[Federal Register: April 1, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 62)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 15879-15882]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AJ04

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removing the 
Western Distinct Population Segment of Gray Wolf From the List of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Advance notice of proposed rulemaking.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service or we) announces 
our intention to conduct rulemaking under the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (Act), to remove the Western Distinct Population 
Segment (DPS) of gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the List of Endangered 
and Threatened Wildlife in the near future. Specifically, we intend to 
propose to delist the gray wolf in the Northern Rocky Mountains and 
western United States where it is presently listed. If this proposal is 
finalized, the gray wolf would be delisted in the Western Gray Wolf 
DPS, existing special regulations established under section 4(d) of the 
Act for the Western DPS would be abolished, the nonessential 
experimental designations for reintroduced gray wolves would be 
removed, and future management of this species would be conducted by 
the appropriate State and tribal wildlife agencies. As published 
concurrently in this Federal Register, the Service also intends to 
initiate proposed rulemaking to delist gray wolves in the Eastern Gray 
Wolf DPS. Neither proposed rulemaking would affect the protection 
currently afforded by the Act to gray wolves in the Southwestern DPS, 
the nonessential experimental population in the Southwest DPS, or the 
red wolf (Canis rufus), a separate species found in the southeastern 
United States that is listed as endangered.

DATES: We are not seeking comments on this planned proposed rulemaking 
at this time. A public comment period, including the opportunity for 
public hearings and informational meetings, will follow the publication 
of the proposed rule to remove (or delist) the Western Gray Wolf DPS.

ADDRESSES: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Gray Wolf Recovery 
Coordinator, 100 N. Park, 320, Helena, MT 59601; 
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ed Bangs, phone 406-449-5225 ext. 204. 
Additional information on gray wolf recovery in the Western DPS is 
available on our World Wide Web site at http://westerngraywolf.fws.gov. 
Direct all questions or requests for additional information to the 
Service (see ADDRESSES above).



    Published concurrently in today's Federal Register is our final 
rule establishing three Distinct Population Segments (DPSs) of gray 
wolves within the conterminous 48 States in accordance with our Policy 
Regarding the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments 
Under the Endangered Species Act (61 FR 4722, February 7, 1996) and 
reclassifying two of these DPSs based on the status of current wolf 
populations within these DPSs. The Eastern Gray Wolf DPS and Western 
Gray Wolf DPS are reclassified as threatened while the Southwestern 
Gray Wolf DPS remains endangered (see map). The final reclassification 
rule summarizes information on the biology and ecology of gray wolves, 
taxonomy, historical range, previous Federal action, DPS designations, 
recovery plans, and the recovery progress of gray wolves in the lower 
48 States.

[[Page 15880]]


    This advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) announces our 
intent to propose rulemaking to remove the Western Gray Wolf DPS from 
protection under the Act based on evidence, as described in the final 
reclassification rule, indicating that the gray wolf in the Western 
Gray Wolf DPS is exceeding its wolf population recovery goals and on 
our preliminary analysis of threats to the DPS. The exterior boundary 
of the Western DPS encompasses the States of California, Idaho, 
Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Utah north of U.S. 
Highway 50, and Colorado north of Interstate Highway 70. Gray wolves in 
this geographic area are included in the Western DPS, except for gray 
wolves that are part of an experimental population. Gray wolves in 
captivity that originated from, or whose ancestors originated from, 
this geographic area are also included in the Western DPS.
    In addition, this ANPR also announces our intention to propose to 
remove the two nonessential experimental population designations (NEPs) 
for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. The final rule 
establishing those two NEPs in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming indicated 
specifically that they were created to help establish viable wolf 
populations in central Idaho and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (59 
FR 60252 and 60266; November 22, 1994). Since these NEPs are part of 
the larger recovery program, these designations would be removed if the 
Western DPS is delisted.
    In addition, this ANPR announces our intention to respond to a 
petition for delisting the gray wolves in the Rocky Mountains through 
this anticipated proposed rulemaking. As stated in the final 
reclassification rule published today, Mr. Karl Knuchel, on behalf of 
the Friends of Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd Inc., has petitioned us to 
delist gray wolves in the Rocky Mountains.

Conservation and Recovery of the Gray Wolf in the Western DPS

    Understanding the Service's strategy for gray wolf recovery first 
requires an understanding of the meaning of ``recover'' and 
``conserve'' under the Act. ``Conserve'' is defined in the Act itself 
(section 3(3)) while ``recovery'' is defined in the Act's implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR 402.02. Conserve is defined, in part, as ``the 
use of all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any 
endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the 
measures provided pursuant to this Act are no longer necessary.'' 
Recovery is defined as ``improvement in the status of listed species to 
the point at which listing is no longer appropriate under the criteria 
set out in section 4(a)(1) of the Act.'' Essentially, recover and 
conserve both mean to bring a species to the point at which it is no 
longer threatened or endangered and no longer needs the protections of 
the Act.
    Critical to our analysis of whether a species is ready for 
delisting is the achievement of the species' recovery goals, the 
reduction of threats to the species that caused the species to become 
listed, and the reduction of any new threats that could cause the 
species to become endangered in the foreseeable future. To determine 
the appropriate goals for achieving recovery, we rely on a peer-
reviewed Recovery Plan: The revised Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf 
Recovery Plan (Service 1987). In addition, we conducted another review 
of what constitutes a recovered wolf population in late 2001 and early 
2002 to ensure long-term population viability of gray wolves in the 
northwestern United States (Bangs 2002). Based on the opinions of 
experts who responded in that review, we have adopted the definition of 
wolf population viability and recovery developed in the 1994 
Environmental Impact Statement for the reintroduction of gray wolves to 
Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho (Service 1994) in place of 
the 1987 Recovery Plan goal. That definition is ``Thirty breeding pairs 
of wolves (defined as an adult male and an

[[Page 15881]]

adult female that raise at least 2 pups until December 31 of the year 
of their birth), comprising some +300 individuals in a metapopulation 
with some genetic exchange between subpopulations, for three successive 
    As documented in the final rule for reclassification of the gray 
wolf to threatened in the Western DPS (published concurrently), at 
least 300 wolves in a minimum of 30 packs since the end of 2000 have 
been well distributed across the 3 recovery areas, and at the end of 
2001 there were 563 wolves in 34 packs in the Northern U.S. Rockies 
(Service et al. 2002). More than 200 wolves have existed in at least 20 
packs since the end of 1997.
    A minimum of 30 breeding pairs was first documented in 2000, and a 
minimum of 34 breeding pairs was documented in 2001. We fully expect to 
confirm in early 2003 that the wolf population in the northern Rocky 
Mountains will have again exceeded 30 breeding pairs in 2002, thus 
achieving the wolf population recovery goal as defined in the revised 
Northern Rocky Mountains Wolf Recovery Plan and the 1994 Environmental 
Impact Statement. Because the wolf population is continuing to expand 
since that time, we anticipate concluding that the gray wolves in the 
Western DPS have exceeded the numerical population goal required for 
    In making a delisting determination, the Service must assess the 
factors or threats that affect the species as required by section 4 of 
the Act and its implementing regulations (50 CFR part 424). For species 
that are already listed as threatened or endangered, this analysis of 
threats is primarily an evaluation of the threats that could 
potentially affect the species in the foreseeable future following 
delisting and removal of the Act's protections. Our evaluation of the 
future threats to the gray wolf in the Western DPS, especially those 
threats to wolves in the NEPs in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming that would 
occur after removal or reduction of the protections of the Act, will be 
partially based upon the wolf management plans and assurances of the 
States and tribes in that area. If the gray wolf is federally delisted, 
then State and tribal wolf management plans will be the major 
determinants of wolf protection and prey availability, will set and 
enforce limits on human utilization and other forms of taking, and will 
determine the overall regulatory framework for conservation of gray 
    State and tribal gray wolf management plans, to the extent that 
they have been developed, serve as significant indicators of public 
attitudes and agency goals, which, in turn, are evidence of the 
probability of continued conservation after protection under the Act is 
removed. Such indicators of attitudes and goals are especially 
important in assessing the future of a species that was officially 
persecuted by government agencies as recently as 40 years ago and still 
is reviled by some members of the public.
    The State of Idaho has already completed its gray wolf management 
plan. The Service is working closely with the States of Montana and 
Wyoming as they develop wolf management plans that will meet this 
requirement. We expect that these plans will be completed in the near 
future, and will enable us to propose delisting of the Western Gray 
Wolf DPS. We will also consult, if they request, with Native American 
tribes and organizations to further discuss and evaluate their wolf 
management and protection plans prior to issuing a proposed delisting 
    We recognize that large portions of the historic range, including 
potentially still-suitable habitat within the Western Gray Wolf DPS, 
are not currently occupied by gray wolves. We emphasize that our 
proposal to delist gray wolves in the Western DPS will be based on the 
current status of, and threats faced by, the existing wolf populations 
within this DPS. This approach is consistent with the 9th Circuit 
Court's decision in Defenders of Wildlife et al. v. Norton et al., 
where the Court noted that ``[a] species with an exceptionally large 
historical range may continue to enjoy healthy population levels 
despite the loss of a substantial amount of suitable habitat.'' 
Similarly, we believe that when a listed species has recovered to the 
point where it is no longer in danger of extinction, or likely to 
become endangered in the foreseeable future, throughout all or a 
significant portion of its current range, it is appropriate to delist 
the species even if a substantial amount of the historical range 
remains unoccupied.
    The wolf's progress toward recovery in the Western Gray Wolf DPS, 
together with our expectation that management of threats to the wolf 
within the DPS will be adequate, lead us to believe that we will be 
able to propose delisting of the Western DPS in the near future.

Post-Delisting Monitoring

    Upon removal of a species from the List of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife, section 4(g)(1) of the Act requires that the 
Secretary of the Interior, through the Service, implement a monitoring 
program in cooperation with the States for not less than 5 years for 
all species that have been recovered and delisted. The purpose of this 
requirement is to develop a program that detects the failure of any 
delisted species to sustain itself without the protective measures 
provided by the Act. If at any time during the post-delisting 
monitoring program, data indicate that protective status under the Act 
should be reinstated, we can initiate listing procedures, including, if 
appropriate, emergency listing.
    In anticipation of delisting this species, we also announce our 
intent to work with State resource agencies, tribes, and other partners 
to design an effective post-delisting monitoring program for the 
Western Gray Wolf DPS to be implemented upon delisting. A proposed 
post-delisting monitoring plan will be provided in the proposed rule 
for delisting the Western Gray Wolf DPS.

Effects of This Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

    This ANPR announces our intent to propose rulemaking to remove the 
protections afforded to gray wolves in the Western Gray Wolf DPS under 
the Act. If we make a final decision to delist the gray wolf in the 
Western DPS, the prohibitions and conservation measures provided by the 
Act would no longer apply to this DPS, and the nonessential 
experimental population designations established to aid the recovery of 
gray wolves in the Western Gray Wolf DPS would be removed. Therefore, 
taking, interstate commerce, import, and export of gray wolves in the 
Western Gray Wolf DPS would no longer be prohibited under the Act once 
the DPS is delisted. In addition, Federal agencies would no longer be 
required to consult with us under section 7 of the Act to insure that 
any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of gray wolves in the Western Gray 
Wolf DPS.
    Until the Western Gray Wolf DPS is delisted, the take and use of 
gray wolves in the Western Gray Wolf DPS must comply with the Act and 
all other existing Federal, State, and local laws and regulations. Upon 
delisting, we anticipate that State and tribal gray wolf management 
plans, along with other appropriate Federal, State, and local laws and 
regulations, would guide gray wolf management in the Western Gray Wolf 
    This ANPR does not address gray wolves in the Eastern DPS, 
Southwestern DPS, or the current nonessential experimental population 
designation in the Southwest.

[[Page 15882]]

No Request for Comment

    The Service has not made a final decision as to any potential 
regulatory matter discussed herein and does not request any public 
comment on this ANPR. We will be following standard rulemaking 
procedures and anticipate publishing a proposed rule on the removal of 
the Western Gray Wolf DPS from the List of Endangered and Threatened 
Wildlife in the near future. A public comment period will open upon 
publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register, and we 
anticipate conducting public hearings during the public comment period 
to discuss the proposed rulemaking with you.

References Cited

Bangs, E.E. 2002. Wolf population viability peer review--draft 
summary. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, 100 N. 
Park, Suite 320, Helena, MT. 59601. Unpublished report. 9 pp.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1987. Northern Rocky Mountain wolf 
recovery plan. Denver, CO 119 pp.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1994. The reintroduction of gray 
wolves to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Final 
Environmental Impact Statement. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Helena, Montana.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nez Perce Tribe, National Park 
Service, and USDA Wildlife Services. 2002. Rocky Mountain Wolf 
Recovery 2001 Annual Report. T. Meier, ed. U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Ecological Services, 100 N. Park, Suite 320, Helena, MT. 
59601. 43 pp.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

    Dated: March 17, 2003.
Steve Williams,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 03-7019 Filed 3-31-03; 8:45 am]