[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 60 (Tuesday, March 29, 2011)]
[Pages 17439-17442]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-6935]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0022; 92220-1113-0000-C3]

Nonessential Experimental Populations of Gray Wolves in the 
Northern Rocky Mountains; Lethal Take of Wolves in the West Fork Elk 
Management Unit of Montana; Draft Environmental Assessment

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a draft environmental assessment (EA) of the Montana 
Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MFWP) proposal to lethally 
take wolves in the West Fork Elk Management Unit (EMU) in western 
Montana in response to impacts on elk populations. The MFWP's proposal 
was submitted under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and our special 
regulations under the ESA for the central Idaho and Yellowstone area 
nonessential experimental populations of gray wolves in the Northern 
Rocky Mountains. The draft EA describes the environmental effects of 
two alternatives: (1) The preferred alternative, which would approve 

[[Page 17440]]

MFWP proposal to reduce the wolf population in the West Fork EMU to a 
minimum of 12 wolves in 2 to 3 packs for a period of 5 years, in 
response to impacts on elk populations; and (2) a no-action 
alternative, which would deny the proposal to reduce the wolf 
population in the West Fork EMU. Under the no-action alternative, 
wolves in the West Fork EMU would continue to be managed as a 
nonessential experimental population and could be removed by the 
Service or its designated agents when livestock, stock animals, or dogs 
are killed by wolves.

DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive your written comments 
on the draft EA no later than April 12, 2011. Please note that if you 
are using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES section), the 
deadline for submitting an electronic comment is 11:59 p.m. Eastern 
Time on this date.

ADDRESSES: Documents: The draft EA is available electronically at 
http://www.regulations.gov under Docket Number FWS-R6-ES-2011-0022. 
Alternatively, you may request the document by writing to: Ed Bangs, 
Attn: West Fork EMU Wolf 10(j) proposal, USFWS Montana Field Office, 
585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601.
    Comments: You may submit comments by one of the following methods:
     Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: 
http://www.regulations.gov. In the ``Select Document Type'' pull-down 
list, select ``Search All.'' In the ``Enter Keyword or ID'' field, type 
FWS-R6-S-2011-0022, which is the docket number for this action. Then 
click the ``Search'' button. Once you have found the document, you may 
submit a comment by clicking on ``Submit a Comment.''
     By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand deliver to: 
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, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
    We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This 
generally means that we will post any personal information you provide 
us (see Public Comment Procedures and Public Availability of Comments 
under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION for more information).

Fish and Wildlife Service, USFWS Montana Field Office (see ADDRESSES), 
at 406-449-5225; or ed_bangs@fws.gov (e-mail). Individuals who are 
hearing impaired or speech impaired may call the Federal Information 
Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.



    We are evaluating whether or not to authorize lethal take of wolves 
in an ESA-designated nonessential experimental population in the West 
Fork EMU in the State of Montana. The West Fork EMU is 1 of 35 elk 
management units in Montana. The proposed action is in response to a 
proposal from MFWP to reduce gray wolf predation on the wild elk 
population in the West Fork EMU for a period of 5 years.
    In 1974, Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves (Canis lupus 
irremotus), as well as three other gray wolf subspecies, were listed as 
endangered under the authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 
(ESA; U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) (January 4, 1974; 39 FR 1171). In 1978, the 
listing was changed from listing subspecies to a species-level listing 
in the contiguous U.S., with wolves in Minnesota listed as threatened 
and wolves in the rest of the contiguous U.S. listed as endangered 
(March 9, 1978; 43 FR 9607).
    The ESA Amendments of 1982 (Pub. L. 97-304) made significant 
changes to the ESA, including the creation of section 10(j), which 
provides for the designation of specific populations of listed species 
as experimental. Under previous authorities in the ESA, the Service was 
authorized to reintroduce a listed species into unoccupied portions of 
its historical range for conservation and recovery purposes. However, 
in some cases, local opposition to reintroduction efforts from parties 
concerned about potential restrictions under sections 7 and 9 of the 
ESA, made reintroductions contentious or even socially unacceptable.
    Under ESA section 10(j), a listed species reintroduced outside of 
its current range may be designated, at the discretion of the Secretary 
of the Interior, as experimental. This designation increases the 
Service's flexibility and discretion in managing reintroduced 
endangered species, because the Service treats experimental populations 
as threatened species (with a few exceptions) and may promulgate 
special regulations that provide exceptions to the take prohibitions 
under section 9 of the ESA.
    On November 22, 1994, we designated portions of Idaho, Montana, and 
Wyoming as two nonessential experimental population areas for the gray 
wolf under section 10(j) of the ESA: the Yellowstone Experimental 
Population Area (November 22, 1994; 59 FR 60252) and the Central Idaho 
Experimental Population Area (November 22, 1994; 59 FR 60266). These 
designations, which are found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 
at 50 CFR 17.40(i), assisted us in initiating gray wolf reintroduction 
projects in central Idaho and in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA). At 
that time, special regulations under section 10(j) allowed, among other 
things, livestock producers to lethally remove wolves that were in the 
act of killing, wounding, or biting livestock, and allowed the Service 
to lethally remove problem wolves. The 1994 designation did not 
contemplate lethally removing wolves to protect wild game species.
    After being reintroduced to central Idaho and the GYA in 1995 and 
1996 as nonessential experimental populations under section 10(j), 
wolves achieved biological recovery objectives in 2002 in Idaho, 
Montana, and Wyoming. Following biological recovery, the 1994 section 
10(j) rule was amended in 2005 to give State and Tribal governments 
with Service-approved post-delisting management plans a role in gray 
wolf management and to allow such States and Tribes to lethally take 
wolves in response to ``unacceptable impacts'' to wild ungulate 
populations (January 6, 2005; 70 FR 1286). The 10(j) rule was amended 
again in 2008 to clarify the definition of ``unacceptable impact'' and 
the factors the Service must consider when a State or Tribe with 
Service-approved post-delisting management plans requests an exception 
from the take prohibitions of the ESA in response to wolf impacts on 
wild ungulate populations (January 28, 2008; 73 FR 4720).
    Under the 2008 10(j) rule, States or Tribes with Service-approved 
post-delisting management plans may lethally take wolves within the 
experimental population areas if wolf predation is having an 
unacceptable impact on wild ungulate populations (deer, elk, moose, 
bighorn sheep, mountain goats, antelope, or bison) as determined by the 
respective State or Tribe, provided that the State or Tribe prepares a 
science-based document that: (1) Describes the basis of ungulate 
population or herd management objectives, which data indicate that the 
ungulate population or herd is below management objectives, which data 
indicate that wolves are a major cause of the unacceptable impact to 
the ungulate population or herd, why wolf removal is a warranted 
solution to help restore the ungulate population or herd to State or 
Tribal management objectives, the level and duration of wolf removal 
being proposed, and how

[[Page 17441]]

ungulate population or herd response to wolf removal will be measured 
and control actions adjusted for effectiveness; (2) demonstrates that 
attempts were and are being made to address other identified major 
causes of ungulate herd or population declines, or the State or Tribe 
commits to implement possible remedies or conservation measures in 
addition to wolf removal; and (3) provides for an opportunity for peer 
review and public comment on their proposal prior to submitting it to 
the Service for written authorization of the proposal. In conducting 
peer review, the State or Tribe must: (i) Conduct the peer review 
process in conformance with the Office of Management and Budget's Final 
Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review (January 28, 2008; 70 FR 
2664), and include in their proposal an explanation of how the 
Bulletin's standards were considered and satisfied; and (ii) obtain at 
least five independent peer reviews from individuals with relevant 
expertise; these individuals must not be staff employed by the State, 
Tribal, or Federal agency directly or indirectly involved with predator 
control or ungulate management in Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming.
    Before authorizing such lethal removal of wolves proposed by a 
State or Tribe, the Service must determine whether an unacceptable 
impact to wild ungulate populations or herds has occurred. We also must 
determine that the proposed lethal removal 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.

Draft Environmental Assessment

    We are announcing the availability of a draft EA that was prepared 
to evaluate potential environmental effects associated with our 
authorization or denial of MFWP's proposal to lethally take wolves in 
the West Fork EMU in an effort to reduce wolf populations to a minimum 
of 12 wolves in 2 to 3 packs and reduce predation pressure on the elk 
population in that zone. We describe a no-action alternative and a 
preferred action, and analyze the environmental consequences of each 
    No-Action Alternative (Deny Requested Authorization). Under the no-
action alternative, the Service would deny MFWP's 10(j) proposal to 
remove wolves in the West Fork EMU, and current management direction 
for wolves would continue. In the West Fork EMU, wolves would be 
managed by the Service or their designated agent and could be removed 
when livestock, stock animals, or dogs are killed by wolves as 
currently provided for in the 2008 10(j) rule (73 FR 4720, January 28, 
2008). The management strategy for the no-action alternative would not 
include lethal removal of wolves in response to predation on wild 
ungulate populations.
    Under the no-action alternative State and Tribal governments would 
continue to use their management activities to address major causes of 
elk declines other than wolf predation. Past management activities have 
included changes in elk hunting seasons and harvest strategies, changes 
in black bear and mountain lion seasons to address low calf survival, 
and efforts to improve elk habitat. These management activities would 
not be affected under the no-action alternative.
    Preferred Alternative (Approve Requested Authorization). Under the 
preferred alternative, the Service would approve the MFWP 10(j) 
proposal to remove wolves in the West Fork EMU to reduce wolf predation 
on elk populations over a 5-year period. This alternative would provide 
an adaptive management strategy to reduce the wolf population. Wolves 
would be removed to manage for a minimum of 12 wolves in 2 to 3 packs. 
Based on the 2009 year-end wolf population estimate of 24 wolves 
residing in the West Fork EMU, the initial removal is estimated to be a 
minimum of 12 wolves. Levels of wolf removal in subsequent years are 
expected to be lower, and would be based on wolf-population monitoring. 
Management activities would be intended to protect the elk population 
in West EMU while maintaining wolf populations that meet recovery 
objectives. This alternative includes monitoring both wolf and elk 
populations yearly to determine elk response to the implementation of 
management activities and whether adaptive changes in wolf removal are 
needed based on yearly monitoring results.
    Wolf removal would be accomplished by MFWP personnel and other 
approved agents of the State of Montana. Wolves that inhabit the West 
Fork EMU would be targeted for removal. Removal would be accomplished 
using legal means approved by the Service under provisions of the 
Service's 2008 10(j) rule. Wolf control would occur through fair chase 
hunting or trapping by the public, control actions by agency personnel 
or designees, or any combination of these. The MFWP is not proposing to 
use poison or other chemical means to control wolves. The goal of the 
removal would be to reduce pack sizes and, when appropriate, to remove 
entire packs. The primary removal effort would occur during the winter 
months. Most wolf control would occur on U.S. Forest Service lands 
outside of designated wilderness. The MFWP is not proposing to use 
aircraft to remove wolves from within designated wilderness. Wolf 
carcasses would be recovered from the field, when possible, and 
processed for collection of biological data. Hides and skulls would be 
used for educational purposes.

Next Steps

    After the comment period ends, we will analyze comments received 
and determine whether to: (1) Prepare a final EA and Finding of No 
Significant Impact and authorize lethal take of wolves in West Fork EMU 
under section 10(j) of the ESA in response to wolf impacts on elk 
populations, (2) reconsider our preferred alternative and deny MFWP's 
proposal, or (3) determine that an Environmental Impact Statement 
should be prepared prior to authorizing or denying MFWP's proposal.

Public Comment Procedures

    To ensure that any final action on the proposal will be as accurate 
and as effective as possible, we request that you send relevant 
information for our consideration. The comments that will be most 
useful and likely to influence our decisions are those that you support 
by quantitative information or studies and those that include citations 
to, and analyses of, the applicable laws and regulations. Please make 
your comments as specific as possible and explain the bases for them. 
In addition, please include sufficient information with your comments 
to allow us to authenticate any scientific or commercial data you 
    You must submit your comments and materials concerning the proposed 
action by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. We will 
not accept comments sent by e-mail or fax or to an address not listed 
in ADDRESSES. If you submit a comment via http://www.regulations.gov, 
your entire comment--including any personal identifying information, 
such as your address, telephone number, or e-mail address--will be 
posted on the Web site. Please note that comments submitted to this Web 
site are not immediately viewable. When you submit a comment, the 
system receives it immediately. However, the comment will not be 
publicly viewable until we post it, which might not occur until several 
days after submission.
    If you mail or hand-carry a hardcopy comment directly to us that 
includes personal information, you may request at the top of your 
document that we

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withhold this information from public review. However, we cannot 
guarantee that we will be able to do so. To ensure that the electronic 
docket for this rulemaking is complete and all comments we receive are 
publicly available, we will post all hardcopy comments on http://www.regulations.gov.
    In addition, comments and materials we receive, as well as 
supporting documentation used in preparing this proposed rule, will be 
available for public inspection in two ways:
    (1) You can view them on http://www.regulations.gov. In the Enter 
Keyword or ID box, enter FWS-R6-ES-2011-0022, which is the docket 
number for this action. Then, in the Search panel at the top of the 
screen, select the type of documents you want to view under the 
Document Type heading.
    (2) You can make an appointment, during normal business hours, to 
view the comments and materials in person at the location in the 
ADDRESSES section.

Public Availability of Comments

    As stated above in more detail, before including your address, 
phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information 
in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment--
including your personal identifying information--may be made publicly 
available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold 
your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot 
guarantee that we will be able to do so.


    The Environmental Review of this project will be conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy 
Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.); NEPA 
Regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508); Department of the Interior NEPA 
regulations (43 CFR part 46); other appropriate Federal laws and 
regulations; Executive Order 12996; and Service policies and procedures 
for compliance with those laws and regulations.

    Dated: March 3, 2011.
Richard A. Coleman,
Acting Regional Director, Denver, Colorado.
[FR Doc. 2011-6935 Filed 3-28-11; 8:45 am]