolf - Western Great Lakes
Midwest Region


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Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

Wolf Tracks IX - A Summary of Gray Wolf Activities and Issues
April 2007

pdf version (336KB; 10 pages)


On February 8, 2007, we published a final rule to remove the Gray Wolf Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment (DPS) from the list of threatened and endangered species. The delisting rule became effective on March 12. Below is the summary of that final rule. The complete final rule as well as information about wolf numbers, conservation and biology are on our website at http://midwest.fws.gov/wolf.


Summary of the Final Rule to Delist the Gray Wolf Western Great Lakes DPS
Since the gray wolf was first listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1974, recovery programs have helped populations of this species rebound from the lows experienced during the middle of the 20th century. Today, wolf recovery has been achieved in the Western Great Lakes region of the United States. As a result of this success, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has removed ESA protection for the Gray Wolf Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment.


Managing wolf populations in the United States
Gray wolves were previously listed as an endangered species in the lower 48 states, except in Minnesota where they were threatened. The Service operates three separate recovery programs for the gray wolf: western Great Lakes states, Northern Rocky Mountains and Southwestern U.S. Each has its own recovery plan and recovery goals based on the unique characteristics and limitations of its geographic area. These three recovery programs have progressed at different speeds and have achieved different degrees of success.


The Service removed gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS from the federal list of endangered and threatened species because they are recovered and no longer need Endangered Species Act protection. The Service also removed critical habitat for the gray wolf in Michigan and Minnesota, and eliminated special federal rules for wolf management in Minnesota, as they are no longer needed.


These actions do not affect gray wolves in the West (Northern Rocky Mountains), in the Southwest, or anywhere outside the Western Great Lakes DPS; nor do they affect red wolves, a separate endangered species found in the Southeast.

Map showing the western Great Lakes distinct population segment of the gray wolf.

Wolf Recovery in the Western Great Lakes DPS
The Western Great Lakes DPS encompasses the entire states of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin; the part of North Dakota north and east of the Missouri River upstream as far as Lake Sakakawea and east of U.S. Highway 83 to the Canadian border; the part of South Dakota north and east of the Missouri River; the parts of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana that are north of Interstate 80; and the part of Ohio north of I-80 and west of the Maumee River at Toledo. The DPS includes all the areas currently occupied by wolf packs in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as nearby areas in these states in which wolf packs may become established in the future. The DPS also includes surrounding areas into which wolves may disperse but are not likely to establish persistent packs.


The original Recovery Plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf and the 1992 revision of that plan established criteria to identify the point at which long-term population viability would be assured in the eastern United States. To achieve recovery, the plan called for maintaining and expanding the Minnesota wolf population and establishing at least one other viable gray wolf population. According to the plan, this second population needed to sustain at least 100 animals for five consecutive years if located within 100 miles of the Minnesota population. If the second population was more than 100 miles away, it needed to support at least 200 animals for five consecutive years.


These recovery criteria have been met and exceeded. The Minnesota population has steadily expanded; the latest count in 2003-2004 found about 3,020 animals, and data collected since then do not indicate a decline. An additional population is well-established in Michigan and Wisconsin, with numbers there of 434 (excluding Isle Royale) and 465 respectively. Wolf numbers in those two states have exceeded 100 for 13 years.


Another major requirement to achieve recovery in the Western Great Lakes DPS is to have protections in place to ensure the continued survival of the wolf population in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan after the DPS is delisted. Each of those states has 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 the state’s Department of Natural Resources after input from wolf experts and extensive public involvement.


In its final rule to delist the Western Great Lakes DPS of the gray wolf, the Service evaluated current and future threats to the species. These categories of threats are spelled out by the ESA. They include loss or modification of habitat, overutilization for commercial or other purposes, disease or predation, inadequacy of existing laws or regulations (other than the ESA), and other natural or human-caused threats. The degree to which future wolf populations in the Western Great Lakes DPS would be affected by these threats depends mainly on how the states and tribes manage their wolves after delisting. Therefore, the Service evaluated the Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin wolf management plans accordingly and found that the plans adequately protect wolves and ensure their existence in the Western Great Lakes DPS for the foreseeable future. The Service has also contacted other federal land management agencies and midwestern tribes to obtain information on their likely protection and management of wolves after delisting.


Management by States
State management plans that ensure long-term survival of the gray wolf are essential because states (and tribes, as described below) are now responsible for conservation and management of the species. Those management plans describe how the states will ensure that the gray wolf populations survive.


In 2001, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources completed its comprehensive wolf management plan, which is based on the recommendations of a wolf management roundtable and on a state wolf management law passed in 2000. The plan includes provisions for population monitoring and management, management of problem wolves, management of wolf habitat and prey, enforcement of laws restricting take of wolves, public education, and increased staffing for wolf management and research. 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 wolf recovery plan. In Zone A, where over 85 percent of the wolves reside, state protections would be nearly as strict as current protections under the ESA, and we expect little or no resulting post-delisting population decline there. The protection provided to Zone A wolves will ensure a state wolf population 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.


The Wisconsin wolf management plan, finalized in 1999 and updated in 2006, has a goal of 350 wolves outside of Native American reservations. It allows for different levels of management within four separate zones. The two zones which now contain most of the state’s wolves will be managed to allow limited lethal control of problem wolves, primarily by government personnel. In general though, such control won’t be practiced on large blocks of public land. In the other two zones, which have limited habitat, control of problem wolves will be less restricted.


The Wisconsin plan also calls for monitoring, education, reimbursement for depredation losses, habitat management, coordination with tribes, and development of new legal protections. If the population exceeds 350, a proactive depredation control program may be allowed in limited areas within all four zones. Public harvest could be considered at that population level, but must be preceded by extensive public input, legislative authorization and approval by the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board. Because the wolf population exceeded this level in early 2004, the state delisted gray wolves to Protected Wild Animal status on August 1, 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. The only significant changes resulting from the 2006 plan update are an expansion of the allowable trapping area to one mile (from one-half mile) around verified depredation sites in Zones 1 and 2, and the elimination of automatic habitat protection requirements for all rendezvous sites. Den sites remain protected, other depredation control practices are unchanged, and the wolf management goal remains at 350 wolves outside reservations.


Under the Michigan wolf management plan, wolves are considered recovered in Michigan when a minimum sustainable population of 200 wolves is maintained for five consecutive years. The Upper Peninsula has had more than 200 wolves since the year 2000. That means that the gray wolf is eligible for state delisting now that it is federally delisted. Following federal delisting, the state intends to reclassify Michigan wolves to protected animal status and will develop regulations to prohibit take and establish the conditions in which lethal depredation control can be carried out by Michigan Department of Natural Resources personnel. The Michigan DNR is in the process of revising its wolf management plan. The DNR’s goal remains 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. Based on the wolf management guidelines developed by the Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable - currently being used by the Michigan DNR in revising its wolf management plan - both the current (1997) Michigan plan and the revised plan will provide adequate protection and management for wolves in the Upper Peninsula.


Management by Tribes
Although the tribes with wolves that visit or reside on their Reservations do not yet have management plans specific to the gray wolf, many tribes and multi-tribal organizations have indicated to us that they will continue to conserve wolves on Native American reservations in the western Great Lakes area. Upon request, we will work with tribes to develop wolf management plans for their reservations.


Post-Delisting Monitoring
The ESA requires that when the Service delists a recovered species, it continues to be monitored for at least five additional years. If the species declines after delisting, the Service can begin the process to return it to the endangered and threatened species list, and can relist it on an emergency basis, if appropriate. Most monitoring plans focus on the species’ population size, distribution, and productivity; threats to the species; and any legal or management needs that might be necessary to reduce threats.


A post-delisting monitoring plan for the gray wolf Western Great Lakes DPS is being developed. That plan focuses on three areas: gray wolf populations, threats to the species, 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 would be conducted in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, the core wolf recovery area. The draft monitoring plan will be published soon in the Federal Register and will then be available for public review and comment; at that time it can be downloaded from our Midwest wolf website (http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf).


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.


Recent Actions Affecting the Status of Wolves in the Western Great Lakes States
On April 1, 2003, the Service published a final rule that reclassified or delisted gray wolves, as appropriate, across their range in the 48 conterminous United States and Mexico. The first part of that rule delisted gray wolves in parts or all of 16 southern states, because that area is outside the historical range of the species. The second part of the final rule separated the remainder of the 32 states and Mexico into three gray wolf Distinct Population Segments (DPS), and it gave each DPS a separate listing under the Act as threatened or endangered. Additionally, new special regulations under section 4(d) of the Act were established for portions of the Western and Eastern Gray Wolf DPSs.


Lawsuits opposing the 2003 final rule resulted in federal district court rulings against the Service which eliminated the three DPS listings. All gray wolves south of Canada reverted to endangered status, except those in Minnesota, which reverted to threatened status.


Experimental populations of wolves in the northern U.S. Rockies and the Southwest retained their “nonessential experimental” status. Thecourt rulings also vacated the 2003 special rules under section 4(d) that authorized lethal control of problem wolves in the Eastern and Western DPSs. Because we had subsequently used the Eastern DPS as the basis for our July 21, 2004, gray wolf delisting proposal, that proposal could not be pursued.


On March 27, 2006, the Federal Register published the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Proposed Rule to remove the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment of gray wolves from the federal list of threatened and endangered species, to remove federal protection for critical habitat for the species in Minnesota and Michigan, and to remove the gray wolf special rules which define the federal limitations on taking gray wolves in Minnesota. Publication of that Proposed Rule opened a 90-day comment period. The final rule that was published on February 8, 2007, is the final decision on that proposed action.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posts information about the Gray Wolf Western Great Lakes DPS on the internet at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf. Additional information can be obtained by writing:


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Gray Wolf
1 Federal Drive
Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056


State Wolf Management Plans and State Contacts
As of March 12, 2007, wolf management in the Western Great Lakes DPS is the responsibility of the states and tribes where they are found. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan Wolf Managment Plans can be viewed online at the following websites:


Minnesota Wolf Management Plan - http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/wolves/mgmt.html


Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan (includes a link to the 2006 addendum) - http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/ORG/LAND/er/publications/wolfplan/toc.htm


Michigan Wolf Management Plan - http://www.michigandnr.com/publications/pdfs/huntingwildlifehabitat/wolf_mgmtplan.pdf


Here is the contact information for the responsible state management agencies within the Western Great Lakes DPS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Offices in those states.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155-4040
Telephone: (651) 296-6157 or (888) 646-6367
TTY: (651) 296-5484 or (800) 657-3929


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Twin Cities Minnesota Field Office
4101 E. 80th Street
Bloomington, MN 55425-1665
(612) 725-3548
e:mail: TwinCities@fws.gov


Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
101 S. Webster Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7921
(608) 266-2621
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Green Bay Wisconsin Field Office
2661 Scott Tower Drive
New Franken, WI 54229
(920) 866-1717


Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Mason Building, 4th Floor
P. O. Box 30444, Lansing, MI 48909-7944
(517) 373-1263


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
East Lansing Michigan Field Office
2651 Coolidge Road East Lansing, MI 48823
(517) 351-2555
e:mail: EastLansing@fws.gov


Federal/State Agencies and Organizations to Receive Cooperative Conservation Award for Wolf Recovery
During a May 9th ceremony in Washington, D.C., four Federal agencies, three state agencies, and three non-profit organizations will receive the Department of the Interior’s Cooperative Conservation Award. These agencies and organizations will be recognized and honored for their outstanding cooperation and conservation achievement of recovering the gray wolf population in the Western Great Lakes area. Gray wolf recovery required an exceptional level of cooperation and coordination to allow wolf populations to attain viable and sustainable levels, to promote public acceptance of wolf recovery, and to develop post-delisting wolf management plans now being implemented by the state agencies. This award will be presented to:


U.S.D.I. - U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division
U.S.D.I. - Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S.D.A. - Forest Service
U.S.D.A. - Wildlife Services
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
International Wolf Center
Timber Wolf Alliance
Timber Wolf Information Network


Current ESA Status of Gray Wolves in the lower 48 States
Although the Gray Wolf Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment has been delisted, the status of gray wolves outside of the DPS remains the same. Below is a map of the lower 48 states that shows the current status of gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

Map showing the current ESA status of the gray wolf.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Delisting the Gray Wolf in the Northern Rocky Mountain States


In the February 8, 2007, Federal Register, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its proposal to delist the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains. It can be viewed at www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/ . Comments from the public are encouraged on this proposal. They can be electronically mailed to NRMGrayWolf@fws.gov, hand-delivered to USFWS, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601, or mailed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wolf Delisting, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601.


All comments must be submitted by the close of business on May 9, 2007.

To provide information about the proposal, answer questions, and receive formal testimony for the record, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held a series of public meetings and hearings in Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Washington regarding its proposal to delist the northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment of gray wolves. The hearings ran from late February through April 19.


The minimum recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains is 30 breeding pairs and at least 300 wolves for three consecutive years, a goal that was attained in 2002 and has been exceeded every year since. The Service believes that with approved state management plans in place in Montana and Idaho, threats to the wolf population will be reduced or eliminated in those states. At this time, Wyoming does not have an approved state management plan for wolves. The proposed northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment includes all of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming; the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon; and a small part of north-central Utah.


For more information on the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves, visit www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/ .


Update - Lawsuit Filed to Block Delisting of Western Great Lakes Wolves
Following our decision to delist gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS, we received two Notices of Intent to sue, a preliminary step to initiating a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act. One NOI was sent by the Humane Society of the United States, Help Our Wolves Live, the Minnesota Wolf Alliance, and the Animal Protection Institute. The second NOI was submitted by Friends of Animals and Their Environment. On April 16, 2007, HSUS, HOWL, and API followed up by filing a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction to prevent the delisting from being implemented and to order the delisting be vacated. The delisting will remain in effect while the court reviews the allegations made in the complaint and the Service responds to the allegations.


April 2007


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Last updated: September 12, 2016