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March 28, 2011 Contact: Shawn Sartorius
406-449-5225 x 208
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Publishes Draft Environmental Assessment
of Montana’s Request to Control Gray Wolves in the West Fork Elk Management Unit
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today the availability of a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) of Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks’ (FWP) request to control gray wolves in the West Fork Elk Management Unit in western Montana in response to impacts of wolf predation on elk.
In 2008, the Service issued a revised wolf management rule under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the Northern Rocky Mountain area allowing states or tribes to lethally take wolves within the experimental population area when wolf predation is having an unacceptable impact on wild ungulate populations. For this management action to occur, the Service must approve the proposal under the requirements of the 2008 10(j) rule. Specifically, the Service must find that the proposal 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.
On November 24, 2010, the Montana FWP submitted a proposal under the 2008 Section 10(j) rule to the Service requesting authority to reduce the wolf population in the West Fork Elk Management Unit in western Montana in response to impacts of wolves on elk.
The Montana proposal, if approved, would allow the state to reduce the wolf population in the West Fork Unit to a minimum of 12 wolves in two to three packs from a current estimated level of 30 wolves in three to five packs. The Montana FWP conducted a peer review and hosted a 35-day public comment period on the West Fork Unit proposal prior to submitting it to the Service.
“We appreciate the state’s efforts to submit a science-based, peer-reviewed proposal to the Service that addresses the impact of wolves on wild elk in the West Fork Unit,” said Mark Wilson, Montana Field Office Supervisor for the Service. “The purpose of our draft Environmental Assessment is to evaluate the potential effects of the state’s proposed action on the natural and human environment.”
For the entire West Fork Unit, the state’s 2010 survey estimated the population at 764 elk. The state’s zone-wide objective is 1,600-2,400 elk. According to an analysis provided by the State of Montana to support its application, “the West Fork of the Bitterroot elk population is below population management objectives and wolf predation is a primary cause of mortality preventing the elk population from reaching management objectives.” The state has implemented other conservation measures, including more liberal hunting seasons and bag limits for black bears and mountain lions, habitat improvement through prescribed burning, and modifications to elk hunting frameworks that have reduced harvest, in an effort to address other factors that might influence growth rates of the West Fork Unit elk population.
The draft EA contains two alternatives: A Preferred Alternative and a No-Action Alternative. In addition to the two alternatives carried forward for analysis, there were several alternatives considered but eliminated from further consideration because they are not feasible or they are already being implemented and additional means of increasing the elk population are still needed. These alternatives include: elk habitat improvement, winter feeding of elk, increased enforcement against poaching, and active predator control.
The Preferred Alternative would allow Montana to implement its proposal. If this alternative is chosen, the Service would then prepare a Final EA and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which would authorize lethal take of wolves in the West Fork Unit under Section 10(j). Under this alternative, the state would have authority to conduct its proposed wolf control plan.
Management activities would be intended to allow the elk population in the West Fork Elk Management Unit to increase while maintaining wolf populations that meet recovery objectives. This alternative includes monitoring both wolf and elk populations yearly to determine response to the implementation of management activities and adaptive changes in wolf removal based on yearly monitoring results.
The No-Action Alternative would deny the Montana proposal. Under this alternative, wolves in the West Fork Elk Management Unit would continue to be managed by the Service as a non-essential experimental population and could be removed by the Service or its designated agents when livestock, pack animals or dogs are killed by wolves.
The Notice of Availability of the EA is available on the Federal Register web site at http://www.regulations.gov. The public is encouraged to review the draft EA and submit comments on site-specific effects of the proposed action. Written comments and information concerning this proposal must be submitted by one of the following methods:
- Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
- U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2011-0022; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
Comments sent in any other form will not be considered. Comments must be received within 14 days, on or before April 12, 2011. 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. A copy of materials may also be obtained by contacting the Montana Field Office at the address below.
For more information, contact Shawn Sartorius, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Field Office at 406-449-5225 ext. 208. Individuals who are hearing impaired or speech impaired may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.
The draft EA is also available on the Service’s website at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/, along with the state’s proposal, peer review and the state’s responses to the peer review.
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