Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government
This rulemaking is necessary to remove gray wolves (
This action is authorized by the Act. We are amending § 17.11(h), subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations by removing the entry for “Wolf, gray [Northern Rocky Mountain DPS]” under MAMMALS in the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. We are also amending § 17.84, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations by removing and reserving both paragraphs
We have not analyzed the costs or benefits of this rulemaking action because the Act precludes consideration of such impacts on listing and delisting determinations. Instead, listing and delisting decisions are based solely on the best scientific and commercial information available regarding the status of the subject species.
This rulemaking is separate and independent from, but additive to, the previous action delisting wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) Distinct Population Segment (DPS) (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009; 76 FR 25590, May 5, 2011). We conclude that this approach is appropriate given the Congressional directive to reissue our 2009 delisting, which created a remnant piece of the NRM DPS. This approach is also consistent with our 2009 delisting determination, which stated that “if Wyoming were to develop a Service-approved regulatory framework it would be delisted in a separate rule” (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009, p. 15155). This rule is separate from prior actions to remove the other portions of the NRM DPS from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Outside Wyoming, this rule will not affect the status of the gray wolf in the portions of the NRM DPS under State laws or suspend any other legal protections provided by State law.
In 1967, we determined the eastern timber wolf (
Due to questions about the validity of subspecies classification at the time and issues associated with the narrow geographic scope of each subspecies, we published a rule reclassifying the gray wolf as endangered at the species level (
In 1994, we established nonessential experimental gray wolf populations under section 10(j) of the Act (50 CFR 17.84(i)), in portions of Idaho, Montana, and all of Wyoming, including the Yellowstone Experimental Population Area (59 FR 60252, November 22, 1994) and the Central Idaho Experimental Population Area (59 FR 60266, November 22, 1994). These designations assisted us in initiating gray wolf reintroductions in central Idaho and in Yellowstone National Park (YNP). The Yellowstone Experimental Population Area included the entire State of Wyoming. In 2005 and 2008, we revised these regulations to provide increased management flexibility for this recovered wolf population in States and on Tribal lands with Service-approved post-delisting wolf management plans (70 FR 1286, January 6, 2005; 73 FR 4720, January 28, 2008; 50 CFR 17.84(n)).
The NRM gray wolf population achieved its numerical and distributional recovery goals at the end of 2000 (Service
In 2003, we reclassified the coterminous 48-State listing into three DPSs including a threatened Western DPS, a threatened Eastern DPS, and an endangered Southwestern DPS (68 FR 15804, April 1, 2003). The Western DPS, centered around the recovered NRM gray wolf population, included California, northern Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, northern Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. This rule also removed the protections of the Act for gray wolves in all or parts of 16 southern and eastern States where the species historically did not occur. Finally, this rule established a special 4(d) rule to respond to wolf-human conflicts in areas not covered by existing nonessential experimental population rules. In 2005, the U.S. District Courts in Oregon and Vermont concluded that the 2003 final rule was “arbitrary and capricious” and violated the Act (
In 2003, we also published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking announcing our intention to delist the Western DPS as the recovery goals had been satisfied (68 FR 15876, April 1, 2003). This notice explained that delisting would require consideration of threats, and that the adequacy of State wolf management plans to address threats in the absence of protections of the Act would be a major determinant in any future delisting evaluation.
In 2004, we determined that Montana's and Idaho's laws and wolf management plans were adequate to assure that their shares of the NRM wolf population would be maintained above recovery levels (Williams 2004a; Williams 2004b). However, we also found the 2003 Wyoming legislation and plan were not adequate to maintain Wyoming's share of a recovered NRM gray wolf population (Williams 2004c). Wyoming challenged this
In 2008, we issued a final rule recognizing the NRM DPS and removing it from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (73 FR 10514, February 27, 2008). This DPS included Idaho, Montana, eastern Oregon, north-central Utah, eastern Washington, and Wyoming. This DPS was smaller than the 2003 Western DPS and more closely approximates the historical range of the originally listed NRM gray wolf in the region and the areas focused on in both NRM recovery plans (39 FR 1175 January 4, 1974; Service 1980, pp. 3, 7-8; Service 1987, pp. 2, 23). The Service removed protections across the entire DPS after Wyoming revised its wolf management plan and State law. At the time, we concluded this Wyoming framework provided adequate regulatory protections to conserve Wyoming's portion of a recovered wolf population into the foreseeable future (Hall 2007).
Environmental litigants challenged this final rule in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana. The plaintiffs also moved to preliminarily enjoin the delisting. On July 18, 2008, the court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and enjoined the Service's implementation of the final delisting rule (
Following the July 18, 2008, court ruling, we reexamined the NRM DPS and Wyoming's statutes, regulations, and management plan. This reevaluation considered several issues not considered in the previous evaluation. We determined that the best scientific and commercial data available demonstrated that: (1) The NRM DPS was not threatened or endangered throughout “all” of its range (i.e., not threatened or endangered throughout all of the DPS); and (2) the Wyoming portion of the range represented a significant portion of the range where the species remained in danger of extinction because of the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms. Thus, on April 2, 2009, we published a final rule recognizing the NRM DPS and removing the DPS from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, except in Wyoming, where wolves continued to be regulated as a nonessential experimental population under 50 CFR 17.84(i) and (n) (74 FR 15123). The decision to retain the Act's protections only in Wyoming was consistent with a March 16, 2007, Memorandum Opinion issued by the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior, “The Meaning of `In Danger of Extinction Throughout All or a Significant Portion of Its Range' ” (M-Opinion) (Department of the Interior 2007, entire). The final rule determined that Wyoming's existing regulatory framework did not provide adequate regulatory mechanisms to maintain Wyoming's share of a recovered NRM wolf population if the protections of the Act were removed and stated that, until Wyoming revised its statutes, regulations, and management plan, and obtained Service approval, wolves in Wyoming would remain protected by the Act (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009).
The 2009 rule (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009) was challenged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana by environmental litigants and in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming by the State of Wyoming, the Wyoming Wolf Coalition, and Park County, Wyoming. On August 5, 2010, the U.S. District Court for Montana ruled on the merits of the case and vacated our April 2009 final rule (
On October 26, 2010, in compliance with the order of the U.S. District Court for Montana, we published a final rule notifying the public that the Federal protections in place prior to the 2009 delisting had been reinstated (75 FR 65574). Wolves in eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, north-central Utah, the Idaho panhandle, and northern Montana were again listed as endangered. Former special rules designating the gray wolf in the remainder of Montana and Idaho as nonessential experimental populations were likewise reinstated. Additionally, the NRM gray wolf DPS established by the April 2, 2009, final rule was set aside. Because wolves in Wyoming were not delisted by the April 2, 2009, final rule, their listed status was not affected by the October 26, 2010, rule.
Following the Montana District Court decision, the United States Congress passed, and President Obama signed, H.R. 1473, Public Law 112-10—The Department of Defense and Full Year
As for the Wyoming challenge to the April 2009 partial delisting rule (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009), a United States District Court for Wyoming ruled in favor of the Wyoming plaintiffs on November 18, 2010 (
On October 5, 2011, we proposed to remove the gray wolf in Wyoming from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (76 FR 61782). This proposal relied on Wyoming's 2011 wolf management plan (WGFC 2011, entire) and noted that conforming changes to State law and regulations would be required to allow Wyoming's plan to be implemented as written. Following publication of the proposal, Wyoming revised its State statutes and gray wolf management regulations (chapter 21) and developed gray wolf hunting season regulations (chapter 47) and an Addendum to the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan. On May 1, 2012, we reopened the public comment period on our October 5, 2011, proposal to allow all interested parties an additional opportunity to comment on the proposed rule in light of these documents (77 FR 25664, May 1, 2012).
The 2009 rule stated that “until Wyoming revises their statutes, management plan, and associated regulations, and is again Service approved, wolves in Wyoming continue to require the protections of the Act” (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009). This rule specifically expressed concern over: (1) The size and permanency of the Trophy Area; (2) conflicting language within the State statutes concerning whether Wyoming would manage for at least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves, exactly 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves, or only 7 breeding pairs and 70 wolves; and (3) liberal depredation control authorizations and legislative mandates to aggressively manage the population down to minimum levels.
In early 2011, we began discussions with Wyoming seeking to develop a strategy to address each of these issues. In August 2011, the Service and the State of Wyoming announced the framework of an agreement that we conclude will maintain a recovered wolf population in Wyoming (WGFC 2011, appendix I). Since this agreement, Wyoming has incorporated these changes into its regulatory framework. Below we summarize the key points in the agreement relative to the three overarching Service concerns highlighted above.
First, Wyoming made the existing Trophy Area permanent by incorporating it into State statute. In total, Wyoming wolves will be managed as game animals year-round or protected in about 38,500 square kilometers (km
The State of Wyoming also addressed our prior concern that the size of the Trophy Area would affect natural connectivity and genetic exchange. State wolf management regulations (chapter 21(4)(a)(ii)) commit to managing wolves in Wyoming so that genetic diversity and connectivity issues do not threaten the population. The State's wolf management plan further clarifies a goal for gene flow of at least one effective natural migrant per generation entering into the GYA, as measured over multiple generations (WGFC 2011, pp. 4, 9, 26-29, 54). To assist in this goal, a Wyoming statute provides for a seasonal expansion of the Trophy Area approximately 80 kilometers (km) (50 miles (mi)) south for 4 and a half months during peak wolf dispersal periods (WGFC 2011, pp. 2, 8, 52). We conclude that this seasonal protection will benefit natural dispersal. Furthermore, Wyoming commits to an adaptive management approach that adjusts management if the above minimum level of gene flow is not
Next, Wyoming agreed to maintain a population of at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves in portions of Wyoming outside YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation (WGFC 2011, pp. 1-5, 16-26, 52). Importantly, this commitment does not reflect an intention by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to reduce the population down to this minimum population level. Rather, Wyoming intends to maintain an adequate buffer above minimum population objectives to accommodate management needs and ensure uncontrollable sources of mortality do not drop the population below this minimum population level (WGFC 2011, p. 24; WGFC 2012, pp. 3-5).
The wolf populations in YNP and on the lands of sovereign nations will provide an additional buffer above the minimum recovery goal. From 2000 to the end of 2011 (the most recent official wolf population estimates available), the wolf population in YNP ranged from 96 to 174 wolves, and between 6 to 16 breeding pairs. While a lower future population level in YNP is predicted (between 50 to 100 wolves and 5 to 10 packs with 4 to 6 of these packs meeting the breeding pair definition annually) (Smith 2012), YNP will always provide a secure wolf population providing a safety margin above the minimum recovery goal. The Wind River Indian Reservation typically contains a small number of wolves (single digits), which sometimes form packs that count toward Tribal population totals. On the whole, we expect the statewide wolf population in Wyoming will be maintained well above minimum recovery levels.
Another substantial improvement is Wyoming's management framework inside the Trophy Area. For example, Wyoming removed statutory mandates for aggressive management of wolves (WGFC 2011, pp. 24, 52). Previous Wyoming law required aggressive management until the population outside the National Parks fell to six breeding pairs or below. The Service was concerned with Wyoming's previous State law, and it has been remedied.
Additionally, Wyoming agreed that wolves in the permanent Trophy Area would not be treated as predatory animals (WGFC 2011, pp. 3, 16-17, 23). Past State laws allowed depredating wolves within the Trophy Area to be treated as predatory animals under certain circumstances at the discretion of the State Game and Fish Commission (WGFC 2011, pp. 3, 16-17, 23). Wyoming modified W.S. 23-1-302(a)(ii) to ensure it does not apply to wolves in the Trophy Area. This change is a substantial improvement over current Wyoming law that will provide for a wolf population in Wyoming (outside of YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation) that always maintains at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 individuals.
Furthermore, Wyoming established defense-of-property regulations that are similar to our nonessential experimental population rules (50 CFR 17.84(n)) (WGFC 2011, pp. 4, 22-23, 30-31, 53). Also, Wyoming's management of depredating wolves will be similar to Service management under the Act's protections (WGFC 2011, pp. 4, 22-23, 30-31, 53). Such rules were in place in Montana and Idaho prior to delisting and allowed continued population growth. These management approaches constitute an additional improvement over the framework Wyoming had in place for most of 2008.
These and other improvements discussed in more detail below have addressed the Service's concerns about wolf management in Wyoming and make this delisting rule possible. Appropriate changes have been incorporated into State statute, State regulations, and the Wyoming wolf management plan.
Gray wolves (
Gray wolves have a circumpolar range including North America, Europe, and Asia. As Europeans began settling the United States, they poisoned, trapped, and shot wolves, causing this once-widespread species to be eradicated from most of its range in the 48 conterminous States (Mech 1970, pp. 31-34; McIntyre 1995, entire). Gray wolf populations were eliminated from Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, as well as adjacent southwestern Canada by the 1930s (Young and Goldman 1944, p. 414). Gray wolves continue to occur in large numbers in Canada and Alaska and are now well connected to the restored NRM wolf populations (Pletscher
Wolves primarily prey on medium and large mammals. Wolf prey in the NRM region is composed mainly of elk (
Wolves normally live in packs of 2 to 12 animals. In the NRM region, pack sizes average 7 wolves but are slightly larger in protected areas. A few complex packs have been substantially bigger in some areas of YNP (Smith
Typically, only one male and female in each pack breed and produce pups (Packard 2003, p. 38; Smith
For detailed information on the biology of this species see the “Biology and Ecology of Gray Wolves” section of the April 1, 2003, final rule to reclassify and remove the gray wolf from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife in portions of the coterminous United States (2003 Reclassification Rule) (68 FR 15804).
This section includes a detailed discussion of the recovery criteria including their development, continuous evaluation, and revision as necessary. Additionally, this section includes our summary of progress towards recovery including an assessment of whether the criteria are met. This section discusses the entire NRM population because the recovery criteria apply to the entire population.
For NRM gray wolves, we formed the Interagency Wolf Recovery Team to complete a recovery plan for the NRM population shortly after it was listed (Service 1980, p. i; Fritts
The 1987 plan specified recovery criteria of a minimum of 10 breeding pairs of wolves (defined as 2 wolves of opposite sex and adequate age, capable of producing offspring) for a minimum of 3 successive years in each of 3 distinct recovery areas including: (1) Northwestern Montana (Glacier National Park; the Great Bear, Bob Marshall, and Lincoln Scapegoat Wilderness Areas; and adjacent public and private lands); (2) central Idaho (Selway-Bitterroot, Gospel Hump, Frank Church River of No Return, and Sawtooth Wilderness Areas; and adjacent, mostly Federal, lands); and (3) the YNP area (including the Absaroka-Beartooth, North Absaroka, Washakie, and Teton Wilderness Areas; and adjacent public and private lands). That plan recommended that wolf establishment not be promoted outside these distinct recovery areas, but it encouraged connectivity between recovery areas. However, no attempts were made to prevent wolf pack establishment outside of the recovery areas unless chronic conflict required resolution (Service 1994, pp. 1-15, 16; Service 1999, p. 2). Since completion of the 1987 recovery plan, we have expended considerable effort to develop, repeatedly reevaluate, and when necessary modify, the recovery goals (Service 1987, p. 12; Service 1994, appendix 8 and 9; Fritts and Carbyn 1995, p. 26; Bangs 2002, p. 1).
The 1994 Environmental Impact Statement reviewed the wolf recovery standards in the NRM region and the adequacy of the recovery goals to assure that the 1987 goals were sufficient (Service 1994, pp. 6:68-78). We were particularly concerned about the 1987 definition of a breeding pair because it included two adult wolves `capable' of producing offspring instead of two adult wolves that had actually produced offspring. We also believed the relatively small recovery areas identified in the 1987 plan greatly reduced the amount of area that could be used by wolves and would almost certainly eliminate the opportunity for meaningful natural demographic and genetic connectivity. We conducted a thorough literature review of wolf population viability analysis and minimum viable populations, reviewed the recovery goals for other wolf populations, surveyed the opinions of the top 43 wolf experts in North America (of which 25 responded), and incorporated our own expertise into a review of the NRM wolf recovery goal. We published our analysis in the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement and a peer-reviewed paper (Service 1994, appendix 8 & 9; Fritts and Carbyn 1995, pp. 26-38).
Our 1994 analysis concluded that the 1987 recovery goal was, at best, a minimum recovery goal, and that modifications were warranted on the basis of more recent information about wolf distribution, connectivity, and numbers. We also concluded, “Data on survival of actual wolf populations suggest greater resiliency than indicated by theory,” and theoretical treatments of population viability “have created unnecessary dilemmas for wolf recovery programs by overstating the required population size” (Fritts and Carbyn 1995, p. 26). Based on our analysis, we redefined a breeding pair as an adult male and an adult female wolf that have produced at least two pups that survived until December 31 of the year of their birth, during the previous breeding season. We also concluded that “Thirty or more breeding pairs comprising some 300+ wolves in a metapopulation (a population that exists as partially isolated sets of subpopulations) with genetic exchange between subpopulations should have a high probability of long term persistence” because it would contain enough individuals in successfully reproducing packs that were distributed over distinct but somewhat connected large areas, to be viable for the long term (Service 1994, p. 6:75). We explicitly
For more than 15 years, we have concluded that movement of individuals between the metapopulation segments could occur either naturally or by human-assisted migration management (Service 1994, pp. 7-67). Specifically, the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement stated “The importance of movement of individuals between subpopulations cannot be overemphasized. The dispersal ability of wolves makes such movement likely, unless wolves were heavily exploited between recovery areas, as could happen in the more developed corridor between central Idaho and YNP. Intensive migration management might become necessary if 1 of the 3 subpopulations should develop genetic or demographic problems” (Service 1994, pp. 7-67). The finding went on to say that human-assisted migration should not be viewed negatively and would be necessary in other wolf recovery programs (Service 1994, pp. 7-67). Furthermore, we found that the 1987 wolf recovery plan's population goal of 10 breeding pairs of wolves in 3 separate recovery areas for 3 consecutive years was reasonably sound and would maintain a viable wolf population into the foreseeable future. We did caution that the numerical recovery goal was somewhat conservative, and should be considered minimal (Service 1994, pp. 6-75).
We conducted another review of what constitutes a recovered wolf population in late 2001 and early 2002 to reevaluate and update our 1994 analysis and conclusions (Service 1994, appendix 9). We attempted to resurvey the same 43 experts we had contacted in 1994 as well as 43 other biologists from North America and Europe who were recognized experts about wolves and conservation biology. We asked experts with a wide diversity of perspectives to participate in our review. In total, 53 people provided their expert opinions regarding a wide range of issues related to the NRM recovery goal. We also reviewed a wide range of literature, including wolf population viability analyses from other areas (Bangs 2002, pp. 1-9).
Despite varied professional opinions and a great diversity of suggestions, experts overwhelmingly thought the recovery goal derived in our 1994 analysis was more biologically appropriate than the 1987 recovery plan's criteria for recovery and represented a viable and recovered wolf population. Reviewers also thought genetic exchange, either natural or human-facilitated, was important to maintaining the metapopulation configuration and wolf population viability. Reviewers also believed the proven ability of a breeding pair to show successful reproduction was a necessary component of a biologically meaningful breeding pair definition. Reviewers recommended other concepts/numbers for recovery goals, but most were slight modifications to those we recommended in our 1994 analysis. While experts strongly (78 percent) supported our 1994 conclusions regarding a viable wolf population, they also tended to believe that wolf population viability was enhanced by higher, rather than lower, population levels and longer, rather than shorter, demonstrated timeframes. A common minority recommendation was an alternative goal of 500 wolves and 5 years. A slight majority of reviewers indicated that even the 1987 recovery goal of only 10 breeding pairs (defined as a male and female capable of breeding) in each of 3 distinct recovery areas may be viable, given the persistence of other small wolf populations in other parts of the world. Based on the above review and considering all available information, we reaffirmed our more relevant and stringent 1994 definition of wolf breeding pairs, population viability, and recovery (Service 1994, p. 6:75; Bangs 2002, pp. 1-9).
We measure the wolf recovery goal by the number of breeding pairs as well as by the number of wolves because wolf populations are maintained by packs that successfully raise pups. We use “breeding pairs” (packs that have at least one adult male and at least one adult female and that raised at least two pups until December 31) to describe successfully reproducing packs (Service 1994, p. 6:67; Bangs 2002, pp. 7-8; Mitchell
We also determined that an equitable distribution of wolf breeding pairs and individual wolves among the three States and the three recovery areas is an essential part of achieving recovery. Like peer reviewers in 1994 and 2002, we concluded that NRM wolf recovery and long term wolf population viability is dependent on its distribution as well as maintaining the minimum numbers of breeding pairs and wolves. Uniform distribution is not necessary. But a well-distributed population is necessary to maintain proportionate numbers of packs and individuals in all three recovery areas. This approach will maintain wolf distribution in and adjacent to all three recovery areas and most of the region's suitable habitat. Such an approach will retain sizable subpopulations within easily traversable distances from one another and, thus, facilitate natural connectivity.
Following the 2002 review of our recovery criteria, we began to use States, in addition to recovery areas, to measure progress toward recovery goals (Service
To recap, we have expended considerable effort to develop, repeatedly reevaluate, and, when necessary, modify, these recovery goals (Service 1980; Service 1987; Service 1994, appendix 8 and 9; Fritts and Carbyn 1995; Bangs 2002, entire). The 1980 recovery plan required simply that we reestablish and maintain viable populations within its former range where feasible. The 1987 recovery plan further quantified the goals by requiring a minimum of 10 breeding pairs of wolves (defined as 2 wolves of opposite sex and adequate age, capable of producing offspring) for a minimum of 3 successive years in northwestern Montana, central Idaho, and the YNP area. In 1994, we revised the definition of a breeding pair (redefined as an adult male and an adult female wolf that have produced at least two pups that survived until December 31 of the year of their birth, during the previous breeding season) and added a requirement that there be genetic exchange (preferably natural, but human assisted if needed) between subpopulations. In 2002, we conducted a peer review of the above information, which led us to reaffirm the conclusions reached above (i.e., the definition of wolf breeding pairs, our view of population viability, and what constitutes recovery), but moved us towards counting recovery by State in addition to by recovery area.
Finally, every NRM rulemaking conducted over the last decade has also included a peer review in which reviewers were asked to weigh in on our conclusions. The vast majority of these reviewers supported our conclusion on long term population viability assuming these criteria were maintained. In the most recent peer review, four of the five peer reviewers concurred with our conclusion that the Wyoming wolf population, whose management is to be driven by the recovery goals, would continue to be a viable population after delisting (Atkins 2011, pp. 6, 10; Atkins 2012, p. 3). Those peer reviewers who specifically addressed the recovery criteria were unanimously supportive of the criteria (Atkins 2011, appendix B). For example, Dr. Scott Mills stated that the thresholds for delisting are consistent with current state-of-the-art viability analysis science and are an appropriate standard for delisting (Atkins 2011, p. 60). Similarly, Dr. David Mech concluded that the recovery criteria still seem adequate (Atkins 2011, p. 73). None of the reviews provided by the independent peer reviewers challenged the adequacy of the recovery criteria (Atkins 2011, appendix B).
The numerical component of the recovery goal represents the minimum number of breeding pairs and individual wolves needed to achieve and maintain recovery. Because the NRM wolf population must always exceed the recovery goal of 30 breeding pairs and 300 wolves, we required that Montana and Idaho each manage for at least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves in mid-winter. This 50 percent safety margin above minimum recovery levels was intended to provide an adequate safety margin, recognizing that all wildlife populations, including wolves, can fluctuate widely over a relatively short period of time. Managing for a buffer above the minimum recovery target is consistent with our 1994 determination that the addition of a few extra pairs would add security to the population and should be considered in future management planning (Service 1994, pp. 6-75). Additionally, because the recovery goal components are measured in mid-winter when the wolf population is near its annual low point (note the absolute low point occurs in April just before spring litters are born), the average annual wolf population will be higher than these minimal goals.
Because Wyoming, unlike Montana and Idaho, has a large portion of its wolf population in areas outside the State's control (e.g., YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation), we developed an approach for Wyoming that recognizes this fact, but still holds the State to the same commitment to achieve the desired safety margin above the minimum recovery goal. Specifically, we determined that at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves at mid-winter in Wyoming outside YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation will satisfy Wyoming's contribution to NRM gray wolf recovery. Under this approach, the wolf populations in YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation will provide a buffer above the minimum recovery goal. We conclude that the YNP wolf population can effectively buffer the rest of the Wyoming wolf population because of the amount of available habitat in the park, the sizable wolf population the park does now and will continue to support, and the relative security of the park population.
Wyoming's wolf population will be further buffered because WGFD intends to maintain an adequate buffer above minimum population objectives to accommodate management needs so that uncontrollable sources of mortality do not drop the population in Wyoming outside of YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation below the 10 breeding pair and 100 wolf minimum population levels (WGFC 2011, p. 24; WGFC 2012, pp. 3-5). The State of Wyoming also intends to coordinate with YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation to contribute to the objective of at least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves statewide, including YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation. This approach in Wyoming is biologically superior to a single statewide standard in that: It provides population stability outside the park, minimizing the chances of a bad year in YNP compromising maintenance of the minimum recovery goal; it adds an extra layer of representation, resiliency, and redundancy to the GYA's gray wolf population; and it builds public tolerance for a minimum wolf population outside YNP. Further justification for this approach to wolf management after delisting and an additional explanation of why we view this approach as superior for wolf conservation in Wyoming long term is included in Issue and Response 18 below.
To summarize, based on the information above, the current recovery goal for the NRM gray wolf population is: Thirty or more breeding pairs (an adult male and an adult female that raise at least two pups until December 31) comprising 300+ wolves well-distributed between Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming functioning as a metapopulation (a population that exists as partially isolated sets of subpopulations) with genetic exchange (either natural or, if necessary, agency-managed) between subpopulations. This goal further holds Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming to each maintain a population
The minimum size and distribution of the wolf population is estimated by the Working Group each year and, along with other information, is published in an interagency annual report (Service