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Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0039; FXES11130900000C6-123-FF09E30000]

RIN 1018-AX94

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of the Gray Wolf in Wyoming From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Removal of the Wyoming Wolf Population's Status as an Experimental Population

AGENCY: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
ACTION: Final rule.
SUMMARY: The best scientific and commercial data available indicate that gray wolves (Canis lupus) in Wyoming are recovered and are no longer in need of protection as part of an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). Therefore, we, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), remove the gray wolf in Wyoming from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Wyoming's gray wolf population is stable, threats are sufficiently minimized, and a post-delisting monitoring and management framework has been developed. Therefore, this final rule returns management for this species to the appropriate State, Tribal, or Federal agencies; management in National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges will continue to be guided by existing authorizing and management legislation and regulations. Finally, this action makes obsolete and removes the Yellowstone Experimental Population Area established in 1994 to facilitate reintroductions.
DATES: This rule becomes effective on September 30, 2012.
ADDRESSES: This final rule, comments received, and additional supporting information are available on the Internet athttp://www.regulations.gov,Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0039. Additional background information is also available online athttp://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/.Comments and materials we received, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this rule are available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie Region Office, Ecological Services Division, 134 Union Blvd., Lakewood, CO 80228; telephone 303-236-7400. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mountain-Prairie Region Office, Ecological Services Division; telephone 303-236-7400. Direct all questions or requests for additional information to: GRAY WOLF QUESTIONS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie Region Office, Ecological Services Division, 134 Union Blvd., Lakewood, CO 80228. Individuals who are hearing-impaired or speech-impaired may call the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8337 for TTY assistance.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Table of Contents Executive Summary Background —Delisting Wolves in Wyoming —Previous Federal Actions —Reengaging Wyoming and Changes to Its Wolf Management Plan —Species Description and Basic Biology —Recovery Planning and Implementation ○ Recovery Planning and the Development of Recovery Criteria ○ Monitoring and Managing Recovery ○ Recovery by State ○ Recovery by Recovery Area ○ Genetic Exchange Relative to our Recovery Criteria ○ Conclusion on Progress Towards our Recovery Goals Summary of Comments and Recommendations —Technical and Editorial Comments —The Delisting Process and Compliance with Applicable Laws, Regulations, and Policy —Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) Gray Wolf Recovery Goals —The Geographic Scope of Recovery and the Impact of This Decision on Range —General Comments on Whether To Delist —Human-Caused Mortality —Gene Flow and Genetic Diversity —Adequacy of Regulatory Mechanisms —Public Attitudes Toward Wolves —Other Potential Threat Factors —Cumulative Impacts of Threats —Post-Delisting Monitoring —Positives and Negatives of Wolf Restoration —Native American Tribal Considerations Summary of Factors Affecting the Species —Factor A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range. ○ Suitable Habitat ○ Unoccupied Suitable Habitat ○ Currently Occupied Habitat ○ Potential Threats Affecting Habitat or Range —Factor B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or Educational Purposes. ○ Commercial or Recreational Uses ○ Overutilization for Scientific or Educational Purposes —Factor C. Disease or Predation. ○ Disease ○ Natural Predation ○ Human-caused Mortality —Factor D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms. ○ National Park Service ○ National Wildlife Refuges ○ Tribal Lands ○ Forest Service ○ State Regulatory Mechanisms ○ Environmental Protection Agency —Factor E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence. ○ Public Attitudes Toward the Gray Wolf ○ Genetic Considerations ○ Poison ○ Climate Change ○ Catastrophic Events ○ Impacts to Wolf Pack Social Structure as a Result of Human-caused Mortality Conclusion (Including Cumulative Impacts) Significant Portion of the Range Analysis Post-Delisting Monitoring Effects of the Rule Required Determinations —Paperwork Reduction Act —National Environmental Policy Act —Executive Order 13211 —Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes References Cited Authority List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17 Regulation Promulgation Executive Summary (1) Purpose of the Regulatory Action

This rulemaking is necessary to remove gray wolves (Canis lupus) in Wyoming from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Delisting is appropriate because gray wolves in Wyoming are recovered and are no longer in need of protection as part of an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). Wyoming's gray wolf population is stable, threats are sufficiently minimized, and a post-delisting monitoring and management framework has been developed. This action also makes obsolete and removes the Yellowstone Experimental Population Area established in 1994 to facilitate reintroductions.

(2) Major Provision of the Regulatory Action

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 paragraphspertaining to experimental populations of “Gray wolf (Canis lupus)”: (i) and (n). In short, this action removes the gray wolf in Wyoming from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and makes obsolete and removes the Yellowstone Experimental Population Area established in 1994 to facilitate reintroductions.

(3) Costs and Benefits

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.

Background Delisting Wolves in Wyoming

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.

Previous Federal Actions

In 1967, we determined the eastern timber wolf (C. l. lycaon) in the Great Lakes region was threatened with extinction (32 FR 4001, March 11, 1967). In 1973, we added the NRM gray wolf (C. l. irremotus) to the U.S. List of Endangered Fish and Wildlife (38 FR 14678, June 4, 1973). Both of these listings were issued pursuant to the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969. In 1974, these subspecies were listed as endangered under the Act of 1973 (39 FR 1158, January 4, 1974). We listed a third gray wolf subspecies, the Mexican wolf (C. l. baileyi) as endangered on April 28, 1976, (41 FR 17736) in Mexico and the United States Southwest. Later in 1976, we listed the Texas gray wolf subspecies (C. l. monstrabilis) as endangered in Texas and Mexico (41 FR 24062, June 14, 1976).

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 (C. lupus) throughout the coterminous 48 States and Mexico (43 FR 9607, March 9, 1978). The exception was Minnesota, where the gray wolf was reclassified to threatened. This rule also provided assurance that this reclassification would not alter our intention to focus recovery on each population as separate entities. Accordingly, recovery plans were developed for: The Great Lakes in 1978 (revised in 1992) (Service 1978, entire; Service 1992, entire); the NRM region in 1980 (revised in 1987) (Service 1980, entire; Service 1987, entire); and the Southwest in 1982 (Service 1982, entire). A revision to the Southwest recovery plan is now under way.

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 (Serviceet al.2012, Table 4). The temporal portion of the recovery goal was achieved in 2002 when the numerical and distributional recovery goals were exceeded for the third successive year (Serviceet al.2012, Table 4). In light of this success, we once reclassified and twice delisted all or part of this population (68 FR 15804, April 1, 2003; 73 FR 10514, February 27, 2008; 74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009). These reclassification and delisting rules were overturned by U.S. District Courts (Defenders of Wildlife, et al.v.Norton, et al.,354 F.Supp.2d 1156 (D. Or. 2005);National Wildlife Federation, et al.v.Norton, et al.,386 F.Supp.2d 553 (D. Vt. 2005);Defenders of Wildlife, et al.v.Hall, et al.,565 F.Supp.2d 1160 (D. Mont. 2008);Defenders of Wildlife, et al.v.Salazar, et al.,729 F.Supp.2d 1207 (D. Mont. 2010). Each of these rulemakings and the subsequent litigation are discussed below.

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 (Defenders of Wildlife, et al.v.Norton, et al.,354 F.Supp.2d 1156 (D. Or. 2005);National Wildlife Federation, et al.v.Norton, et al.,386 F.Supp.2d 553 (D. Vt. 2005)). Both courts ruled the Service improperly downlisted entire DPSs based just on the viability of a core population. The courts' rulings invalidated the April 2003 changes to the gray wolf listing under 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 thisdetermination, and the United States District Court in Wyoming dismissed the case (State of Wyoming, et al.,v.United States Department of Interior, et al.,360 F.Supp.2d 1214, (D. Wyoming 2005)). Wyoming's subsequent appeal was unsuccessful (State of Wyoming, et al.v.United States Department of Interior, et al.,442 F.Supp.3d 1262 (10th Cir. 2006)). This challenge was resolved on procedural grounds because Wyoming failed to identify a final agency action necessary for judicial review. In 2005, Wyoming petitioned us to revise the listing status for the gray wolf by recognizing a NRM DPS and to remove it from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species (Freudenthal 2005, entire). In 2006, we announced a 12-month finding that Wyoming's petition (delisting wolves in all of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming) was not warranted because the 2003 Wyoming State laws and its 2003 wolf management plan did not provide adequate regulatory mechanisms to maintain Wyoming's share of a recovered NRM wolf population (71 FR 43410, August 1, 2006). Wyoming challenged this finding in Wyoming Federal District Court. This challenge was rendered moot by Wyoming's revisions to its laws and management plan in 2007, which allowed delisting to move forward. On February 27, 2008, a Wyoming Federal District Court issued an order dismissing the case (State of Wyoming, et al.,v.United States Department of Interior, et al.,U.S. District Court Case No. 2:06-CV-00245).

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 (Defenders of Wildlife, et al.,v.Hall, et al.,565 F.Supp.2d 1160 (D. Mont. 2008)). The court stated that we acted arbitrarily in delisting a wolf population that lacked evidence of natural genetic exchange between subpopulations. The court also stated that we acted arbitrarily and capriciously when we approved Wyoming's 2007 wolf management plan because the State failed to commit to managing for at least 15 breeding pairs. In addition, the court concluded we acted arbitrarily in approving Wyoming's 2007 post-delisting management framework that contained a Wyoming statute allowing the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission (WGFC) to diminish Wyoming's Wolf Trophy Game Management Area (Trophy Area) if it “determines the diminution does not impede the delisting of gray wolves and will facilitate Wyoming's management of wolves.” In light of the court order, on September 22, 2008, we asked the court to vacate the final rule and remand it to us. On October 14, 2008, the court granted our request(Defenders of Wildlifev.Hall,9:08-CV-00056-DWM (D. Mont 2008)). The court's order invalidated the February 2008 rule designating and delisting the NRM DPS.

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 (Defenders of Wildlife, et al.,v.Salazar, et al.,729 F. Supp.2d 1207 (D. Mont. 2010)). The court concluded that the NRM DPS must be listed or delisted in its entirety. The court rejected the rule's approach allowing protection of only a portion of the species' range because it was inconsistent with the Act's definition of “species.” Thus, before delisting could occur, Wyoming had to develop a regulatory framework that was determined by the Service to be adequate to maintain Wyoming's share of a recovered NRM gray wolf population. The court's ruling invalidated the 2009 rule designating and delisting most of the NRM DPS.

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 YearContinuing Appropriations Act of 2011 (hereafter referred to as the 2011 Appropriations Act). Section 1713 of the law directed the Service to reissue its April 2009 delisting rule. The Service complied with the Appropriations Act on May 5, 2011 (76 FR 25590). Thus, gray wolves in Montana, Idaho, eastern Oregon, north-central Utah, and eastern Washington were once again delisted. The constitutionality of section 1713 of the 2011 Appropriations Act was upheld in the Montana District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Alliance for the Wild Rockies et al.,v. Salazar, et al.,case no. CV 11-70-M-DWM;Alliance for the Wild Rockies, et al.,v.Salazar, et al.,case no. 11-35670). The Department of Interior withdrew the M-Opinion on this topic on May 4, 2011 (Department of the Interior 2011, entire).

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 (Wyoming et al.,v.U.S. Department of the Interior, et al.,2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122829). The court rejected the Service's recommendation that the entire State of Wyoming be designated as a Trophy Area, and the court found this position to be arbitrary and capricious, because it was not supported by the administrative record. The court stated that the record indicated only northwestern Wyoming, which has the vast majority of the State's suitable habitat, was biologically essential to maintaining the NRM population. However, the court did not render an opinion on whether Wyoming's current plan, including the size and location of its 2007 Trophy Area, was sufficient. Instead, the court remanded the matter to us to reconsider whether Wyoming's regulatory framework would maintain its share of a recovered wolf population and provide adequate genetic connectivity. Subsequent to this order, the Service and the State reinitiated discussions on revisions to the State's wolf management framework that would satisfy the standards of the Act and allow delisting to again move forward. These discussions led to an agreement and modification of the Wyoming wolf management plan (WGFC 2011, entire).

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).

Reengaging Wyoming and Changes to Its Wolf Management Plan

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 (km2) (15,000 square miles (mi2)) in the northwestern portion of the State (15.2 percent of Wyoming), including YNP, Grand Teton National Park, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, adjacent U.S. Forest Service-designated Wilderness Areas, adjacent public and private lands, the National Elk Refuge, and most of the Wind River Indian Reservation (Lickfett 2012). This area of Wyoming contains the majority of suitable wolf habitat within the State. Wolves will be designated as predatory animals in the remainder of the State (predator area). The above protected and permanent game areas (see Figure 1) include: 100 percent of the portion of the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) recovery area within Wyoming (Service 1987, Figure 2); approximately 79 percent of the Wyoming portion of the primary analysis area used in the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement on The Reintroduction of Gray Wolves to YNP and Central Idaho (1994 Environmental Impact Statement) (areas analyzed as potentially being impacted by wolf recovery in the GYA) (Service 1994, Figure 1.1); the entire home range for 24 of 27 breeding pairs (88 percent), 40 of 48 packs (83 percent), and 282 of 328 individual wolves (86 percent) in the State at the end of 2011 (Serviceet al.2012, Tables 2, 4, Figure 3; Jimenez 2012a; Jimenez 2012, pers. comm.); and approximately 81 percent of the State's suitable habitat (including over 81 percent of the high-quality habitat (greater than 80 percent chance of supporting wolves) and over 62 percent of the medium-high-quality habitat (50 to 79 percent chance of supporting wolves) (Oakleaf 2011; Mead 2012a)).

BILLING CODE 4310-55-P ER10SE12.000 BILLING CODE 4310-55-C

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 notdocumented (WGFC 2011, pp. 26-29; WGFC 2012, pp. 6-7). Finally, translocation of wolves between subpopulations would be used as a last resort, only if necessary to increase genetic interchange (WGFC 2012, p. 7). These efforts would be coordinated with Montana and Idaho (WGFC 2012, p. 7).

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.

Species Description and Basic Biology

Gray wolves (Canis lupus) are the largest wild members of the dog family (Canidae). Adult gray wolves range from 18-80 kilograms (kg) (40-175 pounds (lb)) depending upon sex and geographic region (Mech 1974, p. 1). In the NRM region, adult male gray wolves average just over 45 kg (100 lb), but may weigh up to 60 kg (130 lb). Females weigh about 20 percent less than males. Wolves' fur color is frequently a grizzled gray, but it can vary from pure white to coal black (Gipsonet al.2002, p. 821).

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 (Pletscheret al.1991, pp. 547-548; Boyd and Pletscher 1999, pp. 1105-1106; Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada 2001, pp. iii, v-vi, 13, 21-22, 30-32, 38, 42, 44-46; Boitani 2003, p. 322; Sime 2007; vonHoldtet al.2010, p. 4412; Jimenezet al.In review, p. 1).

Wolves primarily prey on medium and large mammals. Wolf prey in the NRM region is composed mainly of elk (Cervus canadensis), white tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), moose (Alces alces), and (in the GYA) bison (Bison bison). Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus), and pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) also are common but less important wolf prey, at least to date.

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 (Smithet al.2006, p. 243; Serviceet al.2012, Tables 1-3). Packs typically occupy large territories from 518 to 1,295 km2(200 to 500 mi2). Once a given area is occupied by resident wolf packs, it becomes saturated and wolf numbers become regulated by the amount of available prey, intraspecific conflict (wolf-on-wolf conflict), other forms of mortality, and dispersal. Dispersing wolves may cover large areas as they try to join other packs or attempt to form their own pack in unoccupied habitat (Mech and Boitani 2003, pp. 11-17).

Typically, only one male and female in each pack breed and produce pups (Packard 2003, p. 38; Smithet al.2006, pp. 243-24; Serviceet al.2012, Tables 1-3). Females and males typically begin breeding as 2-year-olds and may annually produce young until they are over 10 years old. In the NRM region, litters are typically born in April and range from 1 to 7 pups, but average around 5 pups (Serviceet al.1989-2012, Tables 1-3). Most years, 80 percent of pups survive until winter (Serviceet al.1989-2012, Tables 1-3). Wolves can live 13 years (Holyanet al.2005, p. 446), but the average lifespan in YNP is less than 4 years (Smithet al.2006, p. 245). Pup production and survival can increase when wolf density is lower and food availability per wolf increases (Fulleret al.2003, p. 186). Pack social structure is very adaptable and resilient. Breeding members can be quickly replaced either from within or outside the pack, and pups can be reared by another pack member, shouldtheir parents die (Boyd and Jimenez 1994, entire; Packard 2003, p. 38; Brainerdet al.2008; Mech 2006, p. 1482). Consequently, wolf populations can rapidly recover from severe disruptions, such as very high levels of human-caused mortality or disease. Wolf populations have been shown to increase rapidly if mortality is reduced after severe declines (Fulleret al.2003, pp. 181-183; Serviceet al.2012, Table 4).

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).

Recovery Planning and Implementation

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.

Recovery Planning and the Development of Recovery Criteria—As general background, recovery plans are not regulatory documents, but are instead intended to provide guidance to the Service, States, and other partners on methods of minimizing threats to listed species and on criteria that may be used to determine when recovery is achieved. There are many paths to accomplishing recovery of a species, and recovery may be achieved without all criteria being fully met. For example, one or more criteria may have been exceeded while other criteria may not have been accomplished. In that instance, the Service may judge that the threats have been minimized sufficiently, and the species is robust enough to reclassify from endangered to threatened or to delist. In other cases, recovery opportunities may have been recognized that were not known at the time the recovery plan was finalized. These opportunities may be used instead of methods identified in the recovery plan. Likewise, information on the species may become available that was not known at the time the recovery plan was finalized. The new information may change the extent that criteria need to be met for recognizing recovery of the species. Recovery of a species is a dynamic process requiring adaptive management that may, or may not, fully follow the guidance provided in a recovery plan.

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; Frittset al.1995, p. 111). The NRM Wolf Recovery Plan (recovery plan) was approved in 1980 (Service 1980, p. i) and revised in 1987 (Service 1987, p. i). The 1980 recovery plan's objective was to reestablish and maintain viable populations of the NRM wolf (C. l. irremotus) in its former range where feasible (Service 1980, p. iii). This plan did not include recovery goals (i.e., delisting criteria). The 1980 plan covered an area similar to the NRM DPS, as it was once believed to be the range of the purported NRM wolf subspecies. It recommended that recovery actions be focused on the large areas of public land in northwestern Montana, central Idaho, and the GYA. The 1987 revised recovery plan (Service 1987, p. 57) concluded that the subspecies designations may no longer be valid and simply referred to gray wolves in the NRM region. Consistent with the 1980 plan, it also recommended focusing recovery actions on the large blocks of public land in the NRM region.

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 explicitlystated that the required genetic exchange could occur by natural means or by human-assisted migration management and that dispersal of wolves between recovery areas was evidence of that genetic exchange (Serviceet al.1994, appendix 8, 9). In defining a “Recovered Wolf Population,” we found “in the northern Rockies a recovered wolf population is 10 breeding pairs of wolves in each of 3 areas for 3 successive years with some level of movement between areas” (Service 1994, pp. 6-7). We further determined that a metapopulation of this size and distribution among the three areas of core suitable habitat in the NRM DPS would result in a wolf population that would fully achieve our recovery objectives.

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; Mitchellet al.2008, p. 881; Mitchellet al.2010, p. 101). The breeding pair metric includes most of the important biological concepts in wolf conservation, including the potential disruption of human-caused mortality that might affect breeding success in social carnivores (Brainerdet al.2008, p. 89; Wallachet al.2009, p. 1; Creel and Rotella 2010, p. 1). Specifically, we thought it was important for breeding pairs to have: Both male and female members together going into the February breeding season; successful occupation of a territory (generally 500-1,300 km2(200-500 mi2)); enough pups to replace themselves; offspring that become yearling dispersers; at least four wolves at the end of the year, which is near the population low point (note that the absolute low point occurs in April just before pups are born); all social structures and age classes represented within a wolf population; and adults that can raise and mentor younger wolves.

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 (Serviceet al.2003-2012, Table 4). Because Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming each contain the vast majority of one of the original three core recovery areas, we determined the metapopulation structure would be best conserved by equally dividing the overall recovery goal between the three States (73 FR 10514, February 27, 2008, p. 10522). This approach made each State's responsibility for wolf conservation fair, consistent, and clear. It avoided any possible confusion that one State might assume the responsibility for maintaining the required number of wolves and wolf breeding pairs in a shared recovery area that was the responsibility of the adjacent State. State regulatory authorities and traditional management of resident game populations occur on a State-by-State basis. We determined that management by State would still maintain a sizable wolf population in each core recovery area because they each contain manmade or natural refugia from intensive human-caused mortality (e.g., wilderness and roadless areas, National Parks, and remote Federal lands) that provide a stronghold for wolf populations in each State. Recovery targets by State promote connectivity and genetic exchange between the metapopulation segments by avoiding management that focuses solely on wolf breeding pairs in relatively distinct core recovery areas. This approach also will increase the numbers of potential wolf breeding pairs in the GYA because it is shared by all three States. A large and well-distributed population within the GYA is especially important because it is the most isolated recovery segment within the NRM DPS (Oakleafet al.2006, p. 554; vonHoldtet al.2007, p. 19).

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 populationof at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves at the end of the year. To provide that these minimum levels are not compromised, Montana and Idaho each are required to manage for a population minimum of at least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves at the end of the year. So as not to risk relisting and to provide management flexibility, Montana and Idaho intend to manage well above these minimum required levels. In Wyoming, the State will maintain the entire minimum recovery goal of at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves outside of YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation. So as not to risk relisting and to provide management flexibility, Wyoming also intends to manage well above these minimum required levels. A sizable wolf population in YNP and in the Wind River Indian Reservation will further buffer the population so that minimum recovery goals are not compromised. Our recovery and post-delisting management goals were designed to provide the NRM gray wolf population with sufficient representation, resilience, and redundancy for their long term conservation. After evaluating all available information, we conclude that the best scientific and commercial information available indicates the population will remain viable following delisting if the recovery targets continue to be met.

Monitoring and Managing Recovery—In 1989, we formed an Interagency Wolf Working Group (Working Group) composed of Federal, State, and Tribal agency personnel (Bangs 1991, p. 7; Frittset al.1995, p. 109; Serviceet al.1989-2012, p. 1). The Working Group conducted four basic recovery tasks, in addition to the standard enforcement functions associated with the take of a listed species. These tasks were: (1) Monitor wolf distribution and numbers; (2) control wolves that attacked livestock by moving them, conducting other nonlethal measures, or by killing them (Bangset al.2006, p. 7); (3) conduct research and publish scientific publications on wolf relationships to ungulate prey, other carnivores and scavengers, livestock, and people; and (4) provide accurate science-based information to the public and mass media so that people could develop their opinions about wolves and wolf management from an informed perspective.

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 (Serviceet al.1989-2012, Table 4, Figure 1). Since the early 1980s, the Service and our cooperating partners have radio-collared and monitored approximately 2,000 wolves in the NRM region to assess population status, conduct research, and to reduce/resolve conflict with livestock. The Working Group's annual minimum population estimates represent the best scientific and commercial data available regarding minimum year-end NRM gray wolf population size and trends, as well as distributional and other information.

Recovery by State—At the end of calendar year 2000, the NRM population first met its overall numerical and distributional recovery goal of a minimum of 30 breeding pairs and more than 300 wolves well-distributed among Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming (68 FR 15804, April 1, 2003; Serviceet al.2012, Table 4). Because the recovery goal must be achieved for 3 consecutive years, the temporal element of recovery was not achieved until the end of 2002 when at least 663 wolves and at least 49 breeding pairs were present (Serviceet al.2012, Table 4). By the end of 2011, the NRM wolf population achieved its numerical and distributional recovery goal for 12 consecutive years, while the temporal portion of the recovery criterion has been met for 10 consecutive years (Serviceet al.2012, Table 4; 68 FR 15804, April 1, 2003; 71 FR 6634, February 8, 2006). By the end of 2011, the NRM gray wolf population included a minimum population estimate of 1,774 wolves (including at least: 653 in Montana; 746 in Idaho; 328 in Wyoming; 18 in Washington; and 29 in Oregon) in 109 breeding pairs (including at least: 39 in Montana; 40 in Idaho; 27 in Wyoming; 2 in Washington; and 1 in Oregon). Distribution at the end of 2011 is illustrated in Figure 2. Population trends through the end of 2011 are illustrated in Figure 3.

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