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A small red wolf puppy held by a biologist.
Information icon Captive red wolf puppy. Photo by Ryan Nordsven, USFWS.

Frequently asked questions about red wolf recovery under the Endangered Species Act May 2017

Why did the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) conduct a review for the Red Wolf Recovery Program?

The Service recognized a need to gather additional science and research to better guide recovery of the endangered red wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). To that end, the Service initiated a two-year, two-step review of the red wolf recovery program including the non-essential, experimental population in northeastern North Carolina.

The review began in 2014 with a peer-reviewed program assessment by the Wildlife Management Institute. It was later expanded in June 2015 to include recovery efforts beyond the program’s wild population in North Carolina to help the Service identify actions necessary to guide red wolf recovery on the landscape. A recovery team was established last fall to examine feasibility of recovery, population viability, the historical range and human dimensions. Its work led to a report with options for the Service to consider. Among the options considered, one of the recommendations the Service committed to is to publish a new proposed 10(j) rule to reconsider the size, scope, and management of the red wolf non-essential experimental population in North Carolina.

What is a 10(j) rule?

Under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) can designate reintroduced populations established outside of the species’ current range, but within its historical range, as “experimental.” This designation allows the Service to reestablish self-sustaining populations when doing so fosters its conservation and recovery.

What is a non-essential, experimental population?

A non-essential, experimental population is a special designation under the ESA the Service can apply to a population of a threatened or endangered species prior to reestablishing it in an unoccupied portion of its former range. In rare instances, when a species’ former range is no longer suitable (e.g., due to climate change or invasive species), this designation can also be applied when introducing a species outside of its historical range.

Establishing an experimental population is done through a formal rule-making with public comment and review. There are two types of experimental populations: (1) essential and (2) nonessential. Essential, experimental populations are populations that, if lost entirely, would likely mean the extinction of the species. All other experimental populations are classified as non-essential. Congress envisioned that in most cases, experimental populations would be nonessential.

Why does the Service designate experimental populations?

Designating an experimental population is one tool to facilitate reintroduction and recovery of federally-listed species. Most importantly, an experimental population designation allows the Service to customize protective regulations under the ESA. The ESA does not permit the designation of critical habitat (areas important for the conservation of listed fish, wildlife or plants) for nonessential experimental populations (critical habitat may be designated for essential populations). This regulatory flexibility and discretion can increase the likelihood of success for a reintroduction because it provides more flexibility in working with states, stakeholders, and others, who are concerned about potential impacts of reintroducing a threatened or endangered species. Rules for these experimental populations must ensure the reintroduction is likely to be successful and that it will benefit the conservation of the species.

What is required when designating an experimental population?

The Service designates experimental populations following the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and its 1984 ESA Section 10(j) regulations (49 FR 33885). Under the APA and ESA regulations, when the Service designates an experimental population it is required to:

  1. Develop and publish a proposed and final 10(j) regulation in the Federal Register, where the proposed regulation is subject to peer review and a public comment period of at least 30 days, that provides:
    • A method for identifying the experimental population (e.g., boundaries of the experimental population area);
    • A finding as to whether the population is essential or nonessential;
    • Management restrictions or protective measures, or other special management concerns; and,
    • A process for periodic review of the success or failure of the release and the effect of the release on the conservation of the species.
  2. Use the best scientific and commercial data available to consider:
    • Any possible adverse effects on existing populations;
    • The likelihood that the experimental population will become established and survive in the foreseeable future;
    • The relative effects that establishment of an experimental population will have on the recovery of the species; and,
    • The extent to which the population may be affected by actions within or near the experimental population area.
  3. Comply with Section 7 of the ESA, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and any other applicable regulations.

How does the Service determine the geographic boundaries of the experimental population?

The Service draws experimental population boundaries on a case-by-case basis in collaboration with stakeholders, while considering the best available information on the movement and ecology of red wolves, their biological needs, the distribution of habitat and the distribution of existing populations. Generally, the agency draws boundaries to encompass the area likely to be used by the released individuals and their offspring while avoiding areas where the species currently exists. Boundaries are typically drawn along physical or administrative features (e.g., roads, state or county lines, rivers).

How does a nonessential experimental population (NEP) designation affect consultations?

Under the ESA, species listed as endangered or threatened are afforded protection primarily through the prohibitions of Section 9 and the requirements of Section 7. Section 7 of the ESA outlines the procedures for federal interagency cooperation to conserve federally listed species and protect designated critical habitats. It mandates all federal agencies will, in consultation with the Service, ensure that any action they authorize, fund or carry out is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat. Section 7 of the ESA does not affect activities undertaken on private lands unless they are authorized, funded, permitted or carried out by a federal agency.

Section 7(a)(2) consultation requirements are applicable on national wildlife refuges and National Park Service lands for nonessential experimental populations and on all lands for essential experimental populations.

Where do you get individuals for a species reintroduction program?

Individuals used to establish an experimental population may come from a wild or captive donor population, provided their removal will further the conservation of the species and appropriate permits are issued in accordance with the Service’s regulations (50 CFR 17.22) prior to their removal.

What species has the Service reintroduced or introduced as experimental populations?

The Service has introduced California condors, whooping cranes, black-footed ferrets, wood bison and many others. A complete list of currently designated experimental populations can be found at http://bit.ly/2erZRCk.

What is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)?

NEPA is a federal law intended to ensure that information about environmental effects of an agency’s proposal and alternative actions are available to agency decision makers and the public. Through this process, the Service seeks to ensure that impacts to fish and wildlife resources are adequately described.

Why is the Service drafting an environmental review under NEPA?

Certain Service actions require NEPA documentation. These actions include, among others, issuance of regulations, like the establishment or revision of a 10(j) rule.

Who can I contact for more information?

For additional information, contact Pete Benjamin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office, 551 Pylon Drive, Raleigh, NC 27636-3726, by telephone 919-856-4520 extension 11. Members of the media should contact Phil Kloer at either Philip_Kloer@fws.gov, or 404-679-7299. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800–877–8339. For more information about red wolf recovery, visit: https://www.fws.gov/redwolf/index.html.

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