[Federal Register Volume 87, Number 139 (Thursday, July 21, 2022)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 43489-43491]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2022-15610]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2022-0100; Cost code FF06E00000, Fund 223, WBS 
RIN 1018-BG79

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Establishment of a 
Nonessential Experimental Population of the Gray Wolf in the State of 
Colorado; Environmental Impact Statement

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notification of intent, announcement of public meetings, and 
request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), intend to 
prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) pursuant to the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 to evaluate the potential 
environmental impacts of issuing a proposed rule requested by the State 
of Colorado for its reintroduction and management of the gray wolf 
(Canis lupus). As part of the reintroduction and management planning 
process, the State has requested that the Service designate an 
experimental population under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species 
Act of 1973. We are considering promulgating a section 10(j) rule to 
address components of the gray wolf restoration and management plan 
being developed by the State of Colorado. The proposed rule would set 
forth regulations to manage reintroduced gray wolves in Colorado and 
potentially adjoining States to reduce potential impacts to 
stakeholders while ensuring reintroduction and management of wolves is 
consistent with Federal regulations. We invite input from other Federal 
and State agencies, Tribes, nongovernmental organizations, private-
sector businesses, and members of the public on the scope of the EIS, 
alternatives to our proposed approaches for assisting in the 
reintroduction and management of the gray wolf in Colorado, and the 
pertinent issues that we should address in the EIS.

    Comment submission: To ensure consideration of written comments, 
they must be received on or before August 22, 2022. Comments submitted 
online at https://www.regulations.gov (see ADDRESSES) must be received 
by 11:59 p.m. eastern time on the closing date.
    Public meetings: We will hold public scoping open houses on August 
2, 3, and 4, 2022. In addition, we will present a public webinar. 
Additional information regarding these scoping sessions, including the 
times, will be available on our website at https://www.fws.gov/office/colorado-ecological-services-field-office. Persons wishing to 
participate in the public scoping meetings who need special 
accommodations should contact Nicole Alt at (303) 236-4773 or 
Colorado_wolf_10j@fws.gov by July 27, 2022.

    Comment submission: You may submit written comments by one of the 
following methods. Please do not submit comments by both methods.
     Online: https://www.regulations.gov. Follow the 
instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2022-0100.
     U.S. mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-
2022-0100; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg 
Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
    Please note in your submission that your comments are in regard to 
the Service's designation of an experimental population of gray wolves 
in Colorado and/or issuance of ESA section 10 permits. We will post all 
information received on https://www.regulations.gov. This generally 
means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see 
Availability of Comments below for more information).
    Public meetings: We will hold public scoping open houses on August 
2, 3, and 4 in the communities of Craig, Silverthorne, and Gunnison, 
Colorado. Additional information regarding these scoping sessions, 
including the venues, will be available on our website at https://www.fws.gov/office/colorado-ecological-services-field-office. Comment 
forms will be provided for written comments.
    In addition, we will present a public webinar. Information 
regarding registration for the webinar can be found at https://www.fws.gov/office/colorado-ecological-services-field-office.

[[Page 43490]]

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Nicole Alt, Colorado Ecological 
Services Supervisor, by phone at 303-236-4773, or by email at 
Colorado_wolf_10j@fws.gov. Individuals in the United States who are 
deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability may dial 
711 (TTY, TDD, or TeleBraille) to access telecommunications relay 
services. Individuals outside the United States should use the relay 
services offered within their country to make international calls to 
the point-of-contact in the United States.



    Unregulated hunting and trapping and the widespread use of poisons 
resulted in the eradication of gray wolves across most of the species' 
historical range in the contiguous United States by the early to mid-
1900s. Subspecies or regional populations of subspecies of the gray 
wolf were first listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 
1966 and the Endangered Species Act of 1969, predecessors of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). For a 
complete regulatory history of wolves in the lower 48 United States 
through 2018, please see our 2020 final delisting rule (85 FR 69778, 
November 3, 2020), which went into effect on January 4, 2021. That rule 
removed Federal protections for wolves in the lower 48 United States, 
with the exception of the northern Rocky Mountains (NRM) wolf 
populations in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the eastern one-third of Oregon 
and Washington, and a small portion of north-central Utah, which were 
already delisted. The final delisting rule was vacated by court order 
on February 10, 2022 (Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife 
Serv., No. 21-CV-00344-JSW, 2022 WL 499838 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 10, 2022)). 
With that court order, gray wolves outside the delisted NRM wolf 
population, including Colorado, were placed back under the protections 
of the ESA. Thus, any take (which includes activities to harass, harm, 
pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt 
to engage in any such conduct) of wolves without a permit or other 
authorization is prohibited by Federal law.
    Prior to the reintroduction of wolves into the NRM in 1995 and 
1996, the last known wolf in Colorado was killed in Conejos County in 
1945. Since wolves were reintroduced into the NRM populations in 1995 
and 1996, an increasing number of dispersing wolves have been 
documented in Colorado. The first confirmed wolf in Colorado in modern 
times was struck and killed by a vehicle near Idaho Springs in 2004. 
Although four additional lone wolves have been confirmed in Colorado 
since 2004, no resident packs were documented in the State until 2019. 
In January 2020, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) field personnel 
followed up on sighting reports from the public and confirmed at least 
six wolves traveling together in extreme northwest Colorado. This group 
was down to a single individual later that year and, at present, there 
is no indication that any wolf or wolves remain in this northwest 
corner of the State. Separately, in north-central Colorado, a disperser 
from Wyoming was first documented during summer 2019 and paired up with 
another wolf during winter 2020. This pair produced offspring in spring 
2021, becoming the first documented reproductively active pack in 
Colorado in recent history. By the end of 2021, this pack contained the 
only known wolves in the State, comprising eight individuals. No 
evidence of reproduction in this pack has been documented in 2022.
    In November 2020, Proposition 114, now Colorado Revised Statute 33-
2-105.8, was approved by Colorado voters. The statute requires the CPW 
Commission to develop a plan to restore and manage gray wolves and take 
the steps necessary to reintroduce gray wolves west of the Continental 
Divide no later than December 31, 2023. The statute also requires CPW 
to assist livestock producers in preventing and resolving wolf 
conflicts with livestock. Since the status of gray wolves under the ESA 
is currently endangered, they are federally protected throughout the 
State of Colorado. Subsequent to the adoption of Colorado Revised 
Statute 33-2-105.8, CPW requested that the Service develop a rule under 
section 10(j) of the ESA to provide increased management flexibility 
for the species.
    While reintroduction programs for species listed under the ESA 
typically are spearheaded by the Federal Government, Colorado Revised 
Statute 33-2-105.8 is unique in that the reintroduction and restoration 
effort of a federally listed species is citizen-directed and State-led. 
However, the Service has the authority to designate an experimental 
population under section 10(j) of the ESA if the species will be 
released into suitable natural habitat outside the species' current 
range (but within its probable historic range). The Service must 
determine whether experimental populations are essential or 
nonessential to the continued existence of an endangered or threatened 
species. A section 10(j) designated population is treated as threatened 
under the ESA and provides the Service the discretion to enact 
management restrictions, protective measures, or other special 
management concerns of the population. In our 1994 EIS for the 
reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park and Central 
Idaho, we defined a wolf population as follows: ``A wolf population is 
at least 2 breeding pairs of wild wolves successfully raising at least 
2 young each year (until December 31 of the year of their birth), for 2 
consecutive years in an experimental area.''
    In response to the request by CPW, we are now considering a 
proposed rule, consistent with section 10 of the ESA, at the request of 
the State of Colorado for the reintroduction and management of gray 
wolves in part of the species' historical range in Colorado. The 
section 10(j) rule would address components of the gray wolf 
restoration and management plan developed by the State of Colorado. The 
rule would reduce potential impacts to stakeholders while ensuring that 
reintroduction and management of wolves is likely to be successful and 
benefit conservation of the species as a whole.

Need for Agency Action

    Currently, the Service lists the gray wolf as endangered. To 
facilitate reintroduction efforts, the State of Colorado requested that 
the Service designate wolves in Colorado as an experimental population 
under section 10(j) of the ESA. This designation would reduce the 
regulatory impact of reintroducing a federally listed species in a 
specific geographic area (within a proposed boundary), contributing to 
the species' conservation. The EIS will evaluate the use of the section 
10(j) rulemaking process or other section 10 actions to support the 
State of Colorado's reintroduction.

NEPA Analysis of ESA Section 10 Actions

    The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321-4347) 
requires Federal agencies to undertake an assessment of environmental 
effects of any proposed action prior to making a final decision and 
implementing the decision. NEPA also established the Council on 
Environmental Quality (CEQ), which issued regulations implementing the 
procedural provisions of NEPA (40 CFR parts 1500-1508). The Service has 
regulatory authority under the ESA to manage the conservation and 
recovery of federally listed species, including creating rules and 
regulations and permitting legitimate activities that

[[Page 43491]]

would otherwise be prohibited by the ESA. Development of an ESA section 
10(j) rule or issuance of a section 10(a)(1)(A) permit are Federal 
actions requiring review under NEPA.
    Consistent with CEQ guidance for implementing NEPA, we intend to 
complete an EIS to consider approaches in response to CPW's request for 
regulatory tools in reintroducing and managing the endangered gray 
wolf, specifically when it leads to the reintroduction of gray wolves 
to Colorado. The EIS will address the potential environmental impacts 
of a range of reasonable alternatives (including rules and/or permits) 
under section 10 of the ESA. The potential environmental impacts 
assessed in the EIS would include the effects on gray wolves from 
management measures; effects on other environmental resources such as 
other federally listed species and cultural and Tribal resources; 
potential socioeconomic effects, including impacts on economic 
activities such as tourism and agriculture; and effects on a range of 
other resources identified through internal and external scoping. We 
will address our compliance with other applicable authorities in our 
NEPA review.

Responsibilities to Tribes

    The Service has unique responsibilities to Tribes, including under 
the National Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. 470 et seq.); the 
American Indian Religious Freedom Act (42 U.S.C. 1996); Native American 
Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (25 U.S.C. 3001); Religious 
Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.); Joint 
Secretarial Order 3403, Fulfilling the Trust Responsibility to Indian 
Tribes in the Stewardship of Federal Lands and Waters (November 15, 
2021); Secretarial Order 3206, American Indian Tribal Rights, Federal-
Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the ESA (June 5, 1997); Executive 
Order 13007, Indian Sacred Sites (61 FR 26771, May 29, 1996); and the 
Service's Native American Policy. We apply the term ``Tribal'' or 
``Tribe(s)'' generally to federally recognized Tribes and Alaska Native 
Tribal entities.
    The Service will separately consult with Tribes on the proposals 
set forth in this document. We will also ensure that those Tribes 
wishing to engage directly in the NEPA process will have the 
opportunity to do so. As part of this process, we will protect the 
confidential nature of any consultations and other communications we 
have with Tribes, to the extent permitted by the Freedom of Information 
Act and other laws.

Possible Actions

    We are considering various approaches for responding to the State 
of Colorado's request in its effort to reintroduce and manage gray 
wolves in Colorado. These regulatory approaches would address the 
Service's issuance of a new rule under section 10(j) of the ESA, and 
potentially establish an assurance agreement and permit under section 
10(a)(1)(A) of the ESA for an existing population, as defined above, of 
gray wolves in Colorado. These approaches may be considered separately 
or in any combination, and the EIS may consider the effects from each 
approach and/or combined approaches.
    Under the no-action alternative, the Service would not promulgate a 
section 10(j) rule and not issue a section 10(a)(1)(A) permit. CPW 
would reintroduce gray wolves to Colorado without a section 10(j) rule 
or an assurance agreement and section 10(a)(1)(A) permit. Under this 
alternative, management of gray wolves in Colorado would be subject to 
section 6 of the ESA and the prohibitions under section 9 of the ESA. 
Thus, the Service would not develop a rule or issue a permit that would 
provide the State with additional management flexibility.

Solicitation of Comments

    In accordance with NEPA, we are conducting a public scoping process 
to invite input on the range of alternatives and issues to be addressed 
during the preparation of the EIS. Scoping is an early and open process 
for determining the scope of issues to be addressed and identifying 
issues that should be considered in selecting an alternative for 
implementation. To that end, during the scoping process, we are 
inviting input from other interested government agencies, Native 
American Tribes, the scientific community, industry, nongovernmental 
organizations, members of the public, and other interested parties. We 
solicit input on the following issues:
    (1) The regulatory approaches we are considering for managing 
reintroduced gray wolves in Colorado.
    (2) Other approaches, or combinations of approaches, we should 
consider with respect to managing reintroduced gray wolves, including 
potential management actions in adjoining States.
    (3) Specific requirements for NEPA analyses related to the proposed 
action and alternative approaches.
    (4) Considerations for evaluating the significance of impacts on 
gray wolves and other affected resources, such as other listed or 
sensitive wildlife and plant species, cultural resources, and 
socioeconomic resources or activities.
    (5) Information regarding other resources that may be affected by 
the proposed action.
    (6) Considerations for evaluating the interactions between affected 
natural resources.
    (7) The potential costs to comply with the actions under 
consideration, including those that would be borne by the Federal 
Government and private sectors.
    (8) Considerations for evaluating the significance of impacts on 
species, locations, or other resources of religious or cultural 
significance for Tribes and impacts to cultural values from the actions 
being considered.
    (9) Considerations for evaluating climate change effects to gray 
wolves and other affected resources.
    (10) How to integrate existing guidance and plans, such as the 
Colorado wolf management plan (under development), into the proposed 
regulatory framework.

Availability of Comments

    If you submit information via https://www.regulations.gov, your 
entire submission--including any personal identifying information--will 
be posted on the website. If your submission is made via a hardcopy 
that includes personal identifying information, you may ask request at 
the top of your document that we withhold this information from public 
review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We 
will post all hardcopy submissions on https://www.regulations.gov.
    All submissions from organizations or businesses, and from 
individuals identifying themselves as representatives or officials of 
organizations or businesses, will be made available for public 
disclosure in their entirety.


    The authorities for this action are sections 4, 6, and 10 of the 

Anna Mu[ntilde]oz,
Acting Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2022-15610 Filed 7-20-22; 8:45 am]