[Federal Register: April 1, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 62)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 15876-15879]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 15876]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AJ03

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removing the 
Eastern 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 Eastern 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 Midwest and Northeastern United 
States where it is presently listed. If this proposal is finalized, the 
gray wolf would be delisted in the Eastern Gray Wolf DPS, existing 
special regulations established under section 4(d) of the Act for the 
Eastern DPS would be abolished, 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 rulemakings to delist gray 
wolves in the Western Gray Wolf DPS and to remove all nonessential 
experimental population designations in the northern U.S. Rocky 
Mountains. 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 Eastern Gray Wolf DPS.

ADDRESSES: Gray Wolf Questions, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal 
Building, 1 Federal Drive, Ft. Snelling, MN 55111-4056l; Gray Wolf 
Phone Line--612-713-7337, facsimile--612-713-5292, or the general gray 
wolf electronic mail address_GRAYWOLFMAIL@FWS.GOV. Individuals who are 
hearing-impaired or speech-impaired may call the Federal Relay Service 
at 1-800-877-8337 for TTY assistance.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ron Refsnider, phone 612-713-5346. 
Additional information on gray wolf recovery in the Eastern DPS is 
available on our World Wide Web site at http://midwest.fws.gov/wolf. 
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.
    This advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) announces our 
intent to propose rulemaking to remove the Eastern 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 Eastern 
Gray Wolf DPS is exceeding its recovery goals and objectives and on our 
preliminary analysis of threats to the DPS. The Eastern Gray Wolf DPS 
consists of gray wolves within the States of North Dakota, South 
Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, 
Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, 
Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and 
Maine, and those gray wolves in captivity that originated from, or 
whose ancestors originated from, this geographic area.

[[Page 15877]]


    In addition, this ANPR announces our intention to respond to 
petitions for delisting the gray wolves in the Midwest through this 
anticipated proposed rulemaking. As stated in the final 
reclassification rule published today, Mr. Lawrence Krak, of Gilman, 
Wisconsin, and the Minnesota Conservation Federation have petitioned us 
to delist gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and in the 
Western Great Lakes DPS.

Conservation and Recovery of the Gray Wolf in the Eastern 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. As reported in the final reclassification rule, 
we believe the revised Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan (Service 1992) 
to be adequate and sufficient to ensure long-term population viability 
(Peterson in litt. 1997). The population goal set within the Eastern 
Timber Wolf Recovery Plan was for a Minnesota wolf population of 1,250-
1,400 animals to maintain the gray wolf's genetic diversity over the 
long-term and provide the resiliency to reduce the adverse impacts of 
unpredictable chance demographic and environmental events. The 
Minnesota wolf population currently is estimated to be double that 
numerical goal (Berg and Benson 1999; Mech 1998; Paul 2001).
    In addition, the Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan calls for 
establishing a second population of 100 gray wolves for 5 successive 
years in the Eastern United States. As documented in the final 
reclassification rule, such a second wolf population has developed in 
Wisconsin and the adjacent Upper Peninsula of Michigan and has exceeded 
its recovery goal since 1994 (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 
(WI DNR) 2002; Wydeven et al. 2002; Michigan Department of Natural 
Resources 2002). Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 
preliminarily estimated that about 320 wolves in 70 to 80 packs were in 
the State in late winter 2001-2002 (WI DNR 2002, Wydeven et al. 2002).
    As also described in the final reclassification rule, there is no 
convincing evidence in recent decades of another wild gray wolf 
population in the United States east of Michigan, so the area in the 
western Great Lakes States where the wolf currently exists represents 
the entire range of the species within the Eastern Gray Wolf DPS.
    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.

[[Page 15878]]

Our evaluation of the future threats to the gray wolf in the Eastern 
DPS, especially those threats to wolves in the Midwest 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.
    All three Midwestern States with wolf populations (Minnesota, 
Wisconsin, and Michigan) have completed wolf management plans. We 
believe that these plans provide sufficient information for us to 
analyze the future threats to the Eastern Gray Wolf DPS that will exist 
after Federal delisting. We will consult with Native American tribes 
and organizations to further discuss and evaluate their wolf management 
and protection plans prior to issuing a proposed delisting rule.
    We recognize that large portions of the historic range, including 
potentially still-suitable habitat within the Eastern Gray Wolf DPS, 
are not currently occupied by gray wolves. We emphasize that our 
proposal to delist gray wolves in the Eastern 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 Eastern Gray Wolf DPS, 
together with our preliminary determination that management of threats 
to the wolf within the DPS will be adequate, enables us to propose 
delisting 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 
Eastern Gray Wolf DPS to be implemented upon delisting. A proposed 
post-delisting monitoring plan will be provided in the proposed rule 
for delisting the Eastern Gray Wolf DPS.

Effects of This Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

    This ANPR announces our intent to propose rulemaking removing 
protections afforded to gray wolves in the Eastern Gray Wolf DPS under 
the Act. If we make a final decision to delist the gray wolf in the 
Eastern DPS, the prohibitions and conservation measures provided by the 
Act would no longer apply to this DPS, and the critical habitat 
designation in the Eastern Gray Wolf DPS would be removed. Therefore, 
taking, interstate commerce, import, and export of gray wolves in the 
Eastern 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 Eastern Gray 
Wolf DPS or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat.
    Until the Eastern Gray Wolf DPS is delisted, the take and use of 
gray wolves in the Eastern Gray Wolf DPS must comply with the Act and 
all other existing Federal, State, and local laws. 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 Eastern DPS area.
    This ANPR does not address gray wolves in the Western DPS, 
Southwestern DPS, or the current nonessential experimental population 
designations in those two DPSs.

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 
procedure and anticipate publishing a proposed rule on the removal of 
the Eastern 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

Berg, W.E., and S. Benson. 1999. Updated wolf population estimate 
for Minnesota, 1997-1998. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 
Report. Grand Rapids, Minnesota. 14 pp.
Mech, L.D. 1998. Estimated costs of maintaining a recovered wolf 
population in agricultural regions of Minnesota. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 
Michigan Department of Natural Resources. 2002. Michigan's wolf 
population continues to rise. News release, dated April 30, 2002.
Paul, W.J. 2001. Wolf depredation on livestock in Minnesota, annual 
update of statistics--2000. U.S. Dep. of Agri., Animal & Plant 
Health Inspection Serv., Wildl. Serv. Grand Rapids, Minnesota. 13 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1992. Recovery plan for the eastern 
timber wolf. Twin Cities, MN 73 pp.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 2002. Wisconsin wolf 
population estimated at 320. News release, dated April 16, 2002.
Wydeven, A.P., J.E. Wiedenhoeft, R.N. Schultz, R.P. Thiel, S.R. 
Boles, and B.E. Kohn. 2002. Progress report of wolf population 
monitoring in Wisconsin for the period October 2001-March 2002. 
Unpublished report by Wisc. Dept. Natural Resources, Park Falls, WI. 
43 pp.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

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

[[Page 15879]]

    Dated: March 17, 2003.
Steve Williams,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 03-7020 Filed 3-31-03; 8:45 am]