The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the Wyoming population of gray wolves is recovered and no longer warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Beginning September 30th, wolves in Wyoming will be managed by the state under an approved management plan, as they are in the states of Idaho and Montana.
“The return of the wolf to the Northern Rocky Mountains is a major success story, and reflects the remarkable work of States, Tribes, and our many partners to bring this iconic species back from the brink of extinction,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “The wolf population has remained healthy under state management in Idaho and Montana, and we’re confident that the Wyoming population will sustain its recovery under the management plan Wyoming will implement.”
The most recent official minimum population estimate shows that the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population contains more than 1,774 adult wolves and more than 109 breeding pairs. Most of the suitable habitat across the Northern Rocky Mountain region is now occupied and likely at, or above, long-term carrying capacity. This population has exceeded recovery goals for 10 consecutive years.
The Service will continue to monitor the delisted wolf populations in all three states for a minimum of five years to ensure that they continue to sustain their recovery, and retains authority to reinstate ESA protections at any time if circumstances warrant.
“Our primary goal, and that of the states, is to ensure that gray wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains remain healthy, giving future generations of Americans the chance to hear its howl echo across the area,” added Ashe. “No one, least of all Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, wants to see wolves back on the endangered species list. But that’s what will happen if recovery targets are not sustained.”
Wyoming has committed to meeting its statutory and regulatory standards by managing for a buffer above minimum management targets. The management framework adopted by the State is designed to maintain at least 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs within the State of Wyoming. This is the same management objective as was adopted by the States of Montana and Idaho.
The Service expects the Greater Yellowstone Area wolf population to maintain a long-term average of around 300 wolves, while the entire Northern Rocky Mountains Distinct Population Segment is expected to achieve a long-term average of around 1,000 wolves. These wolves represent a 400-mile southern range extension of a vast contiguous wolf population that numbers over 12,000 wolves in western Canada and about 65,000 wolves across all of Canada and Alaska.
In 2009, the Service published a final rule to remove ESA protections for gray wolves across the Northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment, with the exception of those in Wyoming. Wyoming was not included because the state’s management plan did not provide the necessary regulatory mechanisms to assure that gray wolf populations would be conserved if the protections of the ESA were removed. Subsequently, the Service and the State of Wyoming developed points of agreement that would promote management of a stable, sustainable population of wolves and allow management authority to be turned over to the state. Wyoming subsequently developed a wolf management plan and amended its state law and regulations to codify those protections.
With publication of this final rule, the northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves that includes all of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, the eastern third of Washington and Oregon, and a small corner of north-central Utah will be managed by state and tribal jurisdictions.
Today’s decision will take effect September 30th.
Biologists have determined that the vast majority of Wyoming’s wolf population and habitat is located in northwest Wyoming, where wolves will be managed as “trophy game” animals year-round. Trophy game status allows the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to regulate timing, methods, and numbers of wolves taken through regulated hunting and other methods such as control of wolves found to be depredating on livestock.
Existing Federal law prohibits hunting in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. No wolf hunting will occur in the John D.
Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, the National Elk Refuge, and the Wind River Reservation in 2012, although hunting could occur in these three areas in future years. Beginning October 1, the State of Wyoming has authorized a harvest of 52 wolves in other portions of northwestern Wyoming’s Trophy Area in 2012. Current information indicates only about ten percent of the Greater Yellowstone Area wolf population resides outside the Trophy Game Area in Wyoming, where they have been designated as predators and can be taken with very few restrictions.
The Endangered Species Act provides a critical safety net for America’s native fish, wildlife and plants. This landmark conservation law has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species across the nation and promoted the recovery of the gray wolf, the bald eagle and many other species.
Logo courtesy U.S Fish and Wildlife Service