February 2, 2024

News Release: Service Announces Gray Wolf Finding and National Recovery Plan


What is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announcing?
After an extensive peer-reviewed assessment utilizing the best available science, the Service announced a not warranted finding on two petitions to list gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Western United States. The Service concludes gray wolves in the Western United States do not meet the definition of an endangered or threatened species under the ESA.

The Service’s finding does not make any changes to the legal status of gray wolves in the United States. 

What is a 12-month finding? How does the petition process work? 
Petitions are formal requests to add a species to or remove a species from the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants under the Endangered Species Act. The ESA requires the Service, to the maximum extent practicable, to make an initial determination within 90 days after receiving the petition as to whether the petition contains substantial information suggesting that the petitioned action may be warranted. If the Service makes a substantial 90-day finding, as was the case for these petitions, the next step is to conduct a status review and issue a further finding within 12 months regarding whether the petitioned action is warranted. A 12-month finding is not a rulemaking action and does not have a regulatory effect. Any change in the status of a species requires a separate rulemaking process with public comment. Learn more about the petition process.

What is the legal status of gray wolves in the Western United States as of this 12-month finding?
The gray wolf remains classified as endangered in the Western United States, excluding the Northern Rocky Mountains, where the species is considered recovered and remains under state management. This 12-month finding does not alter the protections that gray wolves in portions of the Western United States currently receive under the Endangered Species Act, nor does it change who has regulatory authority to manage wolves in certain portions of the Western United States.

Gray wolves are listed under the ESA as endangered in 44 states, threatened in Minnesota, and under state jurisdiction in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, portions of eastern Oregon and Washington, and north-central Utah.

What did the two petitions request? What is the history of recent federal actions?
On June 1, 2021, the Service received a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, and the Sierra Club, requesting the listing of the gray wolf in the Northern Rocky Mountains or the Western United States as a threatened or endangered species under the ESA.

On July 29, 2021, the Service received another petition from the Western Watersheds Project and 70 other organizations seeking to list gray wolves in the West as endangered under the ESA.

When the entities petitioned the Service to consider listing wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains or Western United States in 2021, gray wolves were not listed under the ESA in the lower 48 United States. 

On November 3, 2020, the Service issued a final rule removing ESA protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 and Mexico, except for the Northern Rocky Mountains, where gray wolves had previously been delisted.

On February 10, 2022, a court order vacated the November 3, 2020, rule that removed ESA protections, reinstating ESA protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states, excluding the Northern Rocky Mountains.

The petitions requested the designation of a Distinct Population Segment for gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains or the Western United States.

The Service determined gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains do not qualify as a DPS under the ESA. However, the Service found gray wolves in the Western United States qualify as a DPS, prompting the comprehensive status analysis for this entity. The status analysis concluded that the Western United States gray wolf population does not presently meet the definition of an endangered or threatened species as defined by the ESA.

What is a Distinct Population Segment? 
The ESA defines a distinct population segment (DPS) as a vertebrate (i.e., mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians) population or group of populations that is discrete from other populations of the species and significant to the species as a whole. For vertebrates, species can be listed throughout their entire range or as a DPS under the ESA.

Why does the Service consider the Northern Rocky Mountain population no longer a valid DPS?
Following a detailed analysis in the 12-month finding, the Service determined that gray wolves within the boundaries of the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS, as outlined in the 2009 delisting rule (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009), no longer meet the criteria for a valid DPS. Gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains are not markedly separate from other gray wolf populations beyond the Western boundary of the Northern Rocky Mountains (i.e., in the Western two-thirds of Oregon and Washington, as well as in California). Therefore, the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves do not satisfy the discreteness standard outlined in the Service’s DPS Policy.

What did the Service analyze?
The Service’s analysis in the Species Status Assessment for the Gray Wolf in the Western United States covered the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Did the Service take into consideration new management plans in Idaho and Montana?
The Service incorporated information from the 2023 Idaho Gray Wolf Management Plan into relevant sections of its Species Status Assessment for the gray wolf in the Western United States.

In October 2023, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks released a draft Montana Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. Although the draft plan is subject to changes before finalization, it reflects the most recent information on the state’s anticipated approach to wolf management in the future.

How are wolf populations managed in the West?
States within the current range of the gray wolf in the Western United States maintain management plans to conserve gray wolf populations. Based on data as of the end of 2022, there were approximately 2,797 wolves distributed across at least 286 packs in seven states in the Western United States. This population size and widespread distribution contribute to the resiliency and redundancy of wolves in this region. The population maintains high genetic diversity and connectivity, further supporting its ability to adapt to future changes.

Where can I find more information?
More information is available on the Service’s website including the 12-month finding, Species Status Assessment, Species Assessment Form, and Frequently Asked Questions. The finding will be available in the coming days in the Federal Register at https://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-HQ-ES-2021-0106.

For additional updates, visit the gray wolf web page online.



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The Ecological Services Program works to restore and protect healthy populations of fish, wildlife, and plants and the environments upon which they depend. Using the best available science, we work with federal, state, Tribal, local, and non-profit stakeholders, as well as private land owners, to...