[Federal Register Volume 74, Number 62 (Thursday, April 2, 2009)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 15070-15123]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E9-5981]

[[Page 15069]]


Part II

Department of the Interior


Fish and Wildlife Service


50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final Rule To Identify 
the Western Great Lakes Populations of Gray Wolves as a Distinct 
Population Segment; Final Rule To Identify the Northern Rocky Mountain 
Population of Gray Wolf as a Distinct Population Segment; and To Revise 
the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Final Rules

Federal Register / Vol. 74, No. 62 / Thursday, April 2, 2009 / Rules 
and Regulations

[[Page 15070]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[FWS-R3-ES-2008-0120; 92220-1113-000; ABC Code: C6]
RIN 1018-AW41

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final Rule To 
Identify the Western Great Lakes Populations of Gray Wolves as a 
Distinct Population Segment and To Revise the List of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service or USFWS) 
identify the Western Great Lakes (WGL) Distinct Population Segment 
(DPS) of the gray wolf (Canis lupus). The geographic extent of this DPS 
includes all of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan; the eastern half of 
North Dakota and South Dakota; the northern half of Iowa; the northern 
portions of Illinois and Indiana; and the northwestern portion of Ohio. 
We also revise the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife 
established under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act) 
by removing gray wolves within the WGL DPS. We are taking these actions 
because available data indicate that this DPS no longer meets the 
definitions of threatened or endangered under the Act. The threats have 
been reduced or eliminated, as evidenced by a population that is stable 
or increasing in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and greatly 
exceeds the numerical recovery criteria established in its recovery 
plan. Completed State wolf management plans will provide adequate 
protection and management of the WGL DPS after this revision of the 
listing. This final rule removes this DPS from the lists of Threatened 
and Endangered Wildlife, removes the currently designated critical 
habitat for the gray wolf in Minnesota and Michigan, and removes the 
current special regulations for gray wolves in Minnesota.
    On April 16, 2007, three parties filed a lawsuit against the U.S. 
Department of the Interior (Department) and the Service, challenging 
the Service's February 8, 2007 (72 FR 6052), identification and 
delisting of the WGL DPS. On September 29, 2008, the U.S. District 
Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the plaintiffs 
(Humane Society of the United States v. Kempthorne, No. 1:07-CV-00677 
(D.D.C.). In that ruling the court vacated and remanded the Service's 
application of the February 8, 2007 (72 FR 6052), final delisting rule 
for the WGL DPS of the gray wolf. On remand, the Service was directed 
to provide an explanation as to how simultaneously identifying and 
delisting a DPS is consistent with the Act's text, structure, policy 
objectives, legislative history, and any relevant judicial 
interpretations. This final rule addresses the September 29, 2008, 
court ruling.

DATES: This rule becomes effective on May 4, 2009.

ADDRESSES: The complete file for this rule is available for inspection, 
by appointment, during normal business hours at our Midwest Regional 
Office: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Building, 1 Federal 
Drive, Ft. Snelling, Minnesota 55111-4056. Call 612-713-5350 to make 
arrangements. The comments and materials we received during the comment 
period on the proposed rule also are available for public inspection 
and by appointment during normal business hours at this Regional Office 
and at our Ecological Services Field Offices in Bloomington, Minnesota 
(612-725-3548); New Frankin, Wisconsin (920-866-1717); and East 
Lansing, Michigan (517-351-2555). Call those offices to make 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura Ragan, 612-713-5350. Direct all 
questions or requests for additional information to: GRAY WOLF 
QUESTIONS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Building, 1 Federal 
Drive, Ft. Snelling, Minnesota 55111-4056. Additional information is 
also available on our World Wide Web site at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf. Individuals who are hearing-impaired or speech-impaired 
may call the Federal Relay Service at 1-800-877-8337 for TTY 



Biology and Ecology of Gray Wolves

    For a discussion of the biology and ecology of gray wolves and 
general recovery planning efforts, see the proposed WGL wolf rule 
published on March 27, 2006, (71 FR 15266-15305) and available on our 
World Wide Web site.

Recovery Criteria

    The 1978 Recovery Plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf (Recovery Plan) 
and the 1992 revised Recovery Plan (Revised Plan) contain the same two 
delisting criteria. The first delisting criterion states that the 
survival of the wolf in Minnesota must be assured. We, and the Eastern 
Timber Wolf Recovery Team (Peterson in litt. 1997, 1998, 1999a, 1999b), 
have concluded that this first delisting criterion remains valid. It 
addresses a need for reasonable assurances that future State, Tribal, 
and Federal wolf management and protection will maintain a viable 
recovered population of gray wolves within the borders of Minnesota for 
the foreseeable future.
    Although the Recovery Plan's recovery criteria predate the 
scientific field of conservation biology, the conservation principles 
of representation (conserving the genetic diversity of a taxon), 
resilience (the ability to withstand demographic and environmental 
variation), and redundancy (sufficient populations to provide a margin 
of safety) were incorporated into these criteria. Maintenance of the 
Minnesota wolf population is vital because the remaining genetic 
diversity of gray wolves in the eastern United States was carried by 
the several hundred wolves that survived in the State into the early 
1970s. The Recovery Team insisted that the remnant Minnesota wolf 
population be maintained and protected to achieve wolf recovery in the 
eastern United States. The successful growth of that remnant population 
has maintained and maximized the representation of that genetic 
diversity among gray wolves in the WGL DPS. Furthermore, the Recovery 
Plan established a planning goal of 1,250-1,400 animals for the 
Minnesota wolf population (USFWS 1992, p. 28), which would increase the 
likelihood of maintaining its genetic diversity over the long term. 
This large Minnesota wolf population also provides resiliency to reduce 
the adverse impacts of unpredictable demographic and environmental 
events. Furthermore, the Recovery Plan specifies a wolf population that 
is spread across about 40 percent of the State (Zones 1 through 4) 
(USFWS 1992, p. 28), adding a geographic component to the resiliency of 
the Minnesota wolf population.
    The second delisting criterion in the Recovery Plan states that at 
least one viable wolf population should be reestablished within the 
historical range of the eastern timber wolf outside of Minnesota and 
Isle Royale, Michigan. The second population enhances both the 
resiliency and redundancy of the recovery program. The Recovery Plan 
provides two options for reestablishing this second population. If it 
is an isolated population, that is, located

[[Page 15071]]

more than 100 miles (160 km) from the Minnesota wolf population, the 
second population should consist of at least 200 wolves for at least 5 
years (based upon late-winter population estimates) to be considered 
viable. Alternatively, if the second population is located within 100 
miles (160 km) of a self-sustaining wolf population (for example, the 
Minnesota wolf population), it would be considered viable if it 
maintained a minimum of 100 wolves for at least 5 years. Such a nearby 
second population would be viable at a smaller size, because it would 
exchange wolves with the Minnesota population (that is, they would 
function as a metapopulation), thereby bolstering the smaller second 
population genetically and numerically.
    The Recovery Plan does not specify where in the eastern United 
States the second population should be reestablished. Therefore, the 
second population could be located anywhere within the triangular 
Minnesota-Maine-Florida area covered by the 1978 Recovery Plan and the 
1992 Revised Recovery Plan, except on Isle Royale (Michigan) or within 
Minnesota. The 1992 Revised Recovery Plan retained potential gray wolf 
re-establishment areas in northern Wisconsin, the upper peninsula (UP) 
of Michigan, the Adirondack Forest Preserve of New York, a small area 
in eastern Maine, and a larger area of northwestern Maine and adjacent 
northern New Hampshire (USFWS 1992, pp. 56-58). Neither the 1978 nor 
the 1992 recovery criteria suggest that the restoration of the gray 
wolf throughout all or most of its historical range in the eastern 
United States, or to all of these potential re-establishment areas, is 
necessary to achieve recovery under the Act.
    In 1998, the Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Team clarified the 
application of the delisting criterion for the second population to the 
wolf population that had developed in northern Wisconsin and the 
adjacent UP. The Recovery Team recommended that the numerical delisting 
criterion for the Wisconsin-Michigan population will be achieved when 6 
consecutive late-winter wolf surveys document that the population 
equals or exceeds 100 wolves (excluding Isle Royale wolves) for the 5 
consecutive years between the 6 surveys (Peterson in litt. 1998). This 
second population is less than 200 miles from the Minnesota wolf 

Recovery of the Gray Wolf in the Western Great Lakes Area

Minnesota Recovery

    During the pre-1965 period of wolf bounties and legal public 
trapping, wolves persisted in the remote northeastern portion of 
Minnesota, but were eliminated from the rest of the State. Estimated 
numbers of Minnesota wolves before their listing under the Act in 1974 
include 450 to 700 in 1950-53 (Fuller et al. 1992, p. 43, based on data 
in Stenlund 1955, p. 19), 350 to 700 in 1963 (Cahalane 1964, p. 10), 
750 in 1970 (Leirfallom 1970, p. 11), 736 to 950 in 1971-72 (Fuller et 
al. 1992, p. 44), and 500 to 1,000 in 1973 (Mech and Rausch 1975, p 
85). Although these estimates were based upon different methodologies 
and are not directly comparable, each puts the pre-listing abundance of 
wolves in Minnesota at 1,000 or less. This was the only significant 
wolf population in the United States outside Alaska during those time-
    After the wolf was listed as endangered under the Act, the 
Minnesota population estimates increased (see Table 1 below). Mech 
estimated the population to be 1,000 to 1,200 in 1976 (USFWS 1978, pp. 
4, 50-52), and Berg and Kuehn (1982, p. 11) estimated that there were 
1,235 wolves in 138 packs in the winter of 1978-79. In 1988-89, the 
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) repeated the 1978-79 
survey and also used a second method to estimate wolf numbers in the 
State. The resulting independent estimates were 1,500 and 1,750 wolves 
in at least 233 packs; the lower number was derived by a method 
comparable to the 1978-79 survey (Fuller et al. 1992, pp. 50-51).
    During the winter of 1997-98, a statewide wolf population and 
distribution survey was repeated by MN DNR, using methods similar to 
those of the two previous surveys. Field staff of Federal, State, 
Tribal, and county land management agencies and wood products companies 
were queried to identify occupied wolf range in Minnesota. Data from 5 
concurrent radio telemetry studies tracking 36 packs, representative of 
the entire Minnesota wolf range, were used to determine average pack 
size and territory area. Those figures were then used to calculate a 
statewide estimate of wolf and pack numbers in the occupied range, with 
single (non-pack) wolves factored into the estimate (Berg and Benson 
1999, pp. 1-2).

  Table 1--Gray Wolf Winter Populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan (Excluding Isle Royale) From 1976
                                                  Through 2006
                      [Note that there are several years between the first three estimates]
                                                                                                       WI & MI
                           Year                               Minnesota     Wisconsin     Michigan      Total
1976.....................................................     1,000-1,200  ...........  ...........  ...........
1978-79..................................................           1,235  ...........  ...........  ...........
1988-89..................................................     1,500-1,750           31            3           34
1989-90..................................................  ..............           34           10           44
1990-91..................................................  ..............           40           17           57
1991-92..................................................  ..............           45           21           66
1992-93..................................................  ..............           40           30           70
1993-94..................................................  ..............           57           57          114
1994-95..................................................  ..............           83           80          163
1995-96..................................................  ..............           99          116          215
1996-97..................................................  ..............          148          113          261
1997-98..................................................           2,445          180          139          319
1998-99..................................................  ..............          205          169          374
1999-2000................................................  ..............          248          216          464
2000-01..................................................  ..............          257          249          506
2001-02..................................................  ..............          327          278          604
2002-03..................................................  ..............          335          321          656
2003-04..................................................           3,020          373          360          733
2004-05..................................................  ..............         *435          405          840

[[Page 15072]]

2005-06..................................................  ..............          465          434          899
* Previous estimate of 425 has been corrected, based on subsequent location of 5 packs missed during survey
  period (Wydeven et al. 2006, pp. 9-10).

    The 1997-98 survey concluded that approximately 2,445 wolves 
existed in about 385 packs in Minnesota during that winter period (90 
percent confidence interval from 1,995 to 2,905 wolves) (Berg and 
Benson 1999, p. 4). This figure indicated the continued growth of the 
Minnesota wolf population at an average rate of about 3.7 percent 
annually from 1970 through 1997-98. Between 1979 and 1989 the annual 
growth rate was about 3 percent, and it increased to between 4 and 5 
percent in the next decade (Berg and Benson 1999, 5, Fuller et al. 
1992, p. 51). As of the 1998 survey, the number of Minnesota wolves was 
approximately twice the planning goal for Minnesota, as specified in 
the Eastern Recovery Plan (USFWS 1992, p. 28).
    Minnesota DNR conducted another survey of the State's wolf 
population and range during the winter of 2003-04, again using similar 
methodology. That survey concluded that an estimated 3,020 wolves in 
485 packs occurred in Minnesota at that time (90 percent confidence 
interval for this estimate is 2,301 to 3,708 wolves). Due to the wide 
overlap in the confidence intervals for the 1997-98 and 2003-04 
surveys, the authors conclude that, although the population point 
estimate increased by about 24 percent over the 6 years between the 
surveys (about 3.5 percent annually), there was no statistically 
significant change in the State's wolf population during that period 
(Erb and Benson 2004, pp. 7 and 9).
    As wolves increased in abundance in Minnesota, they also expanded 
their distribution. During 1948-53, the major wolf range was estimated 
to be about 11,954 sq mi (31,080 sq km) (Stenlund 1955, p. 19). A 1970 
questionnaire survey resulted in an estimated wolf range of 14,769 sq 
mi (38,400 sq km) (calculated by Fuller et al. 1992, p. 43, from 
Leirfallom 1970). Fuller et al. (1992, p. 44), using data from Berg and 
Kuehn (1982), estimated that Minnesota primary wolf range included 
14,038 sq mi (36,500 sq km) during winter 1978-79. By 1982-83, pairs or 
breeding packs of wolves were estimated to occupy an area of 22,000 sq 
mi (57,050 sq km) in northern Minnesota (Mech et al. 1988, p. 86). That 
study also identified an additional 15,577 sq mi (40,500 sq km) of 
peripheral range, where habitat appeared suitable but no wolves or only 
lone wolves existed. The 1988-89 study produced an estimate of 23,165 
sq mi (60,200 sq km) as the contiguous wolf range at that time in 
Minnesota (Fuller et al. 1992, pp. 48-49; Berg and Benson 1999, p. 3, 
5), an increase of 65 percent over the primary range calculated for 
1978-79. The 1997-98 study concluded that the contiguous wolf range had 
expanded to 33,971 sq mi (88,325 sq km), a 47 percent increase in 9 
years (Berg and Benson 1999, p. 5). By that time the Minnesota wolf 
population was using most of the occupied and peripheral range 
identified by Mech et al. (1988, p. 86). The wolf population in 
Minnesota had recovered to the point that its contiguous range covered 
approximately 40 percent of the State during 1997-98. In contrast, the 
2003-04 survey failed to show a continuing expansion of wolf range in 
Minnesota, and any actual increase in wolf numbers since 1997-98 was 
attributed to increased wolf density within a stabilized range (Erb and 
Benson 2004, p. 7).
    Although Minnesota DNR does not conduct a formal wolf population 
survey annually, it includes the species in its annual carnivore track 
survey. This survey, standardized and operational since 1994, provides 
an annual index of abundance for several species of large carnivores by 
counting their tracks along 51 standardized survey routes in the 
northern portion of Minnesota. Based on these surveys, the wolf track 
indices for winter 2004-05 showed little change from the previous 
winter, and no statistically significant trends are apparent since 
1994. However, the data show some indication of an increase in wolf 
density (Erb 2005, p. 2, 5). Thus, the winter track survey results are 
consistent with a stable or slowly increasing wolf population in 
northern Minnesota over this 11-year period.

Wisconsin Recovery

    Wolves were considered to have been extirpated from Wisconsin by 
1960. No formal attempts were made to monitor the State's wolf 
population from 1960 until 1979. From 1960 through 1975, individual 
wolves and an occasional wolf pair were reported. There is no 
documentation, however, of any wolf reproduction occurring in 
Wisconsin, and the wolves that were reported may have been dispersing 
animals from Minnesota.
    Wolves are believed to have returned to Wisconsin in more 
substantial numbers around 1975, and the Wisconsin Department of 
Natural Resources (WI DNR) began wolf population monitoring in 1979-80 
and estimated a statewide population of 25 wolves at that time (Wydeven 
and Wiedenhoeft 2000, pp. 151, 159). This population remained 
relatively stable for several years, then declined slightly to 
approximately 15 to 19 wolves in the mid-1980s. In the late 1980s, the 
Wisconsin wolf population began an increase that has continued into 
2006 (Wydeven et al. 2006, p. 35).
    Wisconsin DNR intensively surveys its wolf population annually 
using a combination of aerial, ground, and satellite radio telemetry, 
complemented by snow tracking and wolf sign surveys (Wydeven et al. 
2006, pp. 4-5). Wolves are trapped from May through September and 
fitted with radio collars, with a goal of having at least one radio-
collared wolf in about half of the wolf packs in Wisconsin. Aerial 
locations are obtained from each functioning radio-collar about once 
per week, and pack territories are estimated and mapped from the 
movements of the individuals who exhibit localized patterns. From 
December through March, the pilots make special efforts to visually 
locate and count the individual wolves in each radio-tracked pack. Snow 
tracking is used to supplement the information gained from aerial 
sightings and to provide pack size estimates for packs lacking a radio-
collared wolf. Tracking is done by assigning survey blocks to trained 
trackers who then drive snow-covered roads in their blocks and follow 
all wolf tracks they encounter. Snowmobiles are used to locate wolf 
tracks in more remote areas with few roads. The results of the aerial 

[[Page 15073]]

ground surveys are carefully compared to properly separate packs and to 
avoid over-counting (Wydeven et al. 2006a, pp. 4-5). The number of 
wolves in each pack is estimated based on the aerial and ground 
observations made of the individual wolves in each pack over the 
    Because the monitoring methods focus on wolf packs, lone wolves are 
likely undercounted in Wisconsin. As a result, the annual population 
estimates are probably slight underestimates of the actual wolf 
population within the State during the late-winter period. Fuller 
(1989, p. 19) noted that lone wolves are estimated to compose from 2 to 
29 percent of the total population in the area. Also, these estimates 
are made at the low point of the annual wolf population cycle; the 
late-winter surveys produce an estimate of the wolf population at a 
time when most winter mortality has already occurred and before the 
birth of pups. Thus, Wisconsin wolf population estimates are 
conservative in two respects: They undercount lone wolves and the count 
is made at the annual low point of the population. This methodology is 
consistent with the recovery criteria established in the 1992 Recovery 
Plan, which established numerical criteria to be measured with data 
obtained by late-winter surveys.
    From mid-September 2005 through mid-April 2006, 43 radio collars 
were active on Wisconsin wolves, including 38 packs. An estimated 465 
to 502 wolves in 115 packs, including 16 to 17 wolves on Native 
American reservations, were in the State in early 2006, representing a 
7 percent increase from 2005 (Wydeven et al. 2006, pp. 1, 6).
    Wisconsin population estimates for 1985 through 2006 increased from 
15 to 465-502 wolves (see Table 1 above) and from 4 to 115 packs 
(Wydeven et al. 2006, pp. 1, 35). This represents an annual increase of 
21 percent through 2000, and an average annual increase of 11 percent 
for the most recent 6 years.
    In 1995, wolves were first documented in Jackson County, Wisconsin, 
well to the south of the northern Wisconsin area occupied by other 
Wisconsin wolf packs. The number of wolves in this central Wisconsin 
area has dramatically increased since that time. During the winter of 
2004-05, there were 53-56 wolves in 14 packs in the central forest wolf 
range (Zone 2 in the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan; WI DNR 1999, p. 
18) and an additional 17-19 wolves in 7 packs in the marginal habitat 
in Zone 3, located between Zone 1 (northern forest wolf range) and 
Zones 2 and 4 (Wydeven et al. 2006, pp. 6, 33).
    During the winter of 2002-03, 7 wolves were believed to be 
primarily occupying Native American reservation lands in Wisconsin 
(Wydeven et al. 2003, p. 9); this increased to 11 to 13 wolves in the 
winter of 2004-05 (Wydeven in litt. 2005) and 16-17 in 2005-06. The 
2005-06 animals consisted of 2 packs totaling 7 to 8 wolves on the Bad 
River Chippewa Reservation and a pack of 4 wolves on the Lac Courtes 
Oreilles Chippewa Reservation, both in northwestern Wisconsin. There 
also was a single pack of three wolves on the Lac du Flambeau 
Reservation and a two-wolf pack on the Menominee Reservation, in north-
central and northeastern Wisconsin, respectively (Wydeven et al. 2006, 
pp. 27, 28, 33). Additional wolves have spent some time on the Red 
Cliff Chippewa Reservation, the St. Croix Chippewa Reservation, and the 
Ho Chunk Reservation in the last few years. It is likely that the 
Potowatomi Reservation lands will also host wolves in the near future 
(Wydeven in litt. 2005). Of these reservations the Ho-Chunk, St. Croix 
Chippewa, and Potowatomi are composed mostly of scattered parcels of 
land, and are not likely to provide significant amounts of wolf 
    In 2002, wolf numbers in Wisconsin alone surpassed the Federal 
criterion for a second population, as identified in the 1992 Recovery 
Plan (i.e., 100 wolves for a minimum of 5 consecutive years, as 
measured by 6 consecutive late-winter counts). Furthermore, in 2004 
Wisconsin wolf numbers exceeded the Recovery Plan criterion of 200 
animals for 6 successive late-winter surveys for an isolated wolf 
population. The Wisconsin wolf population continues to increase, 
although the slower rates of increase seen since 2000 may be the first 
indications that the State's wolf population growth and geographic 
expansion are beginning to level off. Mladenoff et al. (1997, p. 47) 
and Wydeven et al. (1999, p. 49) estimated that occupancy of primary 
wolf habitat in Wisconsin would produce a wolf population of about 380 
animals in the northern forest area of the State plus an additional 20-
40 wolves in the central forest area. If wolves occupy secondary 
habitat (areas with a 10-50 percent probability of supporting a wolf 
pack) in the State, their estimated population could be 50 percent 
higher or more (Wydeven et al. 1999, p. 49) resulting in a statewide 
population of 600 or more wolves.

Michigan Recovery

    Wolves were extirpated from Michigan as a reproducing species long 
before they were listed as endangered in 1974. Prior to 1991, and 
excluding Isle Royale, the last known breeding population of wild 
Michigan wolves occurred in the mid-1950s. However, as wolves began to 
reoccupy northern Wisconsin, the Michigan Department of Natural 
Resources (MI DNR) began noting single wolves at various locations in 
the UP of Michigan. In 1989, a wolf pair was verified in the central 
UP, and it produced pups in 1991. Since that time, wolf packs have 
spread throughout the UP, with immigration occurring from Wisconsin on 
the west and possibly from Ontario on the east. They now are found in 
every county of the UP, with the possible exception of Keweenaw County 
(Huntzinger et al. 2005, p. 6).
    The MI DNR annually monitors the wolf population in the UP by 
intensive late-winter tracking surveys that focus on each pack. The UP 
is divided into seven monitoring zones, and specific surveyors are 
assigned to each zone. Pack locations are derived from previous 
surveys, citizen reports, and extensive ground and aerial tracking of 
radio-collared wolves. During the winter of 2004-05 at least 87 wolf 
packs were resident in the UP (Huntzinger et al. 2005, p. 6). A minimum 
of 40 percent of these packs had members with active radio-tracking 
collars during the winter of 2004-05 (Huntzinger et al. 2005, p. 6-7). 
Care is taken to avoid double-counting packs and individual wolves, and 
a variety of evidence is used to distinguish adjacent packs and 
accurately count their members. Surveys along the border of adjacent 
monitoring zones are coordinated to avoid double-counting of wolves and 
packs occupying those border areas. In areas with a high density of 
wolves, ground surveys by 4 to 6 surveyors with concurrent aerial 
tracking are used to accurately delineate territories of adjacent packs 
and count their members (Beyer et al. 2004, pp. 2-3, Huntzinger et al. 
2005, pp. 3-6; Potvin et al. 2005, p. 1661). As with Wisconsin, the 
Michigan surveys likely miss many lone wolves, thus underestimating the 
actual population.
    Annual surveys have documented minimum late-winter estimates of 
wolves occurring in the UP as increasing from 57 wolves in 1994 to 434 
in 91 packs in 2006 (see Table 1 above). Over the last 10 years the 
annualized rate of increase has been about 18 percent (Beyer et al. 
2006, p. 35; Huntzinger et al. 2005, p. 6; MI DNR

[[Page 15074]]

2006a; Roell in litt. 2006a). The rate of annual increase has varied 
from year to year during this period, but there appears to be two 
distinct phases of population growth, with relatively rapid growth 
(24.3 to 25.9 percent per year) from 1997 through 2000 and slower 
growth (11.6 to 15.5 percent from 2000 through 2005 and 7.2 percent in 
2006) since then. As with the Wisconsin wolves, the number of wolves in 
the Michigan UP wolf population by itself has surpassed the recovery 
criterion for a second population in the eastern United States (i.e., 
100 wolves for a minimum of 5 consecutive years, based on 6 late-winter 
estimates), as specified in the Federal Recovery Plan, since 2001. In 
addition, the UP numbers have now surpassed the Federal criterion for 
an isolated wolf population of 200 animals for 6 successive late-winter 
surveys (USFWS 1992, pp. 24-26).
    To date, no wolf packs are known to be primarily using tribal-owned 
lands in Michigan (Roell in litt. 2006b). Native American tribes in the 
UP of Michigan own small, scattered parcels of land. As such, no one 
tribal property would likely support a wolf pack. However, as wolves 
occur in all counties in the UP and range widely, tribal land is likely 
utilized periodically by wolves.
    The wolf population of Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, is not 
considered to be an important factor in the recovery or long-term 
survival of wolves in the WGL DPS. This is a small and isolated wolf 
population that probably has not had any contact with mainland wolf 
populations since its founding pair crossed the Lake Superior ice in 
the late 1940s (Peterson et al. 1998, p. 828). This wolf population 
lacks sufficient genetic uniqueness (Wayne et al. 1991, pp. 47-49), and 
due to the island's small size, cannot satisfy the discreteness 
criterion for a separate DPS. For these same reasons it will not make a 
significant numerical contribution to gray wolf recovery, although 
long-term research on this wolf population has added a great deal to 
our knowledge of the species. The wolf population on Isle Royale has 
ranged from 12 to 50 wolves since 1959, and was 30 wolves in the winter 
of 2005-06 (Peterson and Vucetich 2006, p. 6).
    Although there have been verified reports of wolf sightings in the 
Lower Peninsula of Michigan, resident breeding packs have not been 
confirmed there. In October 2004 the first gray wolf since 1910 was 
documented in the Lower Peninsula (LP). This wolf had been trapped and 
radio-collared by the MI DNR while it was a member of a central UP pack 
in late 2003. At some point it had moved to the LP and ultimately was 
killed by a trapper who believed it was a coyote (MI DNR 2004). Shortly 
after that, MI DNR biologists and conservation officers confirmed that 
two additional wolves were traveling together in Presque Isle County in 
the northern Lower Peninsula (NLP). A subsequent two-week survey was 
conducted in that area, but no additional evidence of wolf presence was 
found (Huntzinger et al. 2005, p. 35). Recognizing the likelihood that 
small numbers of gray wolves will eventually move into the Lower 
Peninsula and form persistent packs (Potvin 2003, pp. 29-30, Gehring 
and Potter 2005, p. 1242; Beyer et at. 2006, p. 35), MI DNR has begun a 
revision of its Wolf Management Plan in part to incorporate provisions 
for wolf management there.

Summary for Wisconsin and Michigan

    The two-State wolf population, excluding Isle Royale wolves, has 
exceeded 100 wolves since late-winter 1993-94 and has exceeded 200 
wolves since late-winter 1995-96. Therefore, the combined wolf 
population for Wisconsin and Michigan has exceeded the second 
population recovery goal of the 1992 Recovery Plan for a non-isolated 
wolf population since 1999. Furthermore, the two-State population has 
exceeded the recovery goal for an isolated second population since 

Other Areas in and Near the Western Great Lakes DPS

    As described earlier, the increasing wolf population in Minnesota 
and the accompanying expansion of wolf range westward and southwestward 
in the State have led to an increase in dispersing wolves that have 
been documented in North and South Dakota in recent years. No surveys 
have been conducted to document the number of wolves present in North 
Dakota or South Dakota. However, biologists who are familiar with 
wolves there generally agree that there are only occasional lone 
dispersers that appear primarily in the eastern portion of these 
States. There were reports of pups being seen in the Turtle Mountains 
of North Dakota, in 1994 (Collins in litt. 1998), an adult male wolf 
was shot near Devil's Lake, North Dakota in 2002, another adult male 
shot in Richland County in extreme southeastern North Dakota in 2003 
(Fain in litt. 2006), and a vehicle-killed adult male found near 
Sturgis, South Dakota, in 2006 (Larson in litt. 2006a). In contrast to 
the other South Dakota wolves of the last twenty-five years, this 
animal has been genetically identified as having come from the Greater 
Yellowstone area (Fain in litt. 2006). See the Delineating the WGL Gray 
Wolf DPS for a detailed discussion of movement of wolves.
    Wolf dispersal is expected to continue as wolves travel away from 
the more saturated habitats in the core recovery areas into areas where 
wolves are extremely sparse or absent. Unless they return to a core 
recovery population and join or start a pack there, they are unlikely 
to contribute to long-term maintenance of recovered wolf populations. 
Although it is possible for them to encounter a mature wolf of the 
opposite sex, to mate, and to reproduce outside the core wolf areas, 
the lack of large expanses of unfragmented public land make it unlikely 
that any wolf packs will persist in these areas, and this is a 
bottleneck that seriously impedes further expansion. The only exception 
is the NLP of Michigan, where several studies indicate that a 
persistent wolf population may develop (Gehring and Potter 2005, p. 
1242; Potvin 2003, 29-30), perhaps dependent on occasional to frequent 
immigration of UP wolves. However, currently existing wolf populations 
in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the UP of Michigan have already greatly 
exceeded the Federal recovery criteria and are not dependent on wolves 
or wolf populations from other areas of the WGL DPS to maintain these 
recovered numbers.

Previous Federal Action

    On April 1, 2003, we published a final rule revising the listing 
status of the gray wolf across most of the conterminous United States 
(68 FR 15804). Within that rule, we identified three distinct 
population segments (DPS) for the gray wolf. Gray wolves in the Western 
DPS and the Eastern DPS were reclassified from endangered to 
threatened, except where already classified as threatened or as an 
experimental population. Gray wolves in the Southwestern DPS retained 
their previous endangered or experimental population status. Three 
existing gray wolf experimental population designations were not 
affected by the April 1, 2003, final rule. We removed gray wolves from 
the lists of threatened and endangered wildlife in all or parts of 16 
southern and eastern States where the species historically did not 
occur. We also established a new special rule under section 4(d) of the 
Act for the threatened Western DPS to increase our ability to 
effectively manage wolf-human conflicts outside the two experimental 
population areas in the Western DPS. In addition, we established a 
second section 4(d) rule that applied provisions similar to those

[[Page 15075]]

previously in effect in Minnesota to most of the Eastern DPS. These two 
special rules were codified in 50 CFR 17.40(n) and (o), respectively.
    On January 31, 2005, and August 19, 2005, U.S. District Courts in 
Oregon and Vermont, respectively, ruled that the April 1, 2003, final 
rule violated the Act (Defenders of Wildlife v. Norton, 03-1348-JO, D. 
OR 2005; National Wildlife Federation v. Norton, 1:03-CV-340, D. VT. 
2005). The Courts' rulings invalidated the revisions to the gray wolf 
listing. Therefore, the status of gray wolves outside of Minnesota and 
outside of areas designated as nonessential experimental populations 
reverted back to endangered (as had been the case prior to the 2003 
reclassification). The courts also invalidated the three DPSs 
identified in the April 1, 2003, rule as well as the associated special 
    On March 27, 2006, we published a proposal (71 FR 15266-15305) to 
identify a WGL DPS of the gray wolf, to remove the WGL DPS from the 
protections of the Act, to remove designated critical habitat for the 
gray wolf in Minnesota and Michigan, and to remove special regulations 
for the gray wolf in Minnesota. The proposal was followed by a 90-day 
comment period, during which we held four public hearings on the 
    On February 8, 2007, we published a final rule identifying a WGL 
DPS of the gray wolf, removing the WGL DPS from the protections of the 
Act, removing designated critical habitat for the gray wolf in 
Minnesota and Michigan, and removing special regulations for the gray 
wolf in Minnesota (72 FR 6052).
    On April 16, 2007, three parties filed a lawsuit against the U.S. 
Department of the Interior (Department) and the Service, challenging 
the Service's February 8, 2007 (72 FR 6052), identification and 
delisting of the WGL DPS. The plaintiffs argued that the Service may 
not identify a DPS within a broader pre-existing listed entity for the 
purpose of delisting the DPS. Based on this argument, the U.S. District 
Court for the District of Columbia remanded and vacated the February 7, 
2008, WGL DPS final rule (72 FR 6052). The court found that the Service 
had made that decision based on its interpretation that the plain 
meaning of the ESA authorizes the Service to identify and delist a DPS 
within an already-listed entity. The court disagreed, and concluded 
that the Act is ambiguous as to whether the Service has this authority. 
The court accordingly remanded the final rule so that the Service can 
provide a reasoned explanation of how its interpretation is consistent 
with the text, structure, legislative history, judicial 
interpretations, and policy objectives of the Act (Humane Society of 
the United States v. Kempthorne, Civ. No. 07-0677, 2008 U.S. Dist. 
LEXIS 74495 (D.D.C. Sept. 29, 2008) (J. Friedman).
    On December 11, 2008, we published a notice reinstating protections 
for the gray wolf in the western Great Lakes and northern Rocky 
Mountains pursuant to court-orders (73 FR 75356).
    Please refer to the March 27, 2006, (71 FR 15266-15305) proposed 
rule for further information on previous Federal actions.

Issues on Remand

    In an Opinion dated September 29, 2008, the United States District 
Court for the District of Columbia vacated the final rule (72 FR 6052) 
(Feb. 8, 2007) identifying the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population 
Segment of gray wolf and delisting that DPS. The Humane Society of the 
United States v. Kempthorne, Civ. No. 07-0677, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 
74495 (D.D.C. Sept. 29, 2008) (J. Friedman). Judge Friedman remanded 
the matter to the Secretary to allow the agency to ``bring its 
expertise and experience to bear on the question of whether the Act 
permits it to use the DPS tool in the fashion it has proposed.'' Id. at 
*40. Judge Friedman instructed that the agency must explain how the 
agency's interpretation of the statute conforms to the text, structure, 
and legislative history of the ESA; how the agency's interpretation is 
consistent with judicial interpretations of the Act, if any; and how 
the agency's interpretation serves the Act's policy objectives. Id. In 
so doing, Judge Friedman did not find that the Service could not 
utilize the DPS tool to simultaneously identify and delist a DPS. 
Instead, Judge Friedman found that the record lacked an explanation on 
this point to which he could defer under Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. 
Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), and 
afforded the agency an opportunity to respond.
    While the Service acknowledges that the ESA is arguably ambiguous 
on the ``precise question'' posed by the court, it notes that the 
court's question does not accurately describe what we did in the Final 
Rule. What we actually did, under the precise language of the Act, was 
to determine, pursuant to section 4(a)(1), that gray wolves in the 
Western Great Lakes area constituted a DPS and that the DPS was neither 
endangered nor threatened, and then revised the List of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife, pursuant to section 4(c)(1), to reflect those 
determinations. Our conclusion is that we had clear authority to make 
the determinations and the revisions. We did not delist a previously 
unlisted species; rather, we revised the existing listing of a species 
(the gray wolf in the lower 48 States) to reflect a determination that 
a sub-part of that species (the Western Great Lakes DPS) was healthy 
enough that it no longer needed the ESA's protections. Our authority to 
make these determinations and to revise the list accordingly is found 
in the precise language of the ESA. Moreover, even if that authority 
was not clear, our interpretation of this authority to make 
determinations under section 4(a)(1) and to revise the endangered and 
threatened species list to reflect those determinations under section 
4(c)(1) is reasonable and fully consistent with the ESA's text 
structure, legislative history, relevant judicial interpretations, and 
policy objectives.
    By vacating the previous final rule and remanding the rulemaking to 
the Service, the court required the Service to make a new final 
determination on the March 27, 2006 proposed rule (71 FR 15266) on 
which the vacated final rule was based. In that proposed rule, the 
Service provided public notice of its consideration of identifying the 
Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment of gray wolves and to 
remove that DPS from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. At 
that time, the Service requested public comments on the proposal and 
received 360 comments addressing a wide range of issues, including but 
not limited to the Service's use of the DPS tool in the manner 
proposed. Comments were received from 40 identifiable states, 5 foreign 
countries, 19 preservation and conservation organizations, 16 
agricultural and livestock organizations, 249 private individuals, and 
6 Native American governments or organizations. All of these comments 
were given meaningful consideration in the course of the Secretary 
promulgating this final rule.
    This final rule constitutes a new final determination on the March 
27, 2006 proposed rule. It is also substantially similar to the vacated 
final rule in form and substance, including the biological and 
ecological basis for its conclusions. This final rule differs in that 
it contains a section entitled ``Issues on Remand'' that represents the 
Secretary's response to the issues raised by the Court, in consultation 
with the Department of the Interior's Solicitor's Office. This section 
of the final rule merely addresses the narrow legal issue within the 
agency's expertise and experience--namely, whether the Secretary may 
simultaneously identify and delist a currently listed species. The 

[[Page 15076]]

entitled Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment Policy Overview 
responds to the court's question regarding the agency's past practice 
and use of DPSs.
    Before issuing this final rule, we verified that no new scientific 
data exist that would alter our previous analysis of the relevant facts 
that serve as the basis for the Secretary's decision to identify the 
Western Great Lakes DPS and the Secretary's conclusion that the Western 
Great Lakes DPS should be removed from the list of threatened and 
endangered species because it has recovered and no longer meets the 
criteria for remaining on the list. Note that we did examine updated 
monitoring data and the final Michigan plan and determined that this 
new data merely supplements our existing record. The Service is simply 
responding to the narrow legal issues raised by the Court. 
Consequently, Section 553(b)(3)(B) of the Administrative Procedure Act 
(APA) does not require an additional period of public notice and 
    We consulted with the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior 
to address the issue in Judge Friedman's opinion that the agency must 
explain how our interpretation of the statute conforms to the text, 
structure, and legislative history of the ESA; is consistent with 
judicial interpretations of the Act, if any; and serves the Act's 
policy objectives. On December 12, 2008, a formal opinion was issued by 
the Solicitor, ``U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Authority Under Section 
4(c)(1) of the Endangered Species Act to Revise Lists of Endangered and 
Threatened Species to `Reflect Recent Determinations' '' (U.S. DOI 
2008), which fully addresses these issues. The Service fully agrees 
with the analysis and conclusions set out in the Solicitor's opinion. 
This action is consistent with the opinion. The complete text of the 
Solicitor's opinion can be found at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/.

Geographical Area of the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population 

    The geographical area of the WGL DPS is shown in Figure 1, below, 
and is described as all of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan; the 
portion of North Dakota north and east of the Missouri River upstream 
to Lake Sakakawea and east of the centerline of Highway 83 from Lake 
Sakakawea to the Canadian border; the portion of South Dakota north and 
east of the Missouri River; the portions of Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana 
north of the centerline of Interstate Highway 80; and the portion of 
Ohio north of the centerline of Interstate Highway 80 and west of the 
Maumee River at Toledo.

[[Page 15077]]



Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment Policy Overview

    Pursuant to the Act, we consider if information is sufficient to 
indicate that listing, reclassifying, or delisting any species, 
subspecies, or, for vertebrates, any DPS of these taxa may be 
warranted. To interpret and implement the DPS provision of the Act and 
congressional guidance, the Service and the National Marine Fisheries 
Service (NMFS) published a policy regarding the identification of 
distinct vertebrate population segments under the Act (61 FR 4722, 
February 7, 1996). Under this policy, two factors are considered in a 
decision regarding the potential identification of a DPS and then a 
final factor is considered regarding the listing, reclassification, or 
delisting of the DPS. The first two factors determine whether the 
population segment is a valid DPS--(1) discreteness of the population 
segment in relation to the remainder of the taxon, and (2) the 
significance of the population segment to the taxon to which it 
belongs. If a population meets both tests, it can be identified as a 
DPS. Then the third factor, the population segment's conservation 
status, is evaluated in relation to the Act's standards for listing, 
delisting, or reclassification (i.e., is the DPS endangered or 

Agency's Past Practice and History of Using DPSs

    Of the over 370 native vertebrate ``species'' listed under the Act, 
77 are listed as less than an entire taxonomic species or subspecies 
(henceforth referred to as populations) under one of several 
authorities including the DPS language in the definition of 
``species''. Of these 77 listed populations, 32 predate the 1996 DPS 
policy (61 FR 4722); therefore, the final listing determinations for 
these populations did not include formal DPS analyses per the 1996 DPS 
policy. Specifically, the 77 populations encompass 51 different species 
or subspecies. During the history of the Act, the Service and NMFS have 
taken actions with respect

[[Page 15078]]

to populations in 98 listing, reclassification, and delisting actions. 
The majority of those actions identified a classification other than a 
taxonomically recognized species or subspecies at the time of listing. 
In several instances, however, the agencies have identified a DPS and, 
as appropriate, revised the list of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife 
in a single action. For example, we (1) established a DPS of the 
grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) for the Greater Yellowstone Area 
and surrounding area, within the existing listing of the grizzly bear 
in the lower 48 States, and removed this DPS from the List of 
Threatened and Endangered Wildlife (March 29, 2007; 72 FR 14865); (2) 
established two DPSs of the Columbian white-tailed deer (Odocoileus 
virginianus leucurus): the Douglas County DPS and the Columbia River 
DPS; and removed the Douglas County DPS from the List of Threatened and 
Endangered Wildlife (July 24, 2003; 68 FR 43647); (3) removed the brown 
pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) in the Southeastern United States from 
the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and continued to 
identify the brown pelican as endangered throughout the remainder of 
its range (February 4, 1985; 50 FR 4938); (4) identified the American 
crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) in Florida as a DPS within the existing 
endangered listing of the American crocodile in the United States and 
reclassified the Florida DPS from endangered to threatened (March 20, 
2007; 71 FR 13027); and (5) amended the List of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife and Plants by revising the entry for the gray whale 
(Eschrichtius robustus) to remove the eastern North Pacific population 
from the List while retaining the western North Pacific population as 
endangered (June 16, 1994; 59 FR 31094)). We also proposed in 2000 to 
identify four DPSs within the existing listing of the gray wolf in the 
lower 48 States and to reclassify three of the DPSs from endangered to 
threatened (July 13, 2000; 65 FR 43450). As described above under 
``Previous Federal Action,'' the final rule we issued in 2003 
identified three gray wolf DPSs and reclassified two of the DPSs from 
endangered to threatened (April 1, 2003; 68 FR 15804). Although courts 
subsequently invalidated these DPSs, they did not question the 
Service's authority to identify and reclassify DPSs within a larger 
pre-existing listing. Identifying and delisting the Western Great Lakes 
DPS of gray wolves is consistent with the Service's past practice and 
does not represent a change in agency position.

Analysis for Discreteness

    Under our Policy Regarding the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate 
Population Segments, a population segment of a vertebrate taxon may be 
considered discrete if it satisfies either of the following 
conditions--(1) it is markedly separated from other populations of the 
same taxon as a consequence of physical, physiological, ecological, or 
behavioral factors (quantitative measures of genetic or morphological 
discontinuity may provide evidence of this separation); or (2) it is 
delimited by international governmental boundaries within which 
differences in control of exploitation, management of habitat, 
conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms exist that are 
significant in light of section 4(a)(1)(D) of the Act.
    Markedly Separated From Other Populations of the Taxon--The western 
boundary of the WGL DPS is approximately 400 mi (644 km) from the 
nearest known wolf packs in Wyoming and Montana. The distance between 
those western packs and the nearest packs within the WGL DPS is nearly 
600 miles (966 km). The area between Minnesota packs and Northern Rocky 
Mountain packs largely consists of unsuitable habitat, with only 
scattered islands of possibly suitable habitat, such as the Black Hills 
of eastern Wyoming and western South Dakota. There are no known gray 
wolf populations to the south or east of the WGL DPS.
    As discussed in the previous section, gray wolves are known to 
disperse over vast distances, but straight line documented dispersals 
of 400 mi (644 km) or more are very rare. While we cannot rule out the 
possibility of a Midwest wolf traveling 600 miles or more and joining 
or establishing a pack in the Northern Rockies, such a movement has not 
been documented and is expected to happen very infrequently, if at all. 
Similar movements from the NRM wolf population into the WGL DPS are 
unknown and are expected to happen infrequently. The 2006 Sturgis, 
South Dakota, wolf is the closest that an NRM wolf has come to entering 
the WGL DPS (Fain in litt. 2006). However, the Sturgis wolf still had 
over 300 mi (500 km) to travel before it would encounter the nearest 
WGL DPS wolf pack. As the discreteness criterion requires that the DPS 
be ``markedly separated'' from other populations of the taxon rather 
than requiring complete isolation, this high degree of physical 
separation between the Western Great Lakes and the Northern Rocky 
Mountains satisfies the discreteness criterion. Similarly, we feel it 
is unlikely for wolves to cross the eastern boundary into the 
Laurentian Mixed Habitat Province of New York, Pennsylvania, and New 
England due to inhospitable conditions.
    Delimited by International Boundaries with Significant Management 
Differences Between the U.S. and Canada--This border has been used as 
the northern boundary of the listed entity since gray wolves were 
reclassified in the 48 States and Mexico in 1978. There remain 
significant cross-border differences in exploitation, management, 
conservation status, and regulatory mechanisms. More than 50,000 wolves 
exist in Canada, where suitable habitat is abundant, human harvest of 
wolves is common, Federal protection is absent, and provincial 
regulations provide widely varying levels of protection. In general, 
Canadian wolf populations are sufficiently large and healthy so that 
harvest and population regulation, rather than protection and close 
monitoring, is the management focus. There are an estimated 4,000 
wolves in Manitoba (Manitoba Conservation undated). Hunting is allowed 
nearly province-wide, including in those provincial hunting zones 
adjoining northwestern Minnesota, with a current season that runs from 
August 28, 2006, through March 31, 2007 (Manitoba Conservation 2006a). 
Trapping wolves is allowed province-wide except in and immediately 
around Riding Mountain National Park (southwestern Manitoba), with a 
current season running from October 14, 2006, through February 28 or 
March 31, 2007 (varies with trapping zone) (Manitoba Conservation 
2006b). The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources estimates there are 
8,850 wolves in the province, based on prey composition and abundance, 
topography, and climate. Wolf numbers in most parts of the province are 
believed to be stable or increasing since about 1993 (Ontario MNR 
2005a, pp. 7-9). In 2005 Ontario limited hunting and trapping of wolves 
by closing the season from April 1 through September 14 in central and 
northern Ontario (Ontario MNR 2005b). In southern Ontario (the portion 
of the province that is adjacent to the WGL DPS), wolf hunting and 
trapping is permitted year around except within, and immediately 
around, Algonquin Provincial Park in southeastern Ontario (north of 
Lake Ontario) where seasons are closed all year (Ontario MNR 2005c).
    We, therefore, conclude that the above-described WGL DPS boundary 
satisfies both conditions that can be used to demonstrate discreteness 
of a potential DPS.

[[Page 15079]]

Analysis for Significance

    If we determine that a population segment is discrete, we next 
consider available scientific evidence of its significance to the taxon 
to which it belongs. Our DPS policy states that this consideration may 
include, but is not limited to, the following--(1) persistence of the 
discrete population segment in an ecological setting unusual or unique 
for the taxon; (2) evidence that loss of the discrete population 
segment would result in a significant gap in the range of the taxon; 
(3) evidence that the discrete population segment represents the only 
surviving natural occurrence of a taxon that may be more abundant 
elsewhere as an introduced population outside its historic range; and/
or (4) evidence that the discrete population segment differs markedly 
from other populations of the species in its genetic characteristics. 
Below we address Factors 1 and 2. Factors 3 and 4 do not apply to the 
WGL wolf DPS and thus are not included in our analysis for 
    Unusual or Unique Ecological Setting--Wolves within the WGL DPS 
occupy the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, a biotic province that is 
transitional between the boreal forest and the broadleaf deciduous 
forest. Laurentian Mixed Forest consists of mixed conifer-deciduous 
stands, pure deciduous forest on favorable sites, and pure coniferous 
forest on less favorable sites. Within the United States this biotic 
province occurs across northeastern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, the 
UP, and the NLP, as well as the eastern half of Maine, and portions of 
New York and Pennsylvania (Bailey 1995). In the Midwest, current wolf 
distribution closely matches this province, except for the NLP and the 
Door Peninsula of Wisconsin, where wolf packs currently are absent. To 
the best of our knowledge, wolf packs currently do not inhabit the New 
England portions of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, nor do we 
expect wolves from the WGL DPS to move into them due to the vast 
distance between these two areas and inhospitable terrain they would 
need to traverse. Therefore, WGL wolves represent the only wolf packs 
in the United States occupying this province. Furthermore, WGL wolves 
represent the only use by gray wolf packs of any form of eastern 
coniferous or eastern mixed coniferous-broadleaf forest in the United 
    Significant Gap in the Range of the Taxon--This factor may be 
primarily of value when considering the initial listing of a taxon 
under the Act to prevent the development of a major gap in a taxon's 
range (``the loss of the discrete population segment would result in a 
significant gap in the range of the taxon'' (61 FR 4725)). However, 
this successful restoration of a viable wolf metapopulation to large 
parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan has filled a significant 
gap in the historical range of the wolf in the United States, and it 
provides an important extension of the range of the North American gray 
wolf population. The recovered Western Great Lakes wolf metapopulation 
is the only wolf population in the conterminous States east of the 
Rocky Mountains except for the red wolves being restored along the 
Atlantic Coast and currently holds about 80 percent of North American 
gray wolves that occur south of Canada.

Discrete Vertebrate Population Segment Conclusion

    We conclude, based on our review of the best available scientific 
data, that the WGL DPS is discrete from other wolf populations as a 
result of physical separation and the international border with Canada. 
The DPS is significant to the taxon to which it belongs because it 
contains the only populations of the species in the Laurentian Mixed 
Forest Biotic Province in the United States, it contains a wolf 
metapopulation that fills a large gap in the historical range of the 
taxon; and it contains the majority of gray wolves in the conterminous 
States. Therefore, we have determined that this population segment of 
wolves satisfies the discreteness and significance criteria required to 
identify it as a DPS. The evaluation of the appropriate conservation 
status for the WGL DPS is found below.

Delineating the WGL Gray Wolf DPS

    In contrast to a species or a subspecies, a DPS is a biological 
population that is delineated by a boundary that is based on something 
other than established taxonomic distinctions. Therefore, the starting 
point for delineating a DPS is the biological population or 
metapopulation, and a geographical delineation of the DPS must 
reasonably represent the population/metapopulation and its biological 
    To delineate the boundary of the WGL DPS, we considered the current 
distribution of wolves in the Midwest and the characteristic movements 
of those wolves and of gray wolves elsewhere. We examined the available 
scientific data on long-distance movements, including long-distance 
movements followed by return movements to the vicinity of the natal 
pack. We concluded that wolf behavior and the nature of wolf 
populations require that we include within the area of the DPS some 
subset of known long-distance movement locations. However, as described 
below, wolf biology and common sense argue against the inclusion within 
the DPS boundary of all known or potential long-distance movements.
    This analysis resulted in a WGL DPS boundary that is shown in 
Figure 1. As discussed below, this DPS has been delineated to include 
the core recovered wolf population plus a wolf movement zone around the 
core wolf populations. This geographic delineation is not intended to 
include all areas to which wolves have moved from the Great Lakes 
population. Rather, it includes the area currently occupied by wolf 
packs in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan; the nearby areas in these 
States, including the Northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, in which 
wolf packs may become established in the foreseeable future; and a 
surrounding area into which Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan wolves 
occasionally move but where persistent packs are not expected to be 
established because suitable habitat is rare and exists only as small 
patches. The area surrounding the core wolf populations includes the 
locations of most known dispersers from the core populations, 
especially the shorter and medium-distance movements from which wolves 
are most likely to return to the core areas and contribute to the 
recovered wolf population.
    The WGL areas that are regularly occupied by wolf packs are well 
documented in Minnesota (Erb and Benson 2004, p. 12, fig. 3), Wisconsin 
(Wydeven et al. 2006, p. 33, fig. 1), and the UP of Michigan 
(Huntzinger et al. 2005, pp. 25-27, figs. 4-6). Wolves have 
successfully colonized most, perhaps all, suitable habitat in 
Minnesota. Minnesota data from the winter of 2003-04 indicate that wolf 
numbers and density either have continued to increase slowly or have 
stabilized since 1997-98, and there was no expansion of occupied range 
in the State (Erb and Benson 2004, p. 7). Wisconsin wolves now occupy 
most habitat areas believed to have a high probability of wolf 
occurrence except for some areas of northeastern Wisconsin, and the 
State's wolf population continues to annually increase in numbers and, 
to a lesser degree, in area (Wydeven et al. 2006, p. 33). The UP of 
Michigan has wolf packs throughout, although the current population 
remains well below the estimated biological carrying capacity 
(Mladenoff et al. 1997, pp. 25-27, and

[[Page 15080]]

figs. 5 & 7) and will likely continue to increase in numbers in the UP 
for at least several more years.
    When delineating the WGL DPS, we had to consider the high degree of 
mobility shown by wolves. The dispersal of wolves from their natal 
packs and territories is a normal and important behavioral attribute of 
the species that facilitates the formation of new packs, the occupancy 
of vacant territories, and the expansion of occupied range by the 
``colonization'' of vacant habitat. Data on wolf dispersal rates from 
numerous North American studies (summarized in Fuller et al. 2003, p. 
179, Table. 6.6; Boyd and Pletscher 1999, p. 1102, Table 6) show 
dispersal rates of 13 to 48 percent of the individuals in a pack. 
Sometimes the movements are temporary, and the wolf returns to a 
location in or near its natal territory. In some cases a wolf may 
continue its movement for scores or even hundreds of miles until it 
locates suitable habitat, where it may establish a territory or join an 
existing pack. In other cases, a wolf is found dead at a distance from 
its original territory, leaving unanswered the questions of how far it 
would have gone and whether it eventually would have returned to its 
natal area or population.
    Minnesota--The current record for a documented extra-territorial 
movement by a gray wolf in North America is held by a Minnesota wolf 
that moved a minimum (that is, the straight line distance from known 
starting point to most distant point) of at least 550 mi (886 km) 
northwest into Saskatchewan (Fritts 1983, p. 166-167). Nineteen other 
primarily Minnesota movements summarized by Mech (in litt. 2005) 
averaged 154 mi (248 km). Their minimum distance of travel ranged from 
32-532 mi (53-886 km) with the minimum dispersal distance shown by 
known returning wolves ranging from 54 mi (90 km) to 307 mi (494 km).
    Wisconsin--In 2004, a wolf tagged in Michigan was killed by a 
vehicle in Rusk County in northwestern Wisconsin, 295 miles (475 km) 
west of his original capture location in the eastern UP (Wydeven et al. 
2005b, p. 4). A similar distance (298 mi, 480 km) was traveled by a 
north-central Wisconsin yearling female wolf that moved to the Rainy 
Lake region of Ontario during 1988-89 (Wydeven et al. 1995, p. 149).
    Michigan--Drummer et al. (2002, pp. 14-15) reported 10 long-
distance dispersal events involving UP wolves. One of these wolves 
moved to north-central Missouri and another to southeastern Wisconsin, 
both beyond the core wolf areas in the WGL. The average straight-line 
distance traveled by those two wolves was 377 mi (608 km), while the 
average straight-line distance for all 10 of these wolves was 232 mi 
(373 km). Their straight-line distances ranged from 41 to 468 mi (66 to 
753 km).
    Illinois and Indiana--The December 2002, Marshall County, Illinois, 
wolf likely dispersed from the Wisconsin wolf population, nearly 200 
miles (322 km) to the north (Great Lakes Directory 2003). The Randolph 
County, Indiana wolf had traveled a minimum distance of at least 420 
miles (676 km) to get around Lake Michigan from its central Wisconsin 
birthplace; it likely traveled much farther than that unless it went 
through the city or suburbs of Chicago (Wydeven et al. 2004, pp. 10-
11). The Pike County, Illinois, wolf that was shot in late 2005 was 
about 300 mi (180 km) from the nearest wolf packs in central Wisconsin.
    North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska--Licht and Fritts (1994, 
p. 77) tabulated seven gray wolves found dead in North Dakota and South 
Dakota from 1981 through 1992 that are believed to have originated from 
Minnesota, based on skull morphometrics. Although none of these wolves 
were marked or radio-tracked, making it impossible to determine the 
point of initiation of their journey, a minimum travel distance for the 
seven of Minnesota origin can be determined from the nearest wolf 
breeding range in Minnesota. For the seven, the average distance to the 
nearest wolf breeding range was 160 mi (257 km) and ranged from 29 to 
329 mi (46 to 530 km). One of these seven wolves moved west of the 
Missouri River before it died.
    Genetic analysis of a wolf killed in Harding County, in extreme 
northwestern South Dakota, in 2001 indicated that it originated from 
the Minnesota--Wisconsin--Michigan wolf populations (Fain in litt. 
2006). The straight-line travel distance to the nearest Minnesota wolf 
pack is nearly 400 miles (644 km).
    The wolf from the Greater Yellowstone area that was killed by a 
vehicle on Interstate 90 near Sturgis, SD, in March of 2006 traveled a 
minimum straight-line distance of about 270 mi (435 km) from the 
nearest known Greater Yellowstone pack before it died (USFWS et al. 
2006, in USFWS Program Report, Figure 1).
    A large canid was shot by a Boyd County, Nebraska, rancher in late 
1994 or early 1995, likely after crossing the frozen Missouri River 
from South Dakota (Anschutz in litt. 2006, Jobman in litt. 1995). It 
was determined to be a wolf that originated from the Great Lakes wolf 
populations (Fain in litt. 2006), whose nearest pack would have been 
about 300 mi (480 km) away. A wolf illegally killed near Spalding, 
Nebraska, in December of 2002 also originated from the Minnesota--
Wisconsin--Michigan wolf population, as determined by genetic analysis 
(Anschutz in litt. 2003, Fain in litt. 2006). The nearest Minnesota 
wolf pack is nearly 350 miles (563 km) from this location.
    Other notable extra-territorial movements--Notable are several 
wolves whose extra-territorial movements were radio-tracked in 
sufficient detail to provide insight into their actual travel routes 
and total travel distances for each trek, rather than only documenting 
straight-line distance from beginning to end-point. Merrill and Mech 
(2000, pp. 429-431) reported on four such Minnesota wolves with 
documented travel distances ranging from 305 to 2,641 mi (490 to 4,251 
km) and an average travel route length of 988 mi (1590 km). Wydeven 
(1994, pp. 20-22) described a Wisconsin wolf that moved from 
northwestern Wisconsin to the northern suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota, 
for 2 weeks (apparently not seen or reported to authorities by the 
local residents), then moved back to north-central Wisconsin. The total 
travel distance was 278 mi (447km) from her natal pack into Minnesota 
and on to the north-central Wisconsin location where she settled down.
    While investigating the origins of Scandinavian wolf populations, 
Linnell et al. (2005, p. 387) compiled gray wolf dispersal data from 21 
published studies, including many cited separately here. Twenty-two of 
298 compiled dispersals (7.4 percent) were over 300 km (186 mi). Eleven 
dispersals (3.7 percent) were over 500 km (311 mi). Because of the 
likelihood that many long-distance dispersers are never reported, they 
conclude that the proportion of long-distance dispersers is probably 
severely underestimated.
    From these extra-territorial movement records we conclude that gray 
wolf movements of over 200 miles (320 km) straight-line distance have 
been documented on numerous occasions, while shorter distance movements 
are more frequent. Movements of 300 miles (480 km) straight-line 
distance or more are less common, but include one Minnesota wolf that 
journeyed a straight-line distance of 300 mi (480 km) and a known 
minimum travel distance of 2,550 mi (4,251 km) before it reversed 
direction, as determined by its satellite-tracked collar. This wolf 
returned to a spot only 24 mi (40 km) from its natal territory (Merrill 
and Mech 2000, p. 430). While much longer movements

[[Page 15081]]

have been documented, including some by midwestern wolves, return 
movements to the vicinity of natal territories have not been documented 
for extra-territorial movements beyond 300 mi (480 km).
    Based on these extra-territorial movement data, we conclude that 
affiliation with the midwestern wolf population has diminished and is 
essentially lost when dispersal takes a Midwest wolf a distance of 250 
to 300 miles (400 to 480 km) beyond the outer edge of the areas that 
are largely continuously occupied by wolf packs. Although some WGL 
wolves will move beyond this distance, available data indicate that 
longer distance dispersers are unlikely to return to their natal 
population. Therefore, they have lost their functional connection with 
and potential conservation value to, the WGL wolf population.
    Wolves moving substantial distances outward from the core areas of 
Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan will encounter landscape features 
that are at least partial barriers to further wolf movement, and that 
may--if crossed--impede attempts of wolves to return toward the WGL 
core areas. If such partial barriers are in a location that has 
separate utility in delineating the biological extent of a wolf 
population, they can and should be used to delineate the DPS boundary. 
Such landscape features are the Missouri River in North Dakota and 
downstream to Omaha, Nebraska, and Interstate Highway 80 from Omaha 
eastward through Illinois, Indiana, and into Ohio, ending where this 
highway crosses the Maumee River in Toledo, Ohio. We do not believe 
these are absolute barriers to wolf movement. There is evidence that 
several Minnesota-origin wolves have crossed the Missouri River (Licht 
and Fritts 1994, pp. 75 & 77, Fig. 1 and Table 1; Anschutz in litt. 
2003, 2006) and some Midwest wolves have crossed interstate highways 
(Merrill and Mech 2000, p. 430). There is also evidence that some 
wolves are hesitant to cross highways, (Whittington et al. 2004, pp. 7, 
9; Wydeven et al. 2005b, p. 5; but see Blanco et al. 2005, pp. 315-316, 
319-320 and Kohn et al. 2000, p. 22). Interstate highways and smaller 
roads are a known mortality factor for wolves and, therefore, are a 
partial barrier to wolf movements (Blanco et al. 2005, p. 320).
    The recent death of a NRM wolf near Sturgis in western South Dakota 
(Fain in litt. 2006) suggests that the area of the Dakotas west of the 
Missouri River may be traversed by a small number of wolves coming from 
both the NRM and Great Lakes wolf populations, as well as wolves from 
Canada (Licht and Fritts 1994, pp. 75-77). Wolves in this area cannot 
be assumed to belong to the Great Lakes wolf population, supporting our 
belief that the DPS boundary should not be designed to include the 
locations of all known dispersers. As this record shows, an additional 
weakness of basing a DPS boundary on the location of the most distant 
dispersal is that it results in a boundary that is valid only until a 
more distant dispersal event is documented.

Peer Review

    In accordance with the December 16, 2004, Office of Management and 
Budget's ``Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review'', we 
have obtained comments from at least three independent scientific 
reviewers regarding the scientific data and interpretations contained 
in the March 27, 2006, proposed rule (71 FR 15266). The purpose of such 
review is to ensure that our delisting proposal provided to the public 
and our delisting decision is based on scientifically sound data, 
assumptions, and analyses. Peer reviewer comments were received during 
the public comment period from ten individuals and were considered as 
we made our final decision on the proposal. Substantive peer reviewer 
comments are summarized in the remaining paragraphs of this section as 
well as discussed in greater detail in the appropriate Issue/Response 
sections which follow.
    All ten peer reviewers have extensive biological experience with 
gray wolves. Most are currently involved in wolf research for the 
Federal Government (three individuals in two agencies), Canadian 
Government (one reviewer), or universities (two individuals). One 
reviewer is a biologist for a tribe with extensive involvement in wolf 
recovery and management, one leads a long-term Federal wolf depredation 
control program, another directs an endangered species conservation 
organization, and the tenth is a retired State wolf biologist. None of 
the peer reviewers are employed by the Service or by State agencies 
within the WGL DPS.
    All eight peer reviewers who expressed a clear opinion supported 
the biological approach we used to identify the DPS and its boundaries, 
and they agreed that the delisting criteria have been achieved by the 
DPS. Three of these eight had previously opposed the proposed 2003 
identification and 2004 delisting of the much larger Eastern DPS. None 
of the peer reviewers stated that the currently proposed DPS boundary 
or delisting was inappropriate. One peer reviewer's expertise is 
limited to wolf diseases and causes of wolf mortality. This reviewer 
limited her comments to those areas. The remaining peer reviewer was 
unclear regarding support for, or opposition to, our biological basis 
for the proposed boundary of the DPS, but agreed that wolves in the 
Great Lakes have met the federally established delisting criteria.
    In general, the peer reviewers judged the delisting proposal to be 
well researched, thorough, and adequate to support delisting of the WGL 
DPS. Except for one reviewer who stated that the State plans need 
greater emphasis on educating and informing the public, all comments 
related to State plans and our analysis of the plans indicated that the 
reviewers believed the State population goals were adequate and the 
protection and management actions contained in the plans would ensure 
viable wolf populations following delisting.
    None of the peer reviewers expressed concerns with the expanded use 
of wolf control measures by the States following delisting. Several 
specifically stated that they were confident that the States would not 
allow human-caused mortality to threaten the security of viable 
populations within the three States. One reviewer, who has several 
decades of experience with wolf depredation control measures, expressed 
a belief that wolf control or harvest by the public will not result in 
excessive take of wolves.
    There were no criticisms of, or recommendations to improve, the 
current population monitoring done by the three States. One reviewer, 
while noting that the Minnesota population estimate ``is probably much 
less accurate than [those developed by] MI or WI'' and likely 
overestimates the State's wolf population, went on to state that this 
is not a critical point and may not matter, because the Minnesota wolf 
population is well over the minimum number needed to delist. He also 
stated that ``managers have as good a dataset on wolves as just about 
any other species they manage, even white-tailed deer * * *.'' Another 
reviewer stated that the three States are using ``adequate and 
consistent techniques'' to develop their wolf population estimates.
    There were no suggestions that other States within the DPS should 
be developing wolf management plans or wolf monitoring programs. 
However, one reviewer recommended that all States in the DPS cooperate 
in the documenting and reporting of wolves dispersing from the northern 

[[Page 15082]]

Wisconsin, and Michigan recovery areas.
    Several reviewers pointed out that, while there currently is 
sufficient habitat that is likely to remain secure for the foreseeable 
future, this should be monitored by the States after delisting. The 
fragmentation of private industrial forests for second homes and other 
developments was identified as a potential future threat to occupied 
wolf habitat. Most reviewers pointed to the need for effective and 
timely monitoring of wolf numbers and wolf health following delisting.
    None of the peer reviewers expressed concern that the Wisconsin and 
Michigan Plans--being updated and revised, respectively, at the time 
the delisting proposal was published--would be weakened and 
substantially reduce protections for the wolves in the State. However, 
one of the reviewers urged that the two plans be finalized prior to 
delisting. Two peer reviewers specifically recommended that the Service 
complete the post-delisting monitoring plan prior to delisting.
    One reviewer supported the identification of the DPS and its 
delisting and said its boundaries ``do not extend delisting beyond an 
area that is reasonably affected by the DPS.'' However, this reviewer 
cautioned that in delineating a DPS the Service should avoid over-
emphasizing ``the importance of the biological (or population 
viability) aspect of `significant portion of the range' '' within the 
Act's definitions of endangered and threatened. He provided a recent 
co-authored scientific publication that seems to argue for a primarily 
quantitative approach to determining what part of a species' range is 
significant. This same reviewer objected to the Service's 
interpretation of ``range'' to mean current range, when used in the 
context of ``significant portion of the range.''
    Regarding the Northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, one peer 
reviewer indicated his belief that wolves are likely to move into 
habitat there and the State should allow that to happen. Another 
reviewer agreed with the Service that the currently unoccupied habitat 
in the NLP is not a significant portion of their range in the WGL DPS.
    One peer reviewer supported the delisting but criticized the 
``bizarre aspect'' of it that would result in wolves in areas beyond 
the DPS retaining the Act's protection as endangered, when ``[t]he area 
outside the proposed DPS is precisely the area that the Eastern Timber 
Wolf recovery Team believed should not harbor wolves * * *.'' The 
reviewer recommends delisting gray wolves in the unsuitable habitat 
areas beyond the WGL DPS, as well.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    We received 360 total comments, including 310 original letters and 
50 form responses based on 2 form letters. These comments included 10 
that we solicited from peer reviewers, as well as verbal and written 
comments received at public hearings. We received comments from 40 
identifiable states and the District of Columbia, as well as 5 foreign 
countries. Private individuals submitted 249 of the comments. Nineteen 
came from preservation, conservation, or animal welfare organizations, 
and 16 were submitted by agriculture or livestock organizations. State 
agency representatives or elected officials provided 12 comments, and 6 
were received from Native American government agencies or 
    Issue 1--One commenter requested the Service double the length of 
the public comment period and hold additional public hearings in all 
``recipient states.''
    Response--The Act and implementing regulations for adding or 
removing species from the list of threatened and endangered species 
require a public comment period of at least 60 days and holding one 
public hearing if requested within 45 days of the publication of the 
proposal (50 CFR 424.16). We opened a 90-day public comment period and 
held four public hearings in the States that would be most affected by 
the proposed changes. Additionally, we facilitated public involvement 
in this process by providing a great deal of information on our web 
site regarding wolf biology and behavior; wolf identification and wolf-
dog hybrids; threats to human safety; depredation control programs; and 
our summaries of State wolf management plans and copies of those plans. 
We mailed summaries of the proposal to approximately 1,600 individuals 
and organizations that had previously expressed interest in wolf 
recovery and delisting issues, and we provided ways to submit comments 
via the web, e-mail, fax, and mail, as well as at the four hearings. We 
provided ample opportunities for interested individuals and 
organizations to learn about the proposal and to provide comments 
within the 90-day comment period and at the four hearings; therefore, 
we did not extend the comment period nor schedule additional hearings.
    Issue 2--A number of comments expressed opposition to delisting, 
making statements such as ``wolves should always be protected'' by the 
Act, the Service ``should abandon its goal of delisting wolves in the 
US,'' and wolves should not be delisted until ``their numbers reach 
exorbitant levels,'' they have reached biological carrying capacity, or 
wolves have overpopulated and are damaging the natural ecosystem. Other 
commenters wanted the critical habitat designations to remain in place 
after delisting to keep the Service involved in preserving habitat for 
a delisted species.
    Response--The Act provides the Federal Government with authority to 
protect and recover threatened and endangered species. When a species 
has been recovered to the extent that it no longer meets the definition 
of ``threatened'' or ``endangered'' the Act provides that it be removed 
from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants 
and its management be returned to the appropriate States and tribes (in 
cases where treaties identify such authorities for tribes). The goal of 
the Act is to recover and delist species that have been listed as 
threatened or endangered.
    The gray wolf WGL DPS no longer meets the definition of threatened 
or endangered, because it has achieved long-standing recovery criteria 
by greatly expanding in numbers and geographic range and threats to its 
long-term viability have been reduced or eliminated. Therefore, the Act 
authorizes delisting the taxon, but it also requires that we continue 
to monitor the status of the species for a minimum of five years after 
delisting, and we can list it again if the monitoring results show that 
to be necessary.
    ``Critical habitat'' is a legal designation under the Act that is 
given to geographical areas that are essential to the conservation of a 
listed species. Critical habitat is designated only for endangered or 
threatened species, and any critical habitat designations must be 
removed if the taxon is removed from the Federal List of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife and Plants.
    Issue 3--Numerous commenters indicated that our delisting proposal 
was based on unspecified political considerations, pressure from the 
livestock industry, exaggerated fears for human safety, pressure from 
deer hunters and furbearer trappers, and pressure from States. We were 
asked by other commenters to consider the value of wolves as an 
umbrella or keystone species, for keeping deer numbers in check, to 
maintaining healthy ungulate populations, in balancing nature, and 
providing a legal mechanism to protect habitat needed by other species. 
Others thought we should consider the economic benefits provided by a 

[[Page 15083]]

wolf population and recognize that protecting ``the entire ecology of 
Minnesota'' requires that we keep wolves listed under the Act.
    Response--The Act requires that listing and delisting decisions be 
based entirely on whether a species is endangered or threatened due to 
one or more categories of threats (section 4(a)(1)) and that we make 
this determination ``solely on the basis of the best scientific and 
commercial data available.'' In compliance with the Act, the other 
considerations and factors described above have not been used in making 
this decision.
    Issue 4--Several commenters stated that wolf recovery should 
include repopulating suitable habitat in the Lower Peninsula of 
Michigan, or that a larger geographical area needs to be reoccupied 
before recovery is achieved. One comment stated that population numbers 
alone cannot be used ``as the sole proof of long-term recovery.'' Other 
commenters pointed to scientific publications that advocate larger 
populations with more individuals to ensure long-term viability of 
species, in general.
    Response--The Act states that the Service will develop recovery 
plans and, within these recovery plans, to the maximum extent 
practicable, establish ``objective, measurable criteria which, when 
met, would result in a determination * * * that the species be removed 
from the list * * *.'' (section 4(f)(1)(B)(ii)). Therefore, while a 
delisting decision must include an evaluation of the threats to a 
species, we must also establish and utilize measurable criteria to 
assess progress towards recovery. Our delisting decision is not based 
on population numbers alone, but also on population distribution and 
threats to that population and its habitat, as required by the Act.
    Issue 5--We received several comments that stated that the recovery 
criteria have not been achieved because either the wolf population data 
are wrong, and/or because the Wisconsin-Upper Peninsula wolf population 
is not a second population as is required by the recovery criteria 
found in the 1992 Recovery Plan.
    Response--We, and the peer reviewers of the delisting proposal, are 
fully satisfied that the wolf population estimates provided by the DNRs 
of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan demonstrate that the numerical 
recovery criteria have been achieved for far longer than the five years 
recommended in the Federal Recovery Plan. The methods used by WI and MI 
DNRs result in a conservative count of the wolves that are alive at the 
late-winter annual low point of the wolf population. The method used by 
the Minnesota DNR for its much larger wolf population is less precise, 
but even the lower bound of its 90 percent confidence interval (CI) 
exceeded the Federal Recovery Plan's Minnesota goal of 1,250-1,440 
wolves back as far as the 1988-89 survey (Fuller et al. 1992, p. 50) 
and the CI lower bound has been well above that goal since then (Erb 
and Benson 2004, table 1). Therefore, we see no problem with using 
these Minnesota population estimates. The Recovery Team has also 
expressed confidence in the population estimates of all three States 
(Peterson in litt. 1999a, in litt. 1999b).
    The 1992 Federal Recovery Plan describes two scenarios that would 
satisfy its requirement for a second viable wolf population. One 
scenario deals with the development of an isolated wolf population; 
such a population must be composed of at least 200 wolves over five 
successive years. The second scenario is a population that is located 
within 100 miles of another viable wolf population; such a population 
must consist of only 100 wolves for five consecutive years (USFWS 1992, 
pp 25-26). The Recovery Plan discusses the conservation tradeoffs of 
completely separate populations versus adjacent populations, and it 
specifically states that a wolf population larger than 100 wolves 
``closely tied to the Minnesota population'' will be considered a 
viable population despite its small size, because of immigration of 
wolves from Minnesota (USFWS 1992, pp. 24-25). Although this Recovery 
Plan was written prior to the common acceptance and use of the 
conservation biology term ``metapopulation,'' this clearly was the 
concept being discussed and advocated in the Federal Recovery Plan. The 
second scenario describes what has occurred in the WGL DPS and 
therefore the wolves in Wisconsin and Michigan qualify as a second 
    Issue 6--Several comments stated that a DPS cannot be used for 
delisting a species; DPSs can only be identified for listing species as 
threatened or endangered.
    Response--DPSs can be utilized for both listing and delisting 
species. Section 4(a)(1) of the Act directs the Secretary of the 
Interior to determine whether ``any species'' is endangered or 
threatened. Numerous sections of the Act refer to adding and removing 
``species'' from the list of threatened or endangered plants and 
animals. Section 3(15) defines ``species'' to include any subspecies 
``and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish 
or wildlife * * *.'' Therefore, the Act authorizes us to list, 
reclassify, and delist species, subspecies, and DPSs of vertebrate 
species. Furthermore, our ``Policy Regarding the Recognition of 
Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments under the Endangered Species 
Act'' states that the policy is intended for ``the purposes of listing, 
delisting, and reclassifying species under the Endangered Species Act * 
* *.'' (61 FR 4722, Feb. 7, 1996), and that it ``guides the evaluation 
of distinct vertebrate population segments for the purposes of listing, 
delisting, and reclassifying under the Act.'' (61 FR 4725).
    Most recently, on December 12, 2008, the Solicitor of the 
Department of the Interior issued a formal opinion, ``U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service Authority Under Section 4(c)(1) of the Endangered 
Species Act to Revise Lists of Endangered and Threatened Species to 
`Reflect Recent Determinations' '' (U.S. DOI 2008). This opinion 
represents the views of the Service and fully supports the Service's 
position that it is authorized in a single action to identify a DPS 
within a larger listed entity, determine that the DPS is neither 
endangered nor threatened, and then revise the List of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife to reflect those determinations. The opinion also 
notes that, although the term ``delist'' is not used in the Act, it is 
used extensively in the regulations implementing the section 4 listing 
provisions of the Act, such as 50 CFR 424.11(d). As explained in 
footnote 8 to the Solicitor's opinion, ``As used by FWS, delisting 
applies broadly to any action that revises the lists either to remove 
an already-listed entity from the appropriate list in its entirety, or 
to reduce the geographic or taxonomic scope of a listing to exclude a 
group of organisms previously included as part of an already-listed 
entity (as was the case with the Western Great Lakes DPS of gray 
wolves).'' The complete text of the Solicitor's formal opinion can be 
found at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/.
    Issue 7--Several commenters, including State natural resource 
agencies, stated that the proposed DPS is too small and should be 
expanded to include all of their State (North Dakota, South Dakota, 
Iowa), and for Missouri, should include the northern two-thirds of the 
State. They expressed concerns that some gray wolves will disperse 
beyond the boundaries of the proposed WGL DPS, where they would have 
endangered status under the Act. If those wolves subsequently cause 
conflicts with livestock or other human activities, the States would be 
limited in

[[Page 15084]]

the management or control actions that they could undertake to address 
the conflict.
    Response--We have delineated this DPS boundary to be based solely 
on the wolf population in the Western Great Lakes. Suggestions to 
enlarge the DPS to include the locations of all known dispersers from 
this recovered population are not practical for several reasons. It is 
not possible to predict where additional long-distance dispersers will 
turn up. Attempting to lay out the DPS boundary so that it 
circumscribes all future Midwest dispersers would require either an 
unacceptably large DPS, or making a series of future outward boundary 
adjustments to reflect new dispersal locations as they occur.
    Upon request we will work with the States where the gray wolf 
retains endangered status to identify and pursue options to deal with 
wolf-human conflicts that may arise there. We also point out that the 
Act's implementing regulations for endangered wildlife specifically 
allow a person to take an endangered wolf ``in defense of his own life 
or the lives of others'' (50 CFR 17.21(c)(3)) and provide that 
employees or agents of the Service, other Federal land management 
agencies, and State conservation agencies may take an endangered wolf 
that is ``a demonstrable but nonimmediate threat to human safety.'' (50 
CFR 17.21(c)(3)(iv)).
    Issue 8--One comment stated that the DPS should not include small 
areas of northern Indiana and Ohio and instead the DPS should end at 
the southern border of Michigan.
    Response--We believe the use of I-80 is preferable to the State 
line for several reasons. First, the interstate highway more clearly 
identifies the terminus of the DPS on the ground, making it easier for 
an individual or for law enforcement agents to determine the legal 
status of a wolf in the field. Second, this major interstate highway 
will serve as a partial barrier to wolf dispersal out of the DPS. 
Therefore, this boundary makes it less likely that these two States 
will have to deal with dispersing gray wolves that are protected as 
endangered within their state. Neither State has requested the proposed 
boundary be modified.
    Issue 9--The DPS should not include areas of suitable habitat that 
lack wolf packs. The DPS should not include any areas that lack wolf 
    Response--We have identified the DPS to be closely tied to the 
biological wolf population that has been recovered, and to be 
consistent with the two relevant court rulings (Defenders of Wildlife 
v. Norton, 03-1348-JO, D. OR. 2005; National Wildlife Federation v. 
Norton, 1:03-CV-340, D. VT. 2005). Wolf biology makes it unreasonable 
to define a wolf population, and hence a wolf DPS, solely as the area 
where wolf packs are present at viable levels. Any area that hosts wolf 
packs also is producing a substantial number of dispersing wolves, some 
of which return after short absences, while others travel farther and 
some never return. Delineation of a wolf population must recognize and 
account for this dispersal behavior to some degree. We believe our DPS 
delineation is appropriately based on the biological features of the 
species and the nature of a wolf population by being centered around 
the focal areas of the recovery program, but also including a 
reasonable portion of those wolves making longer distance movements 
from their natal areas.
    We have included nearby areas that are likely to be visited by 
wolves that have dispersed from the core recovery areas because we 
believe these wolves should be considered part of that biological 
population while they are within a reasonable distance from the core 
areas. The areas of potentially suitable habitat that are currently 
unoccupied are relatively small, and even if occupied in the future, 
will not make a significant contribution to the long-term viability of 
the gray wolf population in the DPS or in the United States. 
Additionally, wolves that ultimately occupy the NLP will have dispersed 
from the UP, so we believe the NLP should be included within the WGL 
    Issue 10--One comment stated that other gray wolf DPSs should be 
proposed and identified simultaneously. Piecemeal identification of 
DPSs and de-listing thwarts the intent of both the vertebrate 
population policy and the Act.
    Response--While in some situations it may be appropriate to 
identify multiple DPSs simultaneously, there is no requirement in the 
Act or the DPS Policy to do so. The Service lists or delists species 
when data are available that supports a decision that best serves the 
conservation of the taxon. As mentioned above, on December 12, 2008, a 
formal opinion was issued by the Solicitor for the Department of the 
Interior, ``U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Authority Under Section 
4(c)(1) of the ESA to Revise Lists of Endangered and Threatened Species 
to `Reflect Recent Determinations' '' (U.S. DOI 2008) and fully 
supports the Secretary's actions in this final rule. The complete text 
of the Solicitor's formal opinion can be found at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/.
    Issue 11--Several commenters expressed the concern that delisting 
the WGL DPS will eliminate the possibility of wolf recovery in the 
northeastern United States.
    Response--Following this delisting, gray wolves in the northeastern 
states will retain their classification as endangered under the Act, 
thereby preserving the possibility of efforts to restore the gray wolf 
to that region. It also preserves the Federal protections of the Act 
that would aid gray wolf restoration actions in the northeastern United 
States if undertaken by State or tribal agencies, and it protects gray 
wolves immigrating from Canada.
    Issue 12--The Service must consider gray wolf subspecies when 
constructing DPS boundaries, and a DPS cannot include portions of the 
historical range of two subspecies (C. lupus lycaon and C. l. nubilus) 
within its boundary.
    Response--The gray wolf entity that has been protected by the Act 
since 1978 is the species C. lupus in the United States and Mexico, 
rather than a subspecies of the gray wolf. This DPS creates a subunit 
of the species listing, thereby indicating that the population of the 
species within this geographical boundary has been recovered. It makes 
no reference to any gray wolf subspecies. Because the listed entity is 
the gray wolf, creating a DPS from a portion of the listed entity does 
not create or require a nexus with subspecies taxonomy.
    Issue 13--Several comments suggested that a separate species of 
wolf may be present in the Upper Peninsula and should be recognized and 
protected by the Service.
    Response--There are several scientific hypotheses regarding the 
identity of large canids in the eastern United States and adjacent 
Canada. One of these hypotheses suggests that the wolves in 
southeastern Ontario are a separate wolf species being referred to as 
the ``eastern wolf'' and tentatively given the scientific name Canis 
lycaon. If southeastern Ontario wolves are this separate species, those 
wolves may have contributed their genetic material to the wolf 
population in the UP via movement westward across the St. Mary's River. 
However, we believe the UP wolf population primarily developed from 
Minnesota and Wisconsin wolves that made overland movements into the UP 
from the west, and that wolf immigration across the St. Mary's River 
from the east was of much smaller magnitude. At this point there have 
been no published or peer-reviewed studies of the genetic makeup of UP 
wolves. Therefore, we will continue to consider WGL wolves to be C. 

[[Page 15085]]

    Issue 14--One comment applied the meaning of significance (using 
examples of unique ecological setting and differences in genetic 
characteristics) as used in our 1996 DPS Policy (61 FR 4725, Feb. 7, 
1996) to the usage of ``significant'' in ``significant portion of its 
range'' as the phrase is used in the definitions of endangered and 
threatened in paragraphs 3(6) and 3(19), respectively. As a result, the 
comment concludes that we have not applied the DPS Policy's examples of 
significance during our analysis of whether wolves have been recovered 
to a sufficient area of the DPS.
    Response--These two uses of significant/significance are context-
specific, do not have the same meaning, and should not be used 
interchangeably. When applying the DPS policy, we are required to 
evaluate whether the discrete group of animals under consideration is 
sufficiently important to the overall taxon so that it warrants a 
separate listing under the Act--that is, is the population significant 
to the overall taxon. In contrast, when applying the definitions of 
endangered and threatened to a taxon, we are considering whether a 
certain area is important to that same taxon. Another way of explaining 
the difference is that in one case we are evaluating the importance of 
a group of organisms; in the other case we are assessing the value of a 
portion of geographic range. The evaluations are not comparable and are 
dependent on different factors. Therefore, we believe we are correct in 
our usage of these terms in this rule.
    Issue 15--Wolves remain extirpated in approximately 60 percent of 
the DPS. This is a significant portion of the range (SPR) within the 
DPS; therefore, wolves remain endangered in the DPS.
    Response--The determination of whether a portion of a species' 
range is ``significant'' is based on the biological needs of the 
species and the threats to the species. In making this determination we 
consider the quality, quantity, and distribution of suitable habitat, 
the use, uniqueness, and importance of the habitat, and other 
biological factors appropriate to the species and area under 
consideration. We do not focus solely, or even primarily, on a 
quantitative assessment, because quantity of range might have no 
relationship to the biological needs of the species. In the case of the 
gray wolf, the portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, 
Indiana, and Ohio within the WGL DPS are not significant portions of 
the range even though they may be sizeable pieces of historical range. 
These areas contain wolf habitat that is severely degraded at best, and 
even if they remained listed as endangered, they would not be likely to 
develop viable wolf populations in the foreseeable future. These areas 
thus are not important to the gray wolf metapopulation in Minnesota, 
Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Similarly, the areas of 
Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan that currently are unoccupied by 
wolves contain only small areas of potentially suitable habitat, mostly 
in the NLP of Michigan, and eventual wolf pack occupancy of these areas 
will have minimal influence on the viability of the current recovered 
wolf populations in the three States. Consequently, these areas have 
minimal biological significance to the conservation status of gray 
wolves in the DPS, and they are not an SPR within the DPS.
    Issue 16--The Service must consider the historical range of the 
gray wolf, rather than the currently occupied range, when assessing 
what is a ``significant part of the range'' as that phrase is used in 
the definitions of endangered and threatened species.
    Response--For the purposes of this rule, and for determining the 
significant portion of the range of the gray wolf in the DPS, the 
Service considers the range of the gray wolf to be the entire 
geographical area delineated by the WGL DPS. We have clarified this in 
the final rule.
    Issue 17--One comment stated that a rangewide recovery plan is 
required by the Act before any wolf delisting actions can occur.
    Response--The Service has developed, implemented, and revised, as 
needed, three geographically based recovery plans for the gray wolf. 
The Act requires that we develop and implement recovery plans for 
listed species unless they ``will not promote the conservation of the 
species * * *'' (section 4(f)(1)). In its 2005 ruling, the Vermont 
District Court specifically commented on this issue, finding that the 
Service's use of ``three recovery plans for the gray wolf rather than 
one comprehensive plan must be afforded Chevron deference, and is 
therefore an appropriate agency course of action'' (National Wildlife 
Federation v. Norton, 1:03-CV-340, D. VT. 2005, p. 28).
    Issue 18--A comment letter stated that the Act does not permit the 
creation of a WGL DPS (and Northern Rocky Mountain DPS) while 
maintaining the pre-existing species listing across the remaining 48 
    Response--We believe this approach of creating a small DPS reflects 
the recovered status of wolves in the DPS and is consistent with the 
2005 rulings (Defenders of Wildlife v. Norton, 03-1348-JO, D. OR 2005; 
National Wildlife Federation v. Norton, 1:03-CV-340, D. VT. 2005). The 
Vermont ruling stated ``Nowhere in the ESA is the Secretary prevented 
from creating a `non-DPS remnant', especially when the remnant area was 
already listed as endangered'' (National Wildlife Federation v. Norton, 
1:03-CV-340, D. VT. 2005, p. 20). Our current identification of a WGL 
DPS, while retaining the remaining 48-state and Mexico gray wolf 
listing intact as endangered, is consistent with this aspect of the 
District Court's ruling.
    Issue 19--The Service cannot delist the DPS because the gray wolf 
remains extirpated from 95 percent of its historical range.
    Response--We have clarified in this final rule that we are only 
delisting the gray wolf in the WGL DPS; we are not delisting the gray 
wolf across its historical range in the 48 coterminous States and 
Mexico. We have considered only whether the gray wolf is threatened or 
endangered within this DPS.
    Issue 20--The DPS can only delist wolves in the core recovery 
areas, rather than include and delist dispersing animals from those 
    Response--A critical component of delineating the boundaries of a 
DPS is gaining an understanding of the population/metapopulation that 
is being identified as a DPS. Wolf biology clearly shows that temporary 
and permanent movements beyond the pack's territory are a key element 
of wolf population dynamics, and as such, these movements must be 
considered when delineating a boundary for a DPS. Furthermore, a 
biologically based DPS boundary cannot follow the edge of the fully 
occupied core areas, as this comment seems to advocate. Individual 
wolves would be constantly moving back and forth across such a 
boundary, and pack territories may form on both sides of the line in 
some years, and might disappear from one or both sides in subsequent 
years, depending on a number of physical, biological, and societal 
factors. We determined that the DPS boundary should recognize and 
accommodate the normal behavior of the population/metapopulation 
    Issue 21--The Service did not use wolf dispersal data as claimed, 
because wolves disperse outside of the proposed DPS boundary.
    Response--In the proposed rule we did not attempt to include the 
locations of all known dispersing MN/WI/MI wolves within the proposed 
DPS, or to use the maximum known gray wolf dispersal distance to 
delineate the DPS boundary. We have provided further

[[Page 15086]]

clarification in this final rule on the biological method we have used.
    Issue 22--The DPS must contain a uniform biotype (the Laurentian 
Mixed Forest Province), or the DPS boundaries must be based on biotype 
or habitat boundaries, because this is what makes the WGL wolves 
    Response--A number of factors contributed to our determination that 
the WGL DPS was significant, only one of which included occupancy of 
these in the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province. However, even if the 
only factor contributing to ``significance'' was the Laurentian Mixed 
Forest Province, the DPS boundaries would not use (nor is there a 
requirement to use) that habitat or biotype as the boundary. As 
discussed in the rule, many factors concerning wolf biology were 
considered in identifying the WGL DPS. Limiting the DPS to one habitat 
type would not make sense biologically for this species.
    Issue 23--Highways I-80 and the Missouri River cannot be used for 
DPS boundaries, because wolves cross them, making them arbitrary 
    Response--In our proposal we described Interstate 80 and the 
Missouri River as being ``partial barriers,'' and we cited data showing 
they have been crossed by a small number of wolves (p. 15277). We did 
not use these features to identify the discreteness of the wolf 
population within the WGL DPS. Rather, we use them as readily 
identifiable features on the landscape that are in a biologically 
appropriate location for use in delineating the DPS, and they are also 
partial barriers to wolf movements.
    Issue 24--The 1992 Service Recovery Plan is outdated, and its 
recovery criteria cannot be used to justify delisting.
    Response--When wolf numbers in the Midwest appeared to be 
approaching the recovery criteria specified in the 1992 Plan, we 
reconvened the Recovery Team in 1997 to query them regarding the 
appropriateness of those criteria. The Team expressed confidence that 
the recovery criteria remained ``necessary and sufficient'' (Peterson 
in litt. 1997, in litt. 1998). Furthermore, the peer reviewers 
overwhelmingly supported our conclusion that the WGL DPS wolves have 
recovered, and they expressed no concern with the 1992 recovery 
criteria that were used as part of our determination.
    The population goals in the 1992 Recovery Plan are not the sole 
determinants of whether delisting is appropriate. While the Act states 
that recovery plans shall contain ``objective, measurable criteria'' 
(sec. 4(f)(1)(B)(ii)) when practicable, achieving these criteria alone 
cannot result in a delisting. Rather, recovery criteria are important 
indicators that identify the need for consideration of delisting. The 
consideration of delisting is a broad review of the past, current, and 
likely future threats to the species, as required by the Act. The 
delisting decision is made based on the threats assessment, and the 
resulting determination of whether the species meets the Act's 
definition of threatened or endangered.
    Issue 25--One commenter stated that increasing use of off-highway 
vehicles (OHV) in Minnesota and growing human populations pose serious 
threats to wolves, especially in the core of Minnesota's wolf range. 
The commenter pointed out that most of primary wolf range (e.g., 
Management Zone A) (MN DNR 2001, Appendix III) is north of Highway 2 
and that trails in these forests may be subject to few limitations to 
motorized use.
    Response--As discussed in ``Suitable Habitat in the Western Great 
Lakes Gray Wolf DPS'' road density has largely been accepted as the 
best single predictor of habitat suitability in the Midwest due to the 
connection between roads and human-related wolf mortality. Off-highway 
vehicle trails introduce only a portion of the impacts and risk factors 
associated with roads, such as increased human access to areas occupied 
by wolves and increased likelihood of unauthorized shooting or 
trapping. Off-highway vehicle trails do not introduce significant 
levels of the other risk factors, such as more farms and residences, 
more domestic animals, a greater likelihood of mortality due to 
livestock-depredation control or vehicle collisions, and increased 
likelihood of disease transmission from domestic dogs. Therefore, we 
believe wolf populations are more sensitive to normal road 
infrastructure density than to OHV trail density.
    MN DNR is developing recommendations for motorized use of State 
forest lands. In preparation for this analysis, it completed an 
inventory in 2004 of all State forest roads and access routes on State, 
county, and Federal lands within State forest boundaries--a total of 
5.7 million acres. (MN DNR 2005). This inventory found an overall route 
density of 0.8 km per km2, but did not differentiate between 
motorized and non-motorized trails (routes). MN DNR is now conducting a 
forest-by-forest review and proposing which roads and trails will be 
available for motor vehicle use. As of September 2006, MN DNR had 
completed reviews on 16 State forests and had closed approximately 57 
percent of routes to motorized use. If this trend continues, the 
density of routes open to motorized use in Minnesota State forests 
(State forest roads and OHV trails) may approximate 0.5 km per 
km2. Only 3 of the 16 forests reviewed thus far, however, 
are north of Highway 2 and all were either completely closed to 
motorized use or given a ``Limited'' use designation. As the department 
begins to evaluate larger, more remote northern forests, however, this 
trend (i.e., about 50 percent closure) may change and some forests may 
retain the ``managed'' classification (i.e., open unless posted closed, 
OHV trail designation questions and answers, MN DNR Division of Trails 
and Waterways, St. Paul, MN; http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/input/mgmtplans/ohv/designation/index.html.
    According to the commenter, registered ATVs in Minnesota increased 
from 32,501 in 1990 to 266,283 in 2004. Although this is a sharp 
increase, the wolf population in Minnesota grew and, more recently, may 
have stabilized at about 3,020 wolves (Erb and Benson 2004, Table 1) 
during this time. Therefore, there is no clear relationship between OHV 
use and wolf abundance statewide. Nevertheless, we agree that the 
combination of growing human populations and extensive use of OHV's 
warrants careful monitoring and regulation to ensure that wolf 
populations are not adversely affected. Minnesota's wolf management 
plan states that ``in areas of sufficient size to sustain one or more 
wolf packs, land managers should be cautious about adding new road 
access that could exceed a density of one mile of road per square mile 
of land, without considering the potential effect on wolves'' (MN DNR 
2001, p. 29). We expect MN DNR to continue to also consider human 
densities when monitoring the extent and distribution of suitable wolf 
habitat in the State and to take necessary actions (e.g., decreasing 
road density in State forests) to maintain a population of at least 
1,600 gray wolves if increases in human density erode the extent of 
suitable habitat such that the population falls below this level.
    Issue 26--A commenter pointed out that increasing volume of 
automobile traffic in Minnesota's wolf range will fragment habitat, 
increase wolf mortality, destroy habitat, displace wolves, and 
contribute to urban sprawl. Four examples were provided.
    Response--It is clear that automobiles kill wolves on roads and 
highways and that wolves tend to avoid these features relative to road-
free areas (Whittington et al. 2004, pp. 9-11; Whittington et al. 2005, 
pp. 549-551), but highways are far from absolute barriers to dispersal. 

[[Page 15087]]

example, in a study of U.S. Highway 53 in northwest Wisconsin (4,700 
vehicles per day) in the late 1990's, Kohn et al. (2000, p. 2) found 
that 12 of 13 radio-collared wolves that encountered the highway 
successfully crossed it, some of them multiple times, and that each of 
these dispersing wolves subsequently became dominant members of packs 
in newly established territories. In addition, the successful 
reestablishment of wolves in Wisconsin and Michigan depended on a 
sufficient number of Minnesota wolves crossing Interstate Highway 35 
where current average traffic volumes are greater than 15,000 vehicles 
per day (http://www.dot.state.mn.us/tda/maps/trunkhighway/2004/state_and_metro/stateflo.pdf. Wolf crossing of roads, however, is dependent 
on adjacent human development and habitat fragmentation, and land 
managers can likely influence the ability of wolves to disperse across 
highways in Minnesota's wolf range by ensuring that sufficient road 
reaches occur in areas with high crossing potential (i.e., low 
fragmentation of adjacent habitat due to open or developed areas; Frair 
1999, pp. 19-20).
    Issue 27--Disease remains a serious threat and post-delisting 
disease monitoring is inadequate or unfunded. One comment states that 
the Michigan Plan only commits the DNR to monitor wolf health until the 
State wolf population reaches 200 wolves.
    Response--The expectation in the 1997 Michigan Wolf Plan was that 
Federal wolf delisting would occur before the State reached its own 
minimum goal of 200 wolves. As a result, the plan states that wolf 
monitoring, including health and disease monitoring, would continue 
``at least until the minimum population sustainable population goal [of 
200] is met.'' (MI DNR 1997, p. 21.) However, the 1997 Michigan Plan 
also states that wolf health and disease monitoring will occur ``for a 
minimum of five years after Federal delisting'' (MI DNR 1997 p. 21-22, 
45). In fact, wolf health and disease monitoring has continued well 
beyond the attainment of the 200-wolf threshold, which occurred in 
early 1996. We believe the commenters' fear that wolf health and 
disease monitoring will cease upon delisting is unwarranted by the 
facts or by the State Plan.
    Issue 28 --The delisting should be delayed, or should be done in a 
manner to promote wolf expansion into the NLP.
    Response--We believe the gray wolf has achieved recovery in the DPS 
and is no longer threatened or endangered. Therefore, it should be 
delisted with management returning to the States and tribes. Those 
governments and their constituents will determine if additional wolf 
recovery will be promoted. We will consider providing technical 
assistance to further State or tribal wolf recovery efforts if 
    Issue 29 --Human predation poses too high a risk to delist the 
wolf. The wolf cannot be delisted ``until this threat has been 
adequately controlled.''
    Response--Our detailed review of the past, current, and likely 
future threats to wolves within the WGL DPS identified human-caused 
mortality of all forms to constitute the majority of documented wolf 
deaths. However, the wolf populations in Wisconsin and Michigan have 
continued to expand in numbers and the Minnesota wolf population is at 
least maintaining itself at well over the population goal recommended 
in the 1992 Recovery Plan and at about twice the minimum level 
established in the 2001 Minnesota Wolf Plan. Healthy wolf populations 
clearly can withstand a high level of mortality, from human and other 
causes, and remain viable. Although the commenters do not provide any 
clarification on what is meant by ``adequately controlled'' we believe 
that for purposes of this delisting decision, the numerical growth and 
range expansion shown by WGL DPS wolves indicates that ``adequate 
control'' already exists since the species is being maintained at 
healthy levels.
    Issue 30--WGL DPS wolves should be reclassified to threatened 
instead of delisted. Another comment stated that only Minnesota wolves 
should be delisted now.
    Response--Minnesota wolves were classified as threatened in 1978. 
The Act does not require endangered species to first be moved to 
threatened status before delisting, but for some species that 
intermediate step is appropriate. The WGL DPS wolf metapopulation has 
continued to increase to the extent that it greatly exceeds our 
recovery criteria, and it has exceeded our numerical delisting criteria 
since 1999. Therefore, we believe delisting is appropriate for this 
    Issue 31--It will be difficult to relist these wolves if it becomes 
necessary following delisting.
    Response--The Act requires that we monitor the status of a delisted 
species for at least five years after delisting. Section 4(g) of the 
Act authorizes the Service to make prompt use of our emergency listing 
authority under section 4(b)(7) to prevent a significant risk to the 
well-being of any recovered species. Therefore, we believe the Act 
provides the authority and the requirement to relist midwestern gray 
wolves if necessary.
    Issue 32--A large number of comments recommended that specific 
changes be made to the three State wolf management plans.
    Response--We have reviewed the 2001 Minnesota Plan, the 1999 and 
2006 Updated Wisconsin Plan, and the 1997 Michigan Plan. We reviewed 
these plans to determine if they will provide sufficient protection and 
reduce threats. We are primarily concerned with the outcome of the 
plan's implementation. Once a species is delisted, the details of its 
management are a State or tribal responsibility; the Federal 
responsibility is to monitor the plan's implementation and the species' 
response for at least five years to ensure that the plan's outcome is 
as expected. We have concluded that each plan provides adequate 
protection for wolves, and will keep threats at a sufficiently low 
level, so that the WGL DPS wolves will not become threatened or 
endangered in the foreseeable future. Suggestions for changes to the 
State wolf management plans should be directed to the respective State 
management agency for consideration.
    Issue 33 --Wisconsin and Michigan DNR have not completed their wolf 
management plans, so delisting should be delayed until after those 
plans are completed and they are shown to be adequate.
    Response--The Wisconsin DNR did not revise its 1997 Wolf Management 
Plan. Instead, the plan has had some portions of the text updated, and 
several appendices have been added to deal with new public opinion data 
and a 2004 DNR questionnaire. The Plan's management goal of 350 wolves 
and the vast majority of management practices remain unchanged. We 
received the updated Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan Addendum 2006 in 
time to evaluate it as part of our delisting decision.
    The 1997 Michigan Wolf Management Plan is in the midst of revision. 
The process for its revision includes obtaining recommendations in the 
form of ``guiding principles'' from a roundtable group composed of 
diverse stakeholders, and it will not be completed until late in 2007. 
In the meantime, the 1997 Michigan Plan will remain in effect, as 
supplemented by additional guidance developed since 1997 to deal with 
aspects of wolf management and recovery not adequately covered in the 
1997 Plan, such as ``Guidelines for Management and Lethal Control of 
Wolves Following Confirmed Depredation Events'' (MI DNR 2005a).

[[Page 15088]]

    Issue 34--The delisting decision is based on the assumption that 
the State wolf management plans will be fully implemented after Federal 
    Response--We are required to evaluate the likely future threats 
that a delisted wolf population will experience. We rely heavily on the 
State wolf management plans for our assessment of the degree of 
protection and monitoring that will occur after Federal delisting. 
Because these plans have received the necessary approvals within the 
State governments, we believe it is reasonable to assume the plans will 
be funded and implemented largely as written. Wisconsin and Michigan 
DNRs have led the efforts to restore wolves to their States for several 
decades, including a 1974 reintroduction effort initiated by Michigan 
DNR (Weise et al. 1975). Based on their proven leadership in Midwest 
wolf recovery, we see no reason to doubt the continuing commitment of 
these State agencies to wolf conservation.
    We recognize that State wolf plans can be changed by the respective 
DNR or State legislature, creating some uncertainty regarding plan 
implementation. However, given the high public visibility of wolf 
management, the extent of public interest and involvement in the 
development and updating of the States' plans, the vast amount of 
scientific data available regarding wolf management, and the status 
monitoring that we will be maintaining for the next five years, we 
believe it is reasonable and proper to assume that the three State wolf 
plans will not be significantly changed, nor will their implementation 
be critically underfunded, in a manner that would jeopardize the 
viability of any State's wolf population. If this assumption turns out 
to be incorrect, we have the ability to relist the species, including 
an emergency relisting, if necessary.
    Issue 35--Many comments expressed distrust for State wolf 
protection, based on past State programs aimed at wolf eradication.
    Response--We acknowledge the past involvement of State and Federal 
government agencies in intensive, and largely successful, programs to 
eradicate wolves. However, we believe that public sentiment and agency 
mandates have changed dramatically since the 1960s and earlier. While 
wolf eradication might still be the wish of a small number of 
individuals, we believe there is broad support among the public and 
within governmental agencies to allow wolves to occupy our landscape, 
with some degree of management imposed to maintain control of the level 
of wolf-human conflicts. Based on existing State laws and State 
management plans, we will rely upon the States to provide sufficient 
protection to wolves until and unless it is shown they are unwilling or 
unable to do so.
    Issue 36--The Post-Delisting Monitoring (PDM) Plan should be 
completed before delisting occurs.
    Response--The Act requires a minimum of five years of PDM. There is 
no requirement that a PDM plan be completed before delisting. We are 
working on a PDM plan, utilizing the expertise of the Recovery Team, 
and we expect to complete the plan shortly. Because past wolf 
monitoring by the States has been successful and adequate to document 
progress toward recovery, we expect that PDM will be similar to 
recovery monitoring. The PDM plan will organize data-gathering more 
than has been done in the past, and it will identify the Service office 
that will be responsible for initiating the data gathering and 
coordinating the data review.
    Issue 37--Several commenters stated that the Service must ensure 
that State wolf management strategies accommodate tribal interests 
within reservation boundaries as well as honor the tribal role and 
authority in wolf management in the ceded territories. Furthermore, the 
Federal trust responsibility, as it pertains to wolf management, must 
be continued after delisting. They asked how, and by whom, that Federal 
trust responsibility will be continued after the Act no longer provides 
the authority for the Service to protect wolves.
    Response--The Service and the Department of the Interior recognize 
the unique status of the federally recognized tribes, their right to 
self-governance, and their inherent sovereign powers over their members 
and territory. The Department, the Service, the Bureau of Indian 
Affairs (BIA), and other Federal agencies, as appropriate, will take 
the needed steps to ensure that tribal authority and sovereignty within 
reservation boundaries are respected as the States implement their wolf 
management plans and revise those plans in the future. Furthermore, 
there may be tribal activities or interests associated with the wolf 
encompassed within the tribes' retained rights to hunt, fish, and 
gather in treaty-ceded territories. The Department will assist in the 
exercise of those rights. If biological assistance is needed, the 
Service may provide it via our field offices. The Service will remain 
involved in the post-delisting monitoring of the gray wolf, but all 
Service management and protection authority under the Act will end with 
this delisting. Legal assistance will be provided to the tribes by the 
Department of the Interior, and the BIA will be involved, when needed.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act and regulations (50 CFR part 424) promulgated 
to implement the listing provisions of the Act set forth the procedures 
for listing, reclassifying, and delisting species. A species may be 
listed as threatened or endangered if one or more of the five factors 
described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act threaten its continued 
existence. A species may be delisted, according to 50 CFR 424.11(d), if 
the best scientific and commercial data available substantiate that the 
species is neither endangered nor threatened because of (1) extinction, 
(2) recovery, or (3) error in the original data used for classification 
of the species.
    A recovered species is one that no longer meets the Act's 
definition of threatened or endangered. Determining whether a species 
is recovered requires consideration of the same five categories of 
threats specified in section 4(a)(1). This analysis of threats is an 
evaluation of both the threats currently facing the species and the 
threats that are reasonably likely to affect the species in the 
foreseeable future after its delisting and the consequent removal of 
the Act's protections.
    Foreseeable future is defined by the Services on a case-by-case 
basis, taking into consideration a variety of species-specific factors 
such as lifespan, genetics, breeding behavior, demography, threat 
projection timeframes, and environmental variability. ``Foreseeable'' 
is commonly viewed as ``such as reasonably can or should be 
anticipated: such that a person of ordinary prudence would expect it to 
occur or exist under the circumstances'' (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary 
of Law 1996: Western Watershed Project v. Foss (D. Idaho 2005; CV 04-
168-MHW). For the WGL DPS, the foreseeable future differs for each 
factor potentially affecting the DPS. It took a considerable length of 
time for public attitudes and regulations to result in a social climate 
that promoted and allowed for wolf recovery in the WGL DPS and NRM DPS. 
The length of time over which this shift occurred, and the ensuing 
stability in those attitudes, give us confidence that this social 
climate will persist. Also, the States have had a solid history of 
cooperating and assisting in wolf recovery and have made a commitment, 
through legislative actions, to continue these activities. We believe 

[[Page 15089]]

commitment will continue. When evaluating the available information, 
with respect to the foreseeable future, we take into account reduced 
confidence as we forecast further into the future.
    A species is ``endangered'' for purposes of the Act if it is in 
danger of extinction throughout all or a ``significant portion of its 
range'' and is ``threatened'' if it is likely to become endangered 
within the foreseeable future throughout all or a ``significant portion 
of its range.'' The following describes how we interpret the terms 
``range'' and ``significant'' as used in the phrase ``significant 
portion of its range,'' and explains the bases for our use of those 
terms in this rule. On March 16, 2007, a formal opinion was 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' '' (U.S. DOI 2007). Our explanation below is consistent with 
that opinion.


    The word ``range'' in the phrase ``significant portion of its 
range'' refers to the range in which a species currently exists, not to 
the historical range of the species where it once existed. The context 
in which the phrase is used is crucial. Under the Act's definitions, a 
species is ``endangered'' only if it ``is in danger of extinction'' in 
the relevant portion of its range. The phrase ``is in danger'' denotes 
a present-tense condition of being at risk of a future, undesired 
event. To say that a species ``is in danger'' in an area that is 
currently unoccupied, such as unoccupied historical range, would be 
inconsistent with common usage. Thus, ``range'' must mean ``currently-
occupied range,'' not ``historical range.'' This interpretation of 
``range'' is further supported by the fact that section 4(a)(1)(A) of 
the Act requires us to consider the ``present'' or ``threatened'' 
(i.e., future), rather than the past, ``destruction, modification, or 
curtailment'' of a species' habitat or range in determining whether a 
species is endangered or threatened.
    However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals appeared to conclude, 
without any analysis or explanation that the ``range'' referred to in 
the SPR phrase includes the historical range of the species. The court 
stated that a species ``can be extinct `throughout * * * a significant 
portion of its range' if there are major geographical areas in which it 
is no longer viable but once was,'' and then faults the Secretary for 
not ``at least explain[ing] her conclusion that the area in which the 
species can no longer live is not a significant portion of its range.'' 
Defenders of Wildlife v. Norton, 258 F.3d 1136, 1145 (emphasis added). 
This would suggest that the range we must analyze in assessing 
endangerment includes unoccupied historical range--i.e., the places 
where the species was once viable but no longer exists.
    The statute does not support this interpretation. This 
interpretation is based on what appears to be an inadvertent misquote 
of the relevant statutory language. In addressing this issue, the Ninth 
Circuit states that we must determine whether a species is ``extinct 
throughout * * * a significant portion of its range.'' Id. If that were 
true, we would have to study the historical range. But that is not what 
the statute says, and the Ninth Circuit quotes the statute correctly 
elsewhere in its opinion. Under the Act, we are not to determine if a 
species is ``extinct throughout * * * a significant portion of its 
range,'' but are to determine if it ``is in danger of extinction 
throughout * * * a significant portion of its range.'' A species cannot 
presently be ``in danger of extinction'' in that portion of its range 
where it ``was once viable but no longer is''--if by the latter phrase 
the court meant lost historical habitat. In that portion of its range, 
the species has by definition ceased to exist. In such a situation, it 
is not ``in danger of extinction''; it is extinct.
    Although we must focus on the range in which the species currently 
exists, data about the species' historical range and how the species 
came to be extinct in that location may be relevant in understanding or 
predicting whether a species is ``in danger of extinction'' in its 
current range and therefore relevant to our 5 factor analysis. But the 
fact that it has ceased to exist in what may have been portions of its 
historical range does not necessarily mean that it is ``in danger of 
extinction'' in a significant portion of the range where it currently 
    For the purposes of this notice, we consider the range of the gray 
wolf to be the entire geographical area delineated by the boundaries of 
the WGL DPS.


    The Act does not clearly indicate what portion(s) of a species' 
range should be considered ``significant.'' Most dictionaries list 
several definitions of ``significant.'' For example, one standard 
dictionary defines ``significant'' as ``important,'' ``meaningful,'' 
``a noticeably or measurably large amount,'' or ``suggestive'' 
(Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 1088 10th ed. 2000). If it 
means a ``noticeably or measurably large amount,'' then we would have 
to focus on the size of the range in question, either in relation to 
the rest of the range or perhaps even in absolute terms. If it means 
``important,'' then we would have to consider factors in addition to 
size in determining a portion of a species' range is ``significant.'' 
For example, would a key breeding ground of a species be 
``significant,'' even if it was only a small part of the species' 
entire range?
    One district court interpreted the term to mean ``a noticeably or 
measurably large amount'' without analysis or any reference to other 
alternate meanings, including ``important'' or ``meaningful.'' 
Defenders of Wildlife v. Norton, 239 F. Supp. 2d 9, 19 (D.D.C. 2002). 
We consider the court's interpretation to be unpersuasive, because the 
court did not explain why we could not employ another, equally 
plausible definition of ``significant.'' It is impossible to determine 
from the word itself, even when read in the context of the entire 
statute, which meaning of ``significant'' Congress intended. Moreover, 
even if it were clear which meaning was intended, ``significant'' would 
still require interpretation. For example, if it were meant to refer to 
size, what size would be ``significant'': 30 percent, 60 percent, 90 
percent? Should the percentage be the same in every case or for each 
species? Moreover, what factors, if any, would be appropriate to 
consider in making a size determination? Is size all by itself 
``significant,'' or does size only become ``significant'' when 
considered in combination with other factors? On the other hand, if 
``significant'' were meant to refer to importance, what factors would 
need to be considered in deciding that a particular portion of a 
species' range is ``important'' enough to trigger the protections of 
the Act?
    Where there is ambiguity in a statute, as with the meaning of 
``significant,'' the agency charged with administering the statute, in 
this case the Service, has broad discretion to resolve the ambiguity 
and give meaning to the term. As the Supreme Court has stated:

    In Chevron, this Court held that ambiguities in statutes within 
an agency's jurisdiction to administer are delegations of authority 
to the agency to fill the statutory gap in reasonable fashion. 
Filling these gaps, the Court explained, involves difficult policy 
choices that agencies are better equipped to make than courts. If a 
statute is ambiguous, and if the implementing agency's construction 
is reasonable, Chevron requires a federal court to accept the 
agency's construction of the statute, even if the agency's reading 
differs from what the court believes is the best statutory 

[[Page 15090]]

Nat'l Cable & Telecomms. Ass'n v. Brand X Internet Servs., 545 U.S. 
967, 980 (2005) (internal citations omitted).
    We have broad discretion in defining what portion of a species' 
range is ``significant.'' No ``bright line'' or ``predetermined'' 
percentage of historical range loss is considered ``significant'' in 
all cases, and we may consider factors other than simply the size of 
the range portion in defining what is ``significant.'' In light of the 
general ecosystems conservation purposes and findings in section 2 of 
the Act, our goal is to define ``significant'' in such a way as to 
insure the conservation of the species protected by the Act. In 
determining whether a range portion is significant, we consider the 
ecosystems on which the species that use that range depend as well as 
the values listed in the Act that would be impaired or lost if the 
species were to become extinct in that portion of the range or in the 
range as a whole.
    However, our discretion in defining ``significant'' is not 
unlimited. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, while acknowledging that 
we have ``a wide degree of discretion in delineating'' what portion of 
a range is ``significant,'' appeared to set outer limits of that 
discretion. See Defenders of Wildlife v. Norton, 258 F.3d 1136. On the 
one hand, it rejected what it called a quantitative approach to 
defining ``significant,'' where a ``bright line'' or ``predetermined'' 
percentage of historical range loss is considered ``significant'' in 
all cases. 258 F.3d. at 1143. As the court explained:

    First, it simply does not make sense to assume that the loss of 
a predetermined percentage of habitat or range would necessarily 
qualify a species for listing. A species with an exceptionally large 
historical range may continue to enjoy healthy population levels 
despite the loss of a substantial amount of suitable habitat. 
Similarly, a species with an exceptionally small historical range 
may quickly become endangered after the loss of even a very small 
percentage of habitat.

    The Ninth Circuit concluded that what is ``significant'' must 
``necessarily be determined on a case by case basis,'' and must take 
into account not just the size of the range but also the biological 
importance of the range to the species. 258 F.3d. at 1143. At the other 
end of the spectrum, the Ninth Circuit rejected what it called ``the 
faulty definition offered by the Secretary,'' a definition that holds 
that a portion of a species' range is ``significant'' only if the 
threats faced by the species in that area are so severe as to threaten 
the viability of the species as a whole. 258 F.3d. at 1143, 1146. It 
thus appears that within the two outer boundaries set by the Ninth 
Circuit, we have wide discretion to give the definitive interpretation 
of the word ``significant'' in the phrase significant ``portion of its 
    Based on these principles, we consider the following factors in 
determining whether a portion of a range is ``significant''--quality, 
quantity, and distribution of habitat relative to the biological 
requirements of the species; the historical value of the habitat to the 
species; the frequency of use of the habitat; the uniqueness or 
importance of the habitat for other reasons, such as breeding, feeding, 
migration, wintering, or suitability for population expansion; genetic 
diversity; and other biological factors. We focus on portions of a 
species' range that are important to the conservation of the species, 
such as ``recovery units'' identified in approved Section 4 recovery 
plans; unique habitat or other ecological features that provide 
adaptive opportunities that are of conservation importance to the 
species; and ``core'' populations that generate additional individuals 
of a species that can, over time, replenish depleted populations or 
stocks at the periphery of the species' range. We do not apply the term 
``significant'' to portions of the species' range that constitute less-
productive peripheral habitat, artificially-created habitat, or areas 
where wildlife species have established themselves in urban or suburban 
settings--such portions of the species' range are not ``significant,'' 
in our view, to the conservation of the species in the wild.
    Determining the SPR for the WGL DPS of the gray wolf is based on 
the biological needs of the species in the DPS. As discussed previously 
in our proposed WGL wolf rule (71 FR 15266-15305; March 27, 2006), 
wolves are highly adaptable habitat generalists, and their primary 
biological need is an adequate natural prey base of large ungulates. 
The primary current and likely future threats to wolves are excessive 
human-caused mortality and increased mortality from diseases and 
parasites. Therefore, our determination of the SPR for the WGL DPS of 
the gray wolf is primarily based on the portion of the DPS that 
provides an adequate wild prey base, suitably low levels of human-
caused mortality, and sufficient representation, resiliency, and 
redundancy to buffer the impacts of disease and parasite-induced 
    These biological needs, and the threats to gray wolves in the WGL 
DPS, are discussed in the following paragraphs addressing the five 
factors specified in section 4(a)(1) of the Act. We describe the 
necessary characteristics of suitable habitat and the necessary size 
and distribution of such habitat for it to constitute a SPR in the WGL 
DPS. Areas of habitat within the range of the gray wolf that are not 
suitable, or are not of sufficient size or appropriate geographic 
distribution, are not an SPR of the DPS.
    A. The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range.
    A common misperception is that wolves inhabit only remote portions 
of pristine forests or mountainous areas, where human developments and 
other activities have produced negligible change to the natural 
landscape. Their extirpation south of Canada and Alaska, except for the 
heavily forested portions of northeastern Minnesota, reinforced this 
popular belief. Wolves, however, survived in those areas not because 
those were the only places with the necessary habitat conditions, but 
because only in those remote areas were they sufficiently free of the 
human persecution that elsewhere killed wolves faster than the species 
could reproduce (Mech 1995a, p. 271).
    In the western Great Lakes region, wolves in the densely forested 
northeastern corner of Minnesota have expanded into the more 
agricultural portions of central and northwestern Minnesota, northern 
and central Wisconsin, and the entire UP of Michigan. Habitats 
currently being used by wolves span the broad range from the mixed 
hardwood-coniferous forest wilderness area of northern Minnesota, 
through sparsely settled, but similar habitats in Michigan's UP and 
northern Wisconsin, and into more intensively cultivated and livestock-
producing portions of central and northwestern Minnesota and central 
    Wolf research and the expansion of wolf range over the last three 
decades have shown that wolves can successfully occupy a wide range of 
habitats, and they are not dependent on wilderness areas for their 
survival. In the past, gray wolf populations occupied nearly every type 
of habitat north of mid-Mexico that contained large ungulate prey 
species, including bison, elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, and 
woodland caribou; thus, wolves historically occupied the entire 
Midwest. Inadequate prey density or high levels of human-caused 
mortality appear to be the only factors that limit wolf distribution 
(Mech 1995a, p. 271; 1995b, p. 544).

[[Page 15091]]

Suitable Habitat Within the Western Great Lakes Gray Wolf DPS
    Various researchers have investigated habitat suitability for 
wolves in the central and eastern portions of the United States. In 
recent years, most of these efforts have focused on using a combination 
of human density, deer density or deer biomass, and road density, or 
have used road density alone to identify areas where wolf populations 
are likely to persist or become established. (Mladenoff et al. 1995, 
pp. 284-285, 1997, pp. 23-27, 1998, pp. 1-8, 1999, pp. 39-43; Harrison 
and Chapin 1997, p. 3, 1998, pp. 769-770; Wydeven et al. 2001a, pp. 
110-113; Erb and Benson 2004, p. 2; Potvin et al. 2005, pp. 1661-1668).
    Road density has largely been adopted as the best predictor of 
habitat suitability in the Midwest due to the connection between roads 
and human-related wolf mortality. Several studies demonstrated that 
wolves generally did not maintain breeding packs in areas with a road 
density greater than about 0.9 to 1.1 linear miles per sq mi (0.6 to 
0.7 km per sq km) (Thiel 1985, pp. 404-406; Jensen et al. 1986, pp. 
364-366; Mech et al. 1988, pp. 85-87; Fuller et al. 1992, pp. 48-51). 
Work by Mladenoff and associates indicated that colonizing wolves in 
Wisconsin preferred areas where road densities were less than 0.7 mi 
per sq mi (0.45 km per sq km) (Mladenoff et al 1995, p. 289). However, 
recent work in the UP of Michigan indicates that in some areas with low 
road densities, low deer density appears to separately limit wolf 
occupancy (Potvin et al. 2005, pp. 1667-1668) and may prevent 
recolonization of portions of the UP. In Minnesota a combination of 
road density and human density is used by MN DNR to model suitable 
habitat. Areas with a human density up to 8 per sq km are suitable if 
they also have a road density less than 0.5 km per sq km. Areas with a 
human density of less than 4 per sq km are suitable if they have road 
densities up to 0.7 km per sq km (Erb and Benson 2004, p. 2).
    Road density is a useful parameter because it is easily measured 
and mapped, and because it correlates directly and indirectly with 
various forms of other human-related wolf mortality factors. A rural 
area with more roads generally has a greater human density, more 
vehicular traffic, greater access by hunters and trappers, more farms 
and residences, and more domestic animals. As a result, there is a 
greater likelihood that wolves in such an area will encounter humans, 
domestic animals, and various human activities. These encounters may 
result in wolves being hit by motor vehicles, being controlled by 
government agents after becoming involved in depredations on domestic 
animals, being shot intentionally by unauthorized individuals, being 
trapped or shot accidentally, or contracting diseases from domestic 
dogs (Mech et al. 1988, pp. 86-87; Mech and Goyal 1993, p. 332; 
Mladenoff et al. 1995, p. 282, 291). Based on mortality data from 
radio-collared Wisconsin wolves from 1979 to 1999, natural causes of 
death predominate (57 percent of mortalities) in areas with road 
densities below 1.35 mi per sq mi (0.84 km per sq km), but human-
related factors produced 71 percent of the wolf deaths in areas with 
higher road densities (Wydeven et al. 2001a, pp. 112-113).
    Some researchers have used a road density of 1 mi per sq mi (0.6 km 
per sq km) of land area as an upper threshold for suitable wolf 
habitat. However, the common practice in more recent studies is to use 
road density to predict probabilities of persistent wolf pack presence 
in an area. Areas with road densities less than 0.7 mi per sq mi (0.45 
km per sq km) are estimated to have a greater than 50 percent 
probability of wolf pack colonization and persistent presence, and 
areas where road density exceeded 1 mi per sq mi (0.6 km per sq km) 
have less than a 10 percent probability of occupancy (Mladenoff et al. 
1995. pp. 288-289; Mladenoff and Sickley 1998, p. 5; Mladenoff et al. 
1999, pp. 40-41). Wisconsin researchers view areas with greater than 50 
percent probability ``primary wolf habitat,'' areas with 10 to 50 
percent probability as ``secondary wolf habitat,'' and areas with less 
than 10 percent probability as unsuitable habitat (WI DNR 1997, pp. 47-
48). The territories of packs that do occur in areas of high road 
density, and hence with low expected probabilities of occupancy, are 
generally near broad areas of more suitable habitat that are likely 
serving as a source of wolves, thereby assisting in maintaining wolf 
presence in the higher road density, less suitable, areas (Mech 1989, 
pp. 387-388; Wydeven et al. 2001a, p.112). We note that the predictive 
ability of this model has recently been questioned (Mech 2006a, 2006b) 
and responded to (Mladenoff et al. 2006), and that an updated analysis 
of Wisconsin pack locations and habitat has been completed and is being 
prepared for publication (Mladenoff et al., to be submitted).
    It appears that essentially all suitable habitat in Minnesota is 
now occupied, and the wolf population within the State may have slowed 
its increase or has stabilized (Erb and Benson 2004, p. 7). This 
suitable habitat closely matches the areas designated as Wolf 
Management Zones 1 through 4 in the Federal Recovery Plan (USFWS 1992, 
p. 72), which are identical in area to Minnesota Wolf Management Zone A 
(see Figure 2, below; MN DNR 2001, Appendix III).
    Recent surveys for Wisconsin wolves and wolf packs show that wolves 
have now recolonized the areas predicted by habitat models to have high 
and moderate probability of occupancy (primary and secondary wolf 
habitat). The late winter 2005-06 Wisconsin wolf survey identified 
packs occurring throughout the central Wisconsin forest area (Wolf 
Management Zone 2, Figure 3) and across the northern forest zone (Zone 
1, Figure 3), with highest pack densities in the northwest and north 
central forest; pack densities are lower, but increasing, in the 
northeastern corner of the State (Wydeven et al. 2006, p. 33).
    Michigan wolf surveys in winter 2003-04 and 2004-05 continue to 
show wolf pairs or packs (defined by Michigan DNR as three or more 
wolves traveling together) in every UP county except Keweenaw County 
(Huntzinger et al. 2005, p. 6), which probably lacks a suitable 
ungulate prey base during winter months (Potvin et al. 2005, p. 1665).
    Such habitat suitability studies in the Upper Midwest indicate that 
the only large areas of suitable or potentially suitable habitat areas 
that are currently unoccupied by wolves are located in the NLP of 
Michigan (Mladenoff et al. 1997, p. 23; Mladenoff et al. 1999, p. 39; 
Potvin 2003, pp. 44-45; Gehring and Potter 2005, p. 1239). One 
published Michigan study (Gehring and Potter 2005, p. 1239) estimates 
that these areas could host 46 to 89 wolves, while a masters degree 
thesis investigation estimates that 110-480 wolves could exist in the 
NLP (Potvin 2003, p. 39). The NLP is separated from the UP by the 
Straits of Mackinac, whose 4-mile (6.4 km) width freezes during mid- 
and late-winter in some years. In recent years there have been two 
documented occurrences of wolves in the NLP (the last recorded wolf in 
the LP was in 1910), but no indication of persistence beyond several 
months. In the first instance a radio-collared female wolf from the 
central UP was trapped and killed by a coyote trapper in Presque Isle 
County in late October 2004. In late November 2004, tracks from two 
wolves were verified in the same NLP county. Follow-up winter surveys 
by the DNR in early 2005 failed to find additional wolf tracks in the 
NLP (Huntzinger et al.

[[Page 15092]]

2005, p. 7); additional surveys conducted in February and March 2006 
also failed to find evidence of continued NLP wolf presence (Beyer et 
al. 2006, p. 35).
    These NLP patches of potentially suitable habitat contain a great 
deal of private land, are small in comparison to the occupied habitat 
on the UP and in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and are intermixed with 
agricultural and higher road density areas (Gehring and Potter 2005, p. 
1240). Therefore, continuing wolf immigration from the UP may be 
necessary to maintain a future NLP population. The Gehring and Potter 
study (p. 1239) concludes that NLP suitable habitat (i.e., areas with 
greater than a 50 percent probability of wolf occupancy) amounts to 850 
sq mi (2,198 sq km). Potvin, using deer density in addition to road 
density, believes there are about 3,090 sq mi (8,000 sq km) of suitable 
habitat in the NLP (Potvin 2003, p. 21). Gehring and Potter exclude 
from their calculations those NLP low-road-density patches that are 
less than 19 sq mi (50 sq km), while Potvin does not limit habitat 
patch size in his calculations (Gehring and Potter 2005, p. 1239; 
Potvin 2003, pp. 10-15). Both of these area estimates are well below 
the minimum area described in the Federal Recovery Plan, which states 
that 10,000 sq mi (25,600 sq km) of contiguous suitable habitat is 
needed for a viable isolated gray wolf population, and half that area 
(5,000 sq mi or 12,800 sq km) is needed to maintain a viable wolf 
population that is subject to wolf immigration from a nearby population 
(USFWS 1992, pp. 25-26).
    Based on the above-described studies and the guidance of the 1992 
Recovery Plan, the Service has concluded that suitable habitat for 
wolves in the WGL DPS can be determined by considering four factors--
road density, human density, prey base, and size. An adequate prey base 
is an absolute requirement, but in much of the WGL DPS the white-tailed 
deer density is well above adequate levels, causing the other factors 
to become the determinants of suitable habitat. Prey base is primarily 
of concern in the UP where severe winter conditions cause deer to move 
away from some lakeshore areas, making otherwise suitable areas locally 
and seasonally unsuitable. Road density and human density frequently 
are highly correlated; therefore, road density is the best single 
predictor of habitat suitability. However, areas with higher road 
density may still be suitable if the human density is very low, so a 
consideration of both factors is sometimes useful (Erb and Benson 2004, 
p. 2). Finally, although the territory of individual wolf packs can be 
relatively small, a single, or several, packs are not likely to persist 
as a viable population if they occupy a small isolated island of 
otherwise suitable habitat. The 1992 Recovery Plan indicates that a 
wolf population needs to occupy at least 10,000 contiguous sq mi 
(25,600 sq km) to be considered viable if it is isolated from other 
wolf populations, and must occupy at least half that area if it is not 
isolated from another self-sustaining population (USFWS 1992, pp. 25-
    In summary, Minnesota Wolf Management Zone A (Federal Wolf 
Management Zones 1-4, Figure 2), Wisconsin Wolf Zones 1 and 2 (Figure 
3), and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan contain suitable wolf habitat. 
The other areas within the DPS are unsuitable habitat, or are 
potentially habitat that is too small or too fragmented to be suitable 
for maintaining a viable wolf population.
Determining the Significant Portion of the Range Within the WGL DPS
    The biological values of the various portions of the suitable 
habitat in the DPS are the important considerations for determining 
what constitutes SPR. Portions of the range that contribute minimally 
to the long-term viability of a species are likely to be insignificant, 
even if those areas constitute geographically large portions of the 
species' range. On the other hand, a small portion of the range that is 
necessary for a species' survival (e.g., the nesting areas of a wide-
ranging colonially nesting bird) is a significant portion of its range 
regardless of its size. Significance of portions of the range must be 
evaluated in a case-by-case context, and not only in a quantitative or 
theoretical context.
    Therefore, in determining the SPR within the WGL DPS we considered 
the factors listed above. These include the quality, quantity, and 
distribution of the habitat relative to the biological needs of the 
species, the need to maintain the remaining genetic diversity, the 
importance of geographic distribution in coping with catastrophes such 
as disease, the ability of the habitat to provide adequate wild prey, 
and the need to otherwise meet the conservation needs of the species.
    It is generally recognized that Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan 
provide the only sufficiently large areas in the Midwest having an 
adequate wild ungulate prey base and low road and human density for 
this DPS (USFWS 1992, pp. 56-58). Based on the biology of the gray 
wolf, threats to its continued existence, and conservation biology 
principles, the federal Recovery Plan specifies that two populations 
(or what equates to a single metapopulation) are needed to ensure long-
term viability (see Recovery Criteria, above). The Recovery Plan states 
the importance of a large wolf population throughout Minnesota Wolf 
Management Zones 1 through 4 (geographically identical to Zone A in the 
2001 Minnesota Wolf Management Plan, see Figure 2 in this rule) and the 
need for a second viable wolf population occupying 10,000 sq mi or 
5,000 sq mi elsewhere in the eastern United States (depending on its 
isolation from the Minnesota wolf population) (USFWS 1992, pp. 24-29). 
These portions of Minnesota (Management Zones 1 through 4) and the 
portions of the range that support the second viable wolf population 
(Wisconsin Zones 1 and 2 and the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan) 
are a SPR in the WGL DPS.
    The Recovery Plan also discusses the importance of low-road-density 
areas, the importance of minimizing wolf-human conflicts, and the 
maintenance of an adequate natural prey base in the areas hosting these 
two necessary wolf populations. The Recovery Plan, along with numerous 
other scientific publications, supports the need to manage and reduce 
wolf-human conflicts. The Recovery Plan specifically recommends against 
managing wolves in large areas of unsuitable habitat, stating that 
Minnesota Zone 5 should be managed with a goal of zero wolves there, 
because ``Zone 5 is not suitable for wolves. Wolves found there should 
be eliminated by any legal means'' (USFWS 1992, p. 20). Therefore, the 
Recovery Plan views Zone 5 (identical to Minnesota Wolf Management Zone 
B, Figure 2), which is roughly 60 percent of the State, as not an 
important part of the range of the gray wolf. This portion of the State 
is predominantly agricultural land, with high road densities, and high 
potential for wolves to depredate on livestock. Although individual 
wolves and some wolf packs occupy parts of Zone 5, these wolves are 
using habitat islands or are existing in other situations where 
conditions generally are not conducive to their long-term persistence. 
Therefore, Minnesota Wolf Management Zone B (Recovery Plan Zone 5) is 
not a significant portion of the range within the DPS.
    The second population, necessary to enhance both the resiliency and 
redundancy of the WGL DPR, has developed by naturally recolonizing 
suitable habitat areas in Wisconsin and the UP (see Recovery of the 
Gray Wolf in the Western Great Lakes Area, above). In Wisconsin, 
suitable habitat

[[Page 15093]]

(delineated as Zones 1 and 2 in Figure 3) is now largely occupied by 
wolf packs, but there are some gaps in the northeastern part of the 
State in Zone 1 where there appears to be room for additional packs to 
occupy areas between existing packs (Wydeven et al. 2006, p. 33). 
Similarly, in the UP of Michigan, wolf pairs or packs occur throughout 
the area identified as suitable (i.e., a high probability of wolf pack 
occupancy; Mladenoff et al. 1995, p. 287, Potvin et al. 2005, p. 1666), 
including every county of the UP except possibly Keweenaw County. Wolf 
density is lower in the northern and eastern portions of the UP where 
lower deer numbers may prevent establishment of packs in some 
localities (Potvin et al. 2005, pp. 1665-1666), but over the next 
several years packs may be able to fill in some of the currently 
unoccupied areas. Based on the suitability of the habitat in these 
areas and the importance of this second population to long-term wolf 
population viability, Wisconsin Zones 1 and 2 (see Figure 3) and the 
entire UP of Michigan are a SPR of the gray wolf WGL DPS.
    The NLP of Michigan appears to have the only unoccupied potentially 
suitable wolf habitat in the Midwest that is of sufficient size to 
maintain wolf packs (Gehring and Potter 2005, p. 1239; Potvin 2003, pp. 
44-45), although its small size and fragmented nature may mean that NLP 
wolf population viability would be dependent upon continuing 
immigration from the UP. The only part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula 
that warrants any consideration for inclusion as suitable habitat for 
the WGL DPS is composed of those areas of fragmented habitat studied by 
Potvin (2003, pp. 44-45) and Gehring and Potter (2005, p. 1239). 
However, these areas amount to less than half of the minimum area 
identified by the Recovery Plan as needed for the establishment of 
viable populations. These Lower Peninsula areas therefore might have 
difficulty maintaining wolf populations even with the help of 
occasional immigration of wolves from the UP (see Suitable Habitat 
Within the Western Great Lakes Gray Wolf DPS for additional 
discussion). While the UP wolves may be significant to any Lower 
Peninsula wolf population that may develop (occasional UP to Lower 
Peninsula movements may provide important genetic and demographic 
augmentation crucial to a small population founded by only a few 
individuals), the reverse will not be true--Lower Peninsula wolves 
would not be important to the wolf population in the UP. Thus, we 
conclude that the Northern Lower Peninsula is not a significant portion 
of the range of the gray wolf in the WGL DPS.
    The only area outside these three states and within the WGL DPS 
that potentially might hold wolves on a frequent or possibly constant 
basis is the Turtle Mountain region that straddles the international 
border in north central North Dakota in the northwestern corner of the 
DPS. Road densities within the Turtle Mountains are below the 
thresholds believed to limit colonization by wolves. However, this area 
is only about 579 sq mi (1,500 sq km), with approximately 394 sq mi 
(1,020 sq km) in North Dakota, and roughly 185 sq mi (480 sq km) in 
Manitoba (Licht and Huffman 1996, p. 172). This area is far smaller 
that the 10,000 sq mi of habitat considered minimally necessary to 
support an isolated wolf population (USFWS 1992, pp. 25-26). 
Furthermore, the Manitoba portion of the Turtle Mountains is outside 
the currently listed area for the gray wolf and outside this WGL DPS. 
While this area may provide a small area of marginal wolf habitat and 
may support limited and occasional wolf reproduction, the Turtle 
Mountain area within the United States is not a SPR of gray wolves 
within the WGL DPS, because of its very small area and its setting as 
an island of forest surrounded by a landscape largely modified for 
agriculture and grazing (Licht and Huffman 1996, p. 173).
    Similarly, other portions of the WGL DPS that lack suitable 
habitat, or only have areas of suitable habitat that are below the area 
thresholds specified in the Recovery Plan and/or are highly fragmented, 
cannot be considered a SPR of the gray wolf in the WGL DPS. These areas 
include the rest of eastern North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, 
Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin Wolf Management Zones 3 and 4 (see Figure 3), 
and most of the LP of Michigan. While large areas of historical range 
within the DPS boundary are either unoccupied by the species or 
occupied only on a transient basis, these areas are almost completely 
lacking suitable habitat, and there is little likelihood that they 
could ever support viable wolf populations. For example, of the five 
States partially included in the WGL DPS, the eastern halves of North 
Dakota and South Dakota arguably contain the best potential area for 
wolf recovery because of their low human population densities. Yet even 
there, the landscape is predominantly cropland and grazing land, the 
result of massive conversion from the native prairies where gray wolves 
once hunted bison, and it is covered with a network of public roads. 
Road density in eastern South Dakota is approximately 1.68 mi per sq 
mi, and the South Dakota Department of Transportation states that 
figure likely does not include the many section line roads that are 
open to public travel but are not on a regular maintenance schedule 
(Larson in litt. 2006b). The landscape of North Dakota is similar, with 
merely two percent of the State forested, resulting in a cropland-
dominated landscape in eastern North Dakota that provides negligible 
cover for wolf use in denning and escape, except in the Turtle 
Mountains. The road density across the portion of North Dakota within 
the WGL DPS is 1.01 mi per sq mi (Barnhardt in litt. 2006). A finer-
grained analysis (Moffett 1997, p. 31) shows that only small and 
scattered areas are below the 1 mi per sq mi threshold established by 
Great Lakes area researchers (Mladenoff et al., 1995, pp. 288-289) as 
needed for the maintenance of viable wolf populations, and none of 
these areas of lower road density come close to the minimum size 
identified by the Recovery Plan (USFWS 1992, pp. 25-26) for a viable 
wolf population. In the open grazing and cropland-dominated landscape 
of the eastern Dakotas, it is likely that viable wolf populations would 
require even lower road densities than the threshold established by 
researchers in the much more wooded landscapes of Minnesota, Wisconsin, 
and the UP. Therefore, the eastern portions of South Dakota and North 
Dakota do not provide suitable gray wolf habitat and these areas cannot 
be considered to be significant portions of gray wolf range in the WGL 
    In summary, the areas that we determine to be a significant portion 
of the range of the WGL DPS are Minnesota Wolf Management Zone A 
(Figure 2), Wisconsin Zones 1 and 2 (Figure 3), and the entire Upper 
Peninsula of Michigan. These areas constitute the SPR in the DPS, 
because they fully meet the biological needs of the species and provide 
the conditions and land base to counter the threats to the wolf 
population within the DPS. The other areas of the WGL DPS do not 
constitute significant portions of the range of the gray wolf.
Wolf Populations on Federal Lands
    National forests, and the prey species found in their various 
habitats, have been important to wolf conservation and recovery in the 
core areas of the WGL DPS. There are five national forests with 
resident wolves (Superior, Chippewa, Chequamegon-Nicolet, Ottawa, and 
Hiawatha National Forests) in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Their 
wolf populations range from approximately 20 on the Nicolet portion

[[Page 15094]]

of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in northeastern Wisconsin, 
to 160-170 on the UP's Ottawa National Forest, to an estimated 465 (in 
winter of 2003-04) on the Superior National Forest in northeastern 
Minnesota (Lindquist in litt. 2005). Nearly half of the wolves in 
Wisconsin currently use the Chequamegon portion of the Chequamegon-
Nicolet National Forest.
    Voyageurs National Park, along Minnesota's northern border, has a 
land base of nearly 882 km\2\ (340 mi\2\). There are 40 to 55 wolves 
within 7 to 11 packs that exclusively or partially reside within the 
park, and at least 4 packs are located wholly inside the Park 
boundaries (Holbeck in litt. 2005, based on 2000-2001 data).
    Within the boundaries of the WGL DPS, we currently manage seven 
units within the National Wildlife Refuge System with significant wolf 
activity. Primary among these are Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge 
(NWR), Tamarac NWR, and Rice Lake NWR in Minnesota; Seney NWR in the UP 
of Michigan; and Necedah NWR in central Wisconsin. Agassiz NWR has had 
as many as 20 wolves in 2 to 3 packs in recent years. In 1999, mange 
and illegal shootings reduced them to a single pack of five wolves and 
a separate lone wolf. Since 2001, however, two packs with a total of 10 
to 12 wolves have been using the Refuge. About 60 percent of the packs' 
territories are located on the Refuge or on adjacent State-owned 
wildlife management area (Huschle in litt. 2005). Tamarac NWR has 2 
packs, with a 15-year average of 12 wolves in one pack; adults and an 
unknown number of pups comprise the second pack Boyle, in litt. 2005). 
Rice Lake NWR, in Minnesota, has one pack of nine animals using the 
Refuge in 2004; in 2005, the pack had at least 6 individuals. Other 
single or paired wolves pass through the Refuge frequently (Stefanski 
pers. comm. 2004; McDowell in litt. 2005). In 2003, Seney NWR had one 
pack with two adults and two pups; in 2005 there were two pairs of 
wolves and several lone individuals using the Refuge (Olson in litt. 
2005). Necedah NWR currently has 2 packs with at least 13 wolves in the 
packs (Trick in litt. 2005). Over the past ten years, Sherburne and 
Crane Meadows NWRs in central Minnesota have had intermittent, but 
reliable, observations and signs of individual wolves each year. To 
date, no established packs have been documented on either of those 
Refuges. The closest established packs are within 15 miles of Crane 
Meadows NWR at Camp Ripley Military Installation and 30 miles north of 
Sherburne NWR at Mille Lacs State Wildlife Management Area (Holler in 
litt. 2005).
Suitable Habitat Ownership and Protection
    In Minnesota, public lands, including national forests, a national 
park, national wildlife refuges, tax-forfeit lands (managed mostly by 
counties), State forests, State wildlife management areas, and State 
parks, encompass approximately 42 percent of current wolf range. 
American Indians and Tribes own 3 percent, an additional 1,535 square 
miles (2,470 sq km), in Minnesota's wolf range (see Erb and Benson 
2004, table 1). In its 2001 Minnesota Wolf Management Plan, MN DNR 
states that it ``will continue to identify and manage currently 
occupied and potential wolf habitat areas to benefit wolves and their 
prey on public and private land, in cooperation with landowners and 
other management agencies'' (MN DNR 2001, p. 25). MN DNR will monitor 
deer and moose habitat and, when necessary and appropriate, improve 
habitat for these species. MN DNR maintains that several large public 
land units of State parks and State forests along the Wisconsin border 
will likely ensure that the connection between the two States' wolf 
populations will remain open to wolf movements. Nevertheless, MN DNR 
stated that it would cooperate with Wisconsin Department of Natural 
Resources to incorporate the effects of future development ``into long-
term viability analyses of wolf populations and dispersal in the 
interstate area'' (MN DNR 2001, p. 27).
    The MN DNR Divisions of Forestry and Wildlife directly administer 
approximately 5,330 square miles of land in Minnesota's wolf range. DNR 
has set goals of enlarging and protecting its forested land base by, in 
part, ``minimizing the loss and fragmentation of private forest lands'' 
(MN DNR 2000, p. 20) and by connecting forest habitats with natural 
corridors (MN DNR 2000, p. 21). It plans to achieve these goals and 
objectives via several strategies, including the development of 
(Ecological) Subsection Forest Resource Management Plans (SFRMP) and to 
expand its focus on corridor management and planning.
    In 2005 the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified that 4.84 
million acres of State-administered forest land are ``well managed'' 
(FSC 2005); the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) also certified 
that MN DNR was managing these lands to meet its standards. For the FSC 
certification, independent certifiers assessed forest management 
against FSC's Lakes States Regional Standard, which includes a 
requirement to maximize habitat connectivity to the extent possible at 
the landscape level (FSC 2005, p. 22).
    Efforts to maximize habitat connectivity in the range of gray 
wolves would complement measures the MN DNR described in its State wolf 
plan (MN DNR 2001, pp. 26-27). As part of its post-delisting 
monitoring, the Service will review certification evaluation reports 
issued by FSC to assess MN DNR's ongoing efforts in this area.
    Counties manage approximately 3,860 square miles of tax forfeit 
land in Minnesota's wolf range (MN DNR unpublished data). We are aware 
of no specific measures that any county in Minnesota takes to conserve 
wolves. If most of the tax-forfeit lands are maintained for use as 
timber lands or natural areas, however, and if regional prey levels are 
maintained, management specifically for wolves on these lands will not 
be necessary. MN DNR manages ungulate populations ``on a regional basis 
to ensure sustainable harvests for hunters, sufficient numbers for 
aesthetic and nonconsumptive use, and to minimize damage to natural 
communities and conflicts with humans such as depredation of 
agricultural crops'' (MN DNR 2001, p. 17). Moreover, although counties 
may sell tax-forfeit lands subject to Minnesota State law, they 
generally manage these lands to ensure that they will retain their 
productivity as forests into the future. For example, Crow Wing 
County's mission for its forest lands includes the commitment to 
``sustain a healthy, diverse, and productive forest for future 
generations to come.'' In addition, at least four counties in 
Minnesota's wolf range--Beltrami, Carlton, Koochiching, and St. Louis--
are certified by SFI, and four others (Aitkin, Cass, Itasca, and Lake) 
have been certified by FSC. About ten private companies with industrial 
forest lands in Minnesota's wolf range have also been certified by FSC.
    There are no legal or regulatory requirements for the protection of 
wolf habitat, per se, on private lands in Minnesota. Land management 
activities such as timber harvest and prescribed burning carried out by 
public agencies and by private land owners in Minnesota's wolf range 
incidentally and significantly improves habitat for deer, the primary 
prey for wolves in the State. The impact of these measures is apparent 
from the continuing high deer densities in Minnesota's wolf range. The 
State's three largest deer harvests have occurred in the last three 
years (2003-05), and approximately one-half of the

[[Page 15095]]

Minnesota deer harvest is in the Forest Zone, which encompasses most of 
the occupied wolf range in the State (Lennarz 2005, p. 93, 98).
    Given the extensive public ownership and management of land within 
Minnesota's wolf range, as well as the beneficial habitat management 
expected from tribal lands, we believe suitable habitat, and especially 
an adequate wild prey base, will remain available to the State's wolf 
population for the foreseeable future. Management of private lands for 
timber production will provide additional habitat suitable for wolves 
and white-tailed deer.
    Similarly, current lands in northern and central Wisconsin that are 
judged to be primary and secondary wolf habitat are well protected from 
significant adverse development and habitat degradation due to public 
ownership and/or protective management that preserves the habitat and 
wolf prey base. Primary habitat (that is, areas with greater than 50 
percent probability of wolf pack occupancy, Wydeven et al. 1999, pp. 
47-48) totals 5,743 sq mi (14,874 sq km) and is 62 percent in Federal, 
State, Tribal, or county ownership. County lands, mostly county 
forests, comprise 29 percent of the primary habitat and Federal lands, 
mostly the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, total another 17 
percent. Most tribal land (7 percent of primary habitat), while not 
public land, is also very likely to remain as suitable deer and wolf 
habitat for the foreseeable future. State forest ownership protects 8 
percent. Private industrial forest management practices will protect 
another 10 percent of the primary habitat, although unpredictable 
timber markets and the demand for second or vacation home sites may 
reduce this acreage over the next several decades. The remaining 29 
percent is in other forms of private ownership and is vulnerable to 
loss from the primary habitat category to an unknown extent (Sickley in 
litt. 2006, unpublished data updating Table C2 of WI DNR 1999, p. 48).
    Areas judged to be secondary wolf habitat by Wisconsin DNR (10 to 
50 percent probability of occupancy by wolf packs, Wydeven et al. 1999, 
pp. 47-48) are somewhat more developed or fragmented habitats and are 
less well protected overall, because only slightly over half is in 
public ownership or under management that protects the habitat and prey 
base. Public and tribal ownership protects 48 percent of the secondary 
habitat, with county (17 percent) and national (18 percent) forests 
ownership again protecting the largest segments. Tribal ownership 
covers 5 percent, and state ownership, 7 percent. Private industrial 
forest ownership provides protection to 5 percent, and the remaining 47 
percent is in other forms of private ownership (Sickley in litt. 2006).
    County forest lands represent the single largest category of 
primary wolf habitat in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Statute 28.11 guides the 
administration of county forests, and directs management for production 
of forest products together with recreational opportunities, wildlife, 
watershed protection and stabilization of stream flow. This Statute 
also provides a significant disincentive to conversion for other uses. 
Any proposed withdrawal of county forest lands for other uses must meet 
a standard of a higher and better use for the citizens of Wisconsin, 
and be approved by two-thirds of the County Board. As a result of this 
requirement, withdrawals are infrequent, and the county forest land 
base is actually increasing.
    This analysis shows that nearly three-quarters of the primary 
habitat in Wisconsin receives substantial protection due to ownership 
and/or management for sustainable timber production. Over half of the 
secondary habitat is similarly protected. Given that portions of the 
primary habitat in northeastern Wisconsin remain sparsely populated 
with wolf packs (Wydeven et al. 2006, p. 33), thereby allowing for 
continuing wolf population expansion in that area, we believe this 
degree of habitat protection is more than adequate to support a viable 
wolf population in Wisconsin for the foreseeable future.
    In the UP of Michigan, State and Federal ownership comprises 2.0 
and 2.1 million acres respectively, representing 19.3 percent and 20.1 
percent of the land surface of the UP. The Federal ownership is 
composed of 87 percent national forest, 8 percent national park, and 5 
percent national wildlife refuge. The management of these three 
categories of Federal land is discussed elsewhere, but clearly will 
benefit gray wolves and their prey.
    State lands on the UP are 94 percent State forest land, 6 percent 
State park, and less than 1 percent in fishing and boating access areas 
and State game areas. Part 525, Sustainable Forestry on State 
Forestlands, of the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental 
Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended, directs State forestland 
management in Michigan. It requires the MI DNR to manage the State 
forests in a manner consistent with sustainable forestry, to prepare 
and implement a management plan, and to seek and maintain a third party 
certification that the lands are managed in a sustainable fashion (MI 
DNR 2005c, p. 1).
    Much of the private land on the UP is managed or protected in a 
manner that will maintain forest cover and provide suitable habitat for 
wolves and white-tailed deer. Nearly 1.9 million acres of large-tract 
industrial forest lands and another 1.9 million acres of smaller 
private forest land are enrolled in the Commercial Forest Act (CFA). 
These 3.7 million acres are managed for long-term sustainable timber 
production under forest management plans written by certified 
foresters; in return, the landowners benefit from a reduction in 
property taxes. In addition, nearly 37,000 acres on the UP are owned by 
The Nature Conservancy, and continue to be managed to restore and 
preserve native plant and animal communities. Therefore, these private 
land management practices currently are preserving an additional 36 
percent of the UP as suitable habitat for wolves and their prey 
    In total, 39 percent of the UP is federally- and State-owned land 
whose management will benefit wolf conservation for the foreseeable 
future, and another 36 percent is private forest land that is being 
managed, largely under the incentives of the CFA, in a way that 
provided provides suitable habitat and prey for wolf populations. 
Therefore, a minimum of nearly three-quarters of the UP should continue 
to be suitable for gray wolf conservation, and we do not envision UP 
habitat loss or degradation as a problem for wolf population viability 
in the foreseeable future.
    Hearne et al. (2003), determined that a viable wolf population (one 
having less than 10 percent chance of extinction over 100 years), 
should consist of at least 175 to 225 wolves (p. 170), and they modeled 
various likely scenarios of habitat conditions in the UP of Michigan 
and northern Wisconsin through the year 2020 to determine whether 
future conditions would support a wolf population of that size. Most 
scenarios of future habitat conditions resulted in viable wolf 
populations in each State through 2020. When the model analyzed the 
future conditions in the two States combined, all scenarios produced a 
viable wolf population through 2020. Their scenarios included increases 
in human population density, changes in land ownership that may result 
in decreased habitat suitability, and increased road density (pp. 101-
    The large areas of unsuitable habitat in the eastern Dakotas; the 
northern portions of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio; and the 
southern areas of

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Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan; as well as the relatively small 
areas of unoccupied potentially suitable habitat, do not constitute a 
SPR for the WGL DPS. Therefore, we have determined that the existing 
and likely future threats to wolves outside the currently occupied 
areas, and especially to wolves outside of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and 
the UP, do not rise to the level that they threaten the long-term 
viability of wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the UP of 
    In summary, wolves currently occupy the vast majority of the 
suitable habitat in the WGL DPS, which constitutes the SPR within the 
WGL DPS, and that habitat is adequately protected for the foreseeable 
future. Unoccupied areas that have the characteristics of suitable 
habitat exist in small and fragmented parcels and are not likely to 
develop viable wolf populations. Threats to those habitat areas, which 
are not a SPR within the WGL SPR, will not adversely impact the 
recovered wolf metapopulation in the DPS.
    Wolf density is heavily dependent on prey availability (e.g., 
expressed as ungulate biomass, Fuller et al. 2003, pp. 170-171), but 
prey availability is not likely to threaten wolves in the WGL DPS. 
Conservation of primary wolf prey in the WGL DPS, white-tailed deer and 
moose, is clearly a high priority for State conservation agencies. As 
Minnesota DNR points out in its wolf management plan (MN DNR 2001, p. 
25), it manages ungulates to ensure a harvestable surplus for hunters, 
nonconsumptive users, and to minimize conflicts with humans. To ensure 
a harvestable surplus for hunters, MN DNR must account for all sources 
of natural mortality, including loss to wolves, and adjust hunter 
harvest levels when necessary. For example, after severe winters in the 
1990's, MN DNR modified hunter harvest levels to allow for the recovery 
of the local deer population (MN DNR 2001, p. 25). In addition to 
regulation of human harvest of deer and moose, MN DNR also plans to 
continue to monitor and improve habitat for these species. Land 
management carried out by other public agencies and by private land 
owners in Minnesota's wolf range, including timber harvest and 
prescribed fire, incidentally and significantly improves habitat for 
deer, the primary prey for wolves in the State. The success of these 
measures is apparent from the continuing high deer densities in the 
Forest Zone of Minnesota, and the fact that the State's three largest 
deer harvests have occurred in the last three years. Approximately one-
half of the Minnesota deer harvest is in the Forest Zone, which 
encompasses most of the occupied wolf range in the State (Lennarz 2005, 
p. 93). There is no indication that harvest of deer and moose or 
management of their habitat will significantly depress abundance of 
these species in Minnesota's core wolf range. Therefore, prey 
availability is not likely to endanger gray wolves in the foreseeable 
future in the State.
    Similarly, the deer populations in Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan 
are at historically high levels. Wisconsin's pre-season deer population 
has exceeded 1 million animals since 1984 (WI DNR undated a), and 
hunter harvest has exceeded 400,000 deer in 9 of the last 11 years (WI 
DNR undated b). Michigan's 2005 pre-season deer population was 
approximately 1.7 million deer, with about 336,000 residing in the UP, 
and the 2006 estimates projects slightly higher UP deer populations (MI 
DNR 2006b, pp. 2-4). Currently MI DNR is proposing revised deer 
management goals to guide management of the deer population through 
2010. The proposed UP 2006-2010 goal range is 323,000 to 411,000 (MI 
DNR 2005d), which would maintain, or possibly increase, the current 
ungulate prey base for UP wolves. Short of a major, and unlikely, shift 
in deer management and harvest strategies, there will be no shortage of 
prey for Wisconsin and Michigan wolves for the foreseeable future.
    Summary of Factor A--The wolf population in the WGL DPS currently 
occupies all the suitable habitat area identified for recovery in the 
Midwest in the 1978 and 1992 Recovery Plans, which are the SPR within 
the DPS, and most of the potentially suitable habitat in the WGL DPS. 
Unsuitable habitat, and the small fragmented areas of suitable habitat 
away from these core areas, are areas where viable wolf populations are 
unlikely to develop and persist. Although they may have been historical 
habitat, many of these areas are no longer suitable for wolves, and 
none of them are important to meet the biological needs of the species. 
They therefore are not a SPR of the WGL DPS.
    The WGL DPS wolf population exceeds its numerical, temporal, and 
distributional goals for recovery. A delisted wolf population would be 
safely maintained above recovery levels for the foreseeable future 
within the SPR of the DPS. Because much important wolf habitat in the 
SPR is in public ownership, the States will continue to manage for high 
ungulate populations, and the States, Tribes, and Federal land 
management agencies will adequately regulate human-caused mortality of 
wolves and wolf prey. This will allow these three States to easily 
support a recovered and viable wolf metapopulation into the foreseeable 
future. We conclude that gray wolves within the SPR in this DPS are not 
in danger of extinction now, or likely to be in danger of extinction in 
the foreseeable future, as a result of destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of the species' habitat or range.
    B. Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes.
    Threats to wolves resulting from scientific or educational purposes 
are not likely to increase substantially following delisting of the 
DPS, and any increased use for these purposes will be regulated and 
monitored by the States and Tribes in the core recovery areas. Since 
their listing under the Act, no gray wolves have been legally killed or 
removed from the wild in any of the nine States included in the WGL DPS 
for either commercial or recreational purposes. Some wolves may have 
been illegally killed for commercial use of the pelts and other parts, 
but we think that illegal commercial trafficking in wolf pelts or parts 
and illegal capture of wolves for commercial breeding purposes is rare. 
State wolf management plans for Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan 
ensure that wolves will not be killed for these purposes for many years 
following Federal delisting, so these forms of mortality will not 
emerge as new threats upon delisting. See Factor D for a detailed 
discussion of State wolf management plans, and for applicable 
regulations in States lacking wolf management plans.
    We do not expect the use of wolves for scientific purposes to 
increase in proportion to total wolf numbers in the WGL DPS after 
delisting. Prior to delisting, the intentional or incidental killing, 
or capture and permanent confinement, of endangered or threatened gray 
wolves for scientific purposes has only legally occurred under permits 
or subpermits issued by the Service (under section 10(a)(1)(A)) or by a 
State agency operating under a cooperative agreement with the Service 
pursuant to section 6 of the Act (50 CFR 17.21(c)(5) and 17.31(b)). 
Although exact figures are not available, throughout the conterminous 
48 States, such permanent removals of wolves from the wild have been 
very limited and probably comprise an average of not more than two 
animals per year since the species was first listed as endangered. In 
the WGL DPS, these animals were either taken from the

[[Page 15097]]

Minnesota wolf population during long-term research activities (about 
15 gray wolves) or were accidental takings as a result of research 
activities in Wisconsin (4 to 5 mortalities and 1 long-term 
confinement) and in Michigan (2 mortalities) (Berg in litt. 1998; Mech 
in litt. 1998; Roell in litt. 2004, in litt. 2005a).
    The Minnesota DNR plans to encourage the study of wolves with 
radio-telemetry after delisting, with an emphasis on areas where they 
expect wolf-human conflicts and where wolves are expanding their range 
(MN DNR 2001, p. 19). Similarly, Wisconsin and Michigan DNRs will 
continue to trap wolves for radio-collaring, examination, and health 
monitoring for the foreseeable future (WI DNR 1999, pp. 19-21; MI DNR 
1997, p. 22; WI DNR 2006a, p. 14). The continued handling of wild 
wolves for research, including the administration of drugs, may result 
in some accidental deaths of wolves. We believe that capture and radio-
telemetry-related injuries or mortalities will not increase 
significantly above the level observed before delisting in proportion 
to wolf abundance; adverse effects to wolves associated with such 
activities have been minimal and would not constitute a threat to the 
    No wolves have been legally removed from the wild for educational 
purposes in recent years. Wolves that have been used for such purposes 
are the captive-reared offspring of wolves that were already in 
captivity for other reasons, and this is not likely to change as a 
result of Federal delisting. We do not expect taking for educational 
purposes to constitute any threat to Midwest wolf populations for the 
foreseeable future.
    See Factor E for a discussion of taking of gray wolves by Native 
Americans for religious, spiritual, or traditional cultural purposes. 
See the Depredation Control Programs sections under Factor D for 
discussion of other past, current, and potential future forms of 
intentional and accidental take by humans, including depredation 
control, public safety, and under public harvest. While public harvest 
may include recreational harvest, it is likely that public harvest will 
also serve as a management tool, so it is discussed in Factor D.
    Summary of Factor B--Taking wolves for scientific or educational 
purposes in the other WGL DPS States may not be regulated or closely 
monitored in the future, but the threat to wolves in those States will 
not be significant to the long-term viability of the wolf population in 
the WGL DPS. The potential limited commercial and recreational harvest 
that may occur in the DPS will be regulated by State and/or Tribal 
conservation agencies and is discussed under Factor D. Therefore, we 
conclude that overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, 
or educational purposes will not be a threat sufficient to cause the 
WGL DPS gray wolves to be in danger of extinction in the foreseeable 
future in all or a significant portion of the range within the WGL DPS.
    C. Disease or predation.
    Many diseases and parasites have been reported for the gray wolf, 
and several of them have had significant impacts during the recovery of 
the species in the 48 conterminous States (Brand et al. 1995, p. 419; 
WI DNR 1999, p. 61). If not monitored and controlled by States, these 
diseases and parasites, and perhaps others, may threaten gray wolf 
populations in the future. Thus, to avoid a future decline caused by 
diseases or parasites, States and their partners will have to 
diligently monitor the prevalence of these pathogens in order to 
effectively respond to significant outbreaks.
    Canine parvovirus (CPV) is a relatively new disease that infects 
wolves, domestic dogs, foxes, coyotes, skunks, and raccoons. Recognized 
in the United States in 1977 in domestic dogs, it appeared in Minnesota 
wolves (based upon retrospective serologic evidence) live-trapped as 
early as 1977 (Mech et al. 1986, p. 105). Minnesota wolves, however, 
may have been exposed to the virus as early as 1973 (Mech and Goyal 
1995, p. 568). Serologic evidence of gray wolf exposure to CPV peaked 
at 95 percent for a group of Minnesota wolves live-trapped in 1989 
(Mech and Goyal 1993, p, 331). In a captive colony of Minnesota wolves, 
pup and yearling mortality from CPV was 92 percent of the animals that 
showed indications of active CPV infections in 1983 (Mech and Fritts 
1987, p. 6), demonstrating the substantial impacts this disease can 
have on young wolves. It is believed that the population impacts of CPV 
occur via diarrhea-induced dehydration leading to abnormally high pup 
mortality (WI DNR 1999, p. 61). CPV has been detected in nearly every 
wolf population in North America including Alaska (Bailey et al. 1995, 
p. 443) and exposure in wolves is now believed to be almost universal.
    There is no evidence that CPV has caused a population decline or 
has had a significant impact on the recovery of the Minnesota gray wolf 
population. Mech and Goyal (1995, p. 566, Table 1, p. 568, Fig. 3), 
however, found that high CPV prevalence in the wolves of the Superior 
National Forest in Minnesota occurred during the same years in which 
wolf pup numbers were low. Because the wolf population did not decline 
during the study period, they concluded that CPV-caused pup mortality 
was compensatory, that is, it replaced deaths that would have occurred 
from other causes, especially starvation of pups. They theorized that 
CPV prevalence affects the amount of population increase and that a 
wolf population will decline when 76 percent of the adult wolves 
consistently test positive for CPV exposure. Their data indicate that 
CPV prevalence in adult wolves in their study area increased by an 
annual average of 4 percent during 1979-93 and was at least 80 percent 
during the last 5 years of their study (Mech and Goyal 1995, pp. 566, 
568). Additional data gathered since 1995, currently in preparation for 
publication, suggests that CPV has been reducing pup survival both in 
the Superior National Forest and statewide, between 1984 and 2004; 
however, statewide there is some evidence of a slight increase in pup 
survival since about 1995. These conclusions are based upon an inverse 
relationship between pup numbers in summer captures and seroprevalence 
of CPV antibodies in summer-captured adult wolves (Mech in litt. 2006). 
These data provide strong justification for continuing population and 
disease monitoring.
    Wisconsin DNR, in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey 
National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, (formerly the 
National Wildlife Health Laboratory) has an extensive dataset on the 
incidence of wolf diseases, beginning in 1981. Canine parvovirus 
exposure was evident in 5 of 6 wolves tested in 1981, and probably 
stalled wolf population growth in Wisconsin during the early and mid-
1980s when numbers there declined or were static; at that time 75 
percent of 32 wolves tested positive for CPV. During the following 
years of population increase (1988-96) only 35 percent of the 63 wolves 
tested positive for CPV (WI DNR 1999, p. 62). More recent exposure 
rates for CPV continue to be high in Wisconsin wolves, with annual 
rates ranging from 60 to 100 percent among wild wolves handled from 
2001 through mid-2005. Part of the reason for high exposure percentages 
is likely an increased emphasis in sampling pups and Central Forest 
wolves starting in 2001, so comparisons of post- and pre-2001 data are 
of limited value. CPV appears not to be a significant cause of 
mortality, as only a single wolf (male pup) is known to have died from 
CPV during this period (Wydeven and Wiedenhoeft 2002, p. 8 Table 4; 

[[Page 15098]]

pp. 11-12 Table 4; 2004a, pp. 11-12 Table 5; 2005, pp. 19-20 Table 4; 
2006, pp. 23-25 Table 4). While the difficulty of discovering CPV-
killed pups must be considered, and it is possible that CPV-caused pup 
mortality is being underestimated, the continuing increase of the 
Wisconsin wolf population indicates that CPV mortality is no longer 
impeding wolf population growth in the State. It may be that many 
Wisconsin wolves have developed some degree of resistance to CPV, and 
this disease is no longer a significant threat in the State.
    Similar to Wisconsin wolves, serological testing of Michigan wolves 
captured from 1992 through 2001 (most recent available data) shows that 
the majority of UP wolves have been exposed to CPV. Fifty-six percent 
of 16 wolves captured from 1992 to 1999 and 83 percent of 23 wolves 
captured in 2001 showed antibody titers at levels established as 
indicative of previous CPV exposure that may provide protection from 
future infection from CPV (Beheler in litt. undated, in litt. 2004). 
There are no data showing any CPV-caused wolf mortality or population 
impacts to the gray wolf population on the UP, but few wolf pups are 
handled in the UP (Hammill in litt. 2002, Beyer in litt. 2006a), so low 
levels of CPV-caused pup mortality may go undetected there. Mortality 
data are primarily collected from collared wolves, which until recently 
received CPV inoculations. Therefore, mortality data for the UP should 
be interpreted cautiously.
    Sarcoptic mange is caused by a mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) infection 
of the skin. The irritation caused by the feeding and burrowing mites 
results in scratching and then severe fur loss, which in turn can lead 
to mortality from exposure during severe winter weather. The mites are 
spread from wolf to wolf by direct body contact or by common use of 
``rubs'' by infested and uninfested animals. Thus, mange is frequently 
passed from infested females to their young pups, and from older pack 
members to their pack mates. In a long-term Alberta, Canada, wolf 
study, higher wolf densities were correlated with increased incidence 
of mange, and pup survival decreased as the incidence of mange 
increased (Brand et al. 1995, p. 428).
    From 1991 to 1996, 27 percent of live-trapped Wisconsin wolves 
exhibited symptoms of mange. During the winter of 1992-93, 58 percent 
showed symptoms, and a concurrent decline in the Wisconsin wolf 
population was attributed to mange-induced mortality (WI DNR 1999, p. 
61). Seven Wisconsin wolves died from mange from 1993 through October 
15, 1998, and severe fur loss affected five other wolves that died from 
other causes. During that period, mange was the third largest cause of 
death in Wisconsin wolves, behind trauma (usually vehicle collisions) 
and shooting (Thomas in litt. 1998). Largely as a result of mange, pup 
survival was only 16 percent in 1993, compared to a normal 30 percent 
survival rate from birth to one year of age.
    Mange continues to be prevalent in Wisconsin, especially in the 
central Wisconsin wolf population. Mortality data from closely 
monitored radio-collared wolves provides a relatively unbiased estimate 
of mortality factors, especially those linked to disease or illegal 
actions, because nearly all carcasses are located within a few days of 
deaths. Diseased wolves suffering from hypothermia or nearing death 
generally crawl into dense cover and may go undiscovered if they are 
not radio-tracked (Wydeven et al. 2001b, p. 14). These data show that 
during the period of 2000 through August 2006 mange has killed as many 
wolves as were killed by illegal shooting, making them the two highest 
causes of wolf mortality in the State. Based on mortality data from 
closely monitored radio-collared wolves, mange mortality ranged from 14 
percent of deaths in 2002 to 30 percent of deaths in 2003, totaling 27 
percent of radio-collared wolf deaths for this period. Illegal 
shootings resulted in the death of an identical percentage of wolves 
(Wydeven and Wiedenhoeft 2001, p. 8 Table 5; 2002 p. 8 Table 4; 2003a, 
pp. 11-12 Table 4; 2004a, pp. 11-12 Table 5; 2005, pp. 19-20 Table 4). 
Preliminary data for 2006 show mange mortality and illegal shooting 
remain equal at 30 percent of radio-collared wolf mortality (Wydeven in 
litt. 2006c, unpublished data). Mange mortality does not appear to be 
declining in Wisconsin, and the incidence of mange may be on the 
increase among central Wisconsin wolf packs (Wydeven et al. 2005b, p. 
6). However, not all mangy wolves succumb; other observations showed 
that some mangy wolves are able to survive the winter (Wydeven et al. 
2001b, p. 14).
    The survival of pups during their first winter is believed to be 
strongly affected by mange. The highest to date wolf mortality (30 
percent of radio-collared wolves; Wydeven and Wiedenhoeft 2004a, p. 12) 
from mange in Wisconsin in 2003 may have had more severe effects on pup 
survival than in previous years. The prevalence of the disease may have 
contributed to the relatively small population increase in 2003 (2.4 
percent in 2003 as compared to the average 18 percent to that point 
since 1985). However, mange has not caused a decline in the State's 
wolf population, and even though the rate of population increase has 
slowed in recent years, the wolf population continues to increase 
despite the continued prevalence of mange in Wisconsin wolves. Although 
mange mortality may not be the primary determinant of wolf population 
growth in the State, the impacts of mange in Wisconsin need to be 
closely monitored as identified and addressed in the Wisconsin wolf 
management plan (WI DNR 1999, p. 21; 2006a, p. 14).
    Seven wild Michigan wolves died from mange during 1993-97, making 
it responsible for 21 percent of all mortalities, and all disease-
caused deaths, during that period (MI DNR 1997, p. 39). During bioyears 
(mid-April to mid-April) 1999-04, mange-induced hypothermia killed 9 of 
the 11 radio-collared Michigan wolves whose cause of death was 
attributed to disease, and it represented 17 percent of the total 
mortality during those years. Mange caused the death of 31 percent of 
radio-collared wolves during the 1999-2001 bioyears, but that rate 
decreased to 11 percent during the 2001-04 bioyears. However, the 
sample sizes are too small to reliably detect a trend (Beyer 2005 
unpublished data). Before 2004, MI DNR treated all captured wolves with 
Ivermectin if they showed signs of mange. In addition, MI DNR 
vaccinated all captured wolves against CPV and canine distemper virus 
(CDV) and administered antibiotics to combat potential leptospirosis 
infections. These inoculations were discontinued in 2004 to provide 
more natural biotic conditions and to provide biologists with an 
unbiased estimate of disease-caused mortality rates in the population 
(Roell in litt. 2005b).
    Wisconsin wolves similarly had been treated with Ivermectin and 
vaccinated for CPV and CDV when captured, but the practice was stopped 
in 1995 to allow the wolf population to experience more natural biotic 
conditions. Since that time, Ivermectin has been administered only to 
captured wolves with severe cases of mange. In the future, Ivermectin 
and vaccines will be used sparingly on Wisconsin wolves, but will be 
used to counter significant disease outbreaks (Wydeven in litt. 1998).
    Among Minnesota wolves, mange may always have been present at low 
levels. However, based on observations of wolves trapped under the 
Federal wolf depredation control program, mange appears to have become 
more widespread in the State during the

[[Page 15099]]

1999-2005 period. Data from Wildlife Services trapping efforts showed 
only 8 wolves showing symptoms of mange were trapped during a 22-month 
period in 1994-96; in contrast, Wildlife Services trapped 10, 6, and 19 
mangy wolves in 2003, 2004, and 2005, respectively (2005 data run 
through November 22 only). These data indicate that 12.6 percent of 
Minnesota wolves were showing symptoms of mange in 2005 (Paul 2005 in 
litt.). However, the thoroughness of these observations may not have 
been consistent over this 11-year period. In a separate study, 
mortality data from 12 years (1994-2005) of monitoring radio-collared 
wolves in 7-9 packs in north-central Minnesota show that 11 percent 
died from mange (DelGiudice in litt. 2005). However, the sample size 
(17 total mortalities, 2 from mange in 1998 and 2004) is far too small 
to deduce trends in mange mortality over time. Furthermore, these data 
are from mange mortalities, while the Wildlife Services' data are based 
on mange symptoms, not mortalities.
    It is hypothesized that the current incidence of mange is more 
widespread than it would have otherwise been, because the WGL wolf 
range has experienced a series of mild winters beginning with the 
winter of 1997-98 (Van Deelen 2005, Fig. 2). Mange-induced mortality is 
chiefly a result of winter hypothermia, thus the less severe winters 
resulted in higher survival of mangy wolves, and increased spread of 
mange to additional wolves during the following spring and summer. The 
high wolf population, and especially higher wolf density on the 
landscape, may also be contributing to the increasing occurrence of 
mange in the WGL wolf population. There has been speculation that 500 
or more Minnesota wolves died as a result of mange over the last 5 to 6 
years, causing a slowing or cessation of previous wolf population 
increase in the State (Paul in litt. 2005).
    Lyme disease, caused by the spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi), is 
another relatively recently recognized disease, first documented in New 
England in 1975, although it may have occurred in Wisconsin as early as 
1969. It is spread by ticks that pass the infection to their hosts when 
feeding. Host species include humans, horses, dogs, white-tailed deer, 
white-footed mice, eastern chipmunks, coyotes, and wolves. The 
prevalence of Lyme disease exposure in Wisconsin wolves averaged 70 
percent of live-trapped animals in 1988-91, dropped to 37 percent 
during 1992-97 and was back up to 56 percent (32 of 57 tested) in 2002-
04 (Wydeven and Wiedenhoeft 2004b, pp. 23-24 Table 7; 2005, pp. 23-24 
Table 7). Clinical symptoms have not been reported in wolves, but 
infected dogs can experience debilitating conditions, and abortion and 
fetal mortality have been reported in infected humans and horses. It is 
possible that individual wolves may be debilitated by Lyme disease, 
perhaps contributing to their mortality; however, Lyme disease is not 
believed to be a significant factor affecting wolf populations (Kreeger 
2003, p. 212).
    The dog louse (Trichodectes canis) has been detected in wolves in 
Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alaska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (Mech et al. 
1985, pp. 404-405; Kreeger 2003, p. 208; Paul in litt. 2005). Dogs are 
probably the source of the initial infections, and subsequently wild 
canids transfer lice by direct contact with other wolves, particularly 
between females and pups. Severe infestations result in irritated and 
raw skin, substantial hair loss, particularly in the groin. However, in 
contrast to mange, lice infestations generally result in loss of guard 
hairs but not the insulating under fur, thus, hypothermia is less 
likely to occur and much less likely to be fatal (Brand et al. 1995, p. 
426). Even though observed in nearly 4 percent in a sample of 391 
Minnesota wolves in 2003-05 (Paul in litt. 2005), dog lice infestations 
have not been confirmed as a cause of wolf mortality, and are not 
expected to have a significant impact even at a local scale.
    Canine distemper virus (CDV) is an acute disease of carnivores that 
has been known in Europe since the sixteenth century and is now 
infecting dogs worldwide (Kreeger 2003, p. 209). CDV generally infects 
dog pups when they are only a few months old, so mortality in wild wolf 
populations might be difficult to detect (Brand et al. 1995, pp. 420-
421). CDV mortality among wild wolves has been documented only in two 
littermate pups in Manitoba (Carbyn 1982, pp. 111-112), in two Alaskan 
yearling wolves (Peterson et al. 1984, p. 31), and in two Wisconsin 
wolves (an adult in 1985 and a pup in 2002 (Thomas in litt. 2006; 
Wydeven and Wiedenhoeft 2003b, p. 20). Carbyn (1982, pp. 113-116) 
concluded that CDV was a contributor to a 50 percent decline of the 
wolf population in Riding Mountain National Park (Manitoba, Canada) in 
the mid-1970s. Serological evidence indicates that exposure to CDV is 
high among some Midwest wolves--29 percent in northern Wisconsin wolves 
and 79 percent in central Wisconsin wolves in 2002-04 (Wydeven and 
Wiedenhoeft 2004b, pp. 23-24 Table 7; 2005, pp 23-24 Table 7). However, 
the continued strong recruitment in Wisconsin and elsewhere in North 
American wolf populations indicates that distemper is not likely a 
significant cause of mortality (Brand et al. 1995, p. 421).
    Other diseases and parasites, including rabies, canine heartworm, 
blastomycosis, bacterial myocarditis, granulomatous pneumonia, 
brucellosis, leptospirosis, bovine tuberculosis, hookworm, coccidiosis, 
and canine hepatitis have been documented in wild gray wolves, but 
their impacts on future wild wolf populations are not likely to be 
significant (Brand et al. 1995, pp. 419-429; Hassett in litt. 2003; 
Johnson 1995, p. 431, 436-438; Mech and Kurtz 1999, pp. 305-306; Thomas 
in litt. 1998, Thomas in litt. 2006, WI DNR 1999, p. 61; Kreeger 2003, 
pp. 202-214). Continuing wolf range expansion, however, likely will 
provide new avenues for exposure to several of these diseases, 
especially canine heartworm, raccoon rabies, and bovine tuberculosis 
(Thomas in litt. 2000, in litt. 2006), further emphasizing the need for 
disease monitoring programs. In addition, the possibility of new 
diseases developing and existing diseases, such as chronic wasting 
disease (CWD), West Nile Virus (WNV) and canine influenza (Crawford et 
al. 2005, 482-485), moving across species barriers or spreading from 
domestic dogs to wolves must all be taken into account, and monitoring 
programs will need to address such threats. Currently there is no 
evidence that CWD can directly affect canids (Thomas in litt. 2006). 
Wisconsin wolves have been tested for WNV at necropsy since the first 
spread of the virus across the State: to date all results have been 
negative. Although experimental infection of dogs produced no ill 
effects, WNV is reported to have killed two captive wolf pups, so young 
wolves may be at some risk (Thomas in litt. 2006).
    In aggregate, diseases and parasites were the cause of 21 percent 
of the diagnosed mortalities of radio-collared wolves in Michigan from 
1999 through 2004 (Beyer unpublished data 2005) and 27 percent of the 
diagnosed mortalities of radio-collared wolves in Wisconsin and 
adjacent Minnesota from October 1979 through June 2005 (Wydeven and 
Wiedenhoeft 2005, p. 21).
    Many of the diseases and parasites are known to be spread by wolf-
to-wolf contact. Therefore, the incidence of mange, CPV, CDV, and 
canine heartworm may increase as wolf densities increase in the more 
recently colonized areas (Thomas in litt. 2006). Because wolf densities 
generally are relatively stable following the first few years of 
colonization, wolf-to-wolf

[[Page 15100]]

contacts will not likely lead to a continuing increase in disease 
prevalence in areas that have been occupied for several years or more 
and are largely saturated with wolf packs (Mech in litt. 1998).
    Disease and parasite impacts may increase because several wolf 
diseases and parasites are carried and spread by domestic dogs. This 
transfer of pathogens from domestic dogs to wild wolves may increase as 
gray wolves continue to colonize non-wilderness areas (Mech in litt. 
1998). Heartworm, CPV, and rabies are the main concerns (Thomas in 
litt. 1998) but dogs may become significant vectors for other diseases 
with potentially serious impacts on wolves in the future (Crawford et 
al. 2005, pp. 482-485). However, to date wolf populations in Wisconsin 
and Michigan have continued their expansion into areas with increased 
contacts with dogs and have shown no adverse pathogen impacts since the 
mid-1980s impacts from CPV.
    Disease and parasite impacts are a recognized concern of the 
Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin DNRs. The Michigan Gray Wolf 
Recovery and Management Plan states that necropsies will be conducted 
on all dead wolves, and that all live wolves that are handled will be 
examined, with blood, skin, and fecal samples taken to provide disease 
information. The Michigan Plan states that wolf health and disease 
monitoring will receive a high priority for a minimum of five years 
following Federal delisting (MI DNR 1997, pp. 21-22, 45).
    Similarly, the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan states that as long 
as the wolf is State-listed as a threatened or endangered species, the 
WI DNR will conduct necropsies of dead wolves and test a sample of 
live-captured wolves for diseases and parasites, with a goal of 
screening 10 percent of the State wolf population for diseases 
annually. However, the plan anticipates that since State delisting 
(which occurred on March 24, 2004), disease monitoring will be scaled 
back because the percentage of the wolf population that is live-trapped 
each year will decline. Disease monitoring of captured wolves currently 
is focusing on diseases known to be causing noteworthy mortality, such 
as mange, and other diseases for which data are judged to be sparse, 
such as Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis (Wydeven and Wiedenhoeft 2006, p. 
8). The State will continue to test for disease and parasite loads 
through periodic necropsy and scat analyses. The 2006 update to the 
1999 plan also recommends that all wolves live-trapped for other 
studies should have their health monitored and reported to the WI DNR 
wildlife health specialists (WI DNR 1999, p. 21; 2006c, p. 14). 
Furthermore, the 2006 update identifies a need for ``continued health 
monitoring to document significant disease events that may impact the 
wolf population and to identify new diseases in the population * * *.'' 
(WI DNR 2006a, p. 24).
    The Minnesota Wolf Management Plan states that MN DNR ``will 
collaborate with other investigators and continue monitoring disease 
incidence, where necessary, by examination of wolf carcasses obtained 
through depredation control programs, and also through blood/tissue 
physiology work conducted by DNR and the U.S. Geological Survey. DNR 
will also keep records of documented and suspected incidence of 
sarcoptic mange (MN DNR 2001, p. 32).'' In addition, it will initiate 
``(R)egular collection of pertinent tissues of live captured or dead 
wolves'' and periodically assess wolf health ``when circumstances 
indicate that diseases or parasites may be adversely affecting portions 
of the wolf population (MN DNR 2001, p. 19).'' Unlike Michigan and 
Wisconsin, Minnesota has not established minimum goals for the 
proportion of its wolves that will be assessed for disease nor does it 
plan to treat any wolves, although it does not rule out these measures. 
Minnesota's less intensive approach to disease monitoring and 
management seems warranted in light of its much greater abundance of 
wolves than in the other two States.
    In areas within the WGL DPS, but outside Minnesota, Wisconsin, and 
Michigan, we lack data on the incidence of diseases or parasites in 
transient wolves. However, the WGL DPS boundary is laid out in a manner 
such that the vast majority of, and perhaps all, wolves that will occur 
in the DPS in the foreseeable future will have originated from the 
Minnesota-Wisconsin-Michigan wolf metapopulation. Therefore, they will 
be carrying the ``normal'' complement of Midwest wolf parasites, 
diseases, and disease resistance with them. For this reason, any new 
pairs, packs, or populations that develop within the DPS are likely to 
experience the same low to moderate adverse impacts from pathogens that 
have been occurring in the core recovery areas. The most likely 
exceptions to this generalization would arise from exposure to sources 
of novel diseases or more virulent forms that are being spread by other 
canid species that might be encountered by wolves dispersing into 
currently unoccupied areas of the DPS. To increase the likelihood of 
detecting such novel, or more virulent diseases and thereby reduce the 
risk that they might pose to the core meta-population after delisting, 
we will encourage these States and Tribes to provide wolf carcasses or 
suitable tissue, as appropriate, to the USGS Madison Wildlife Health 
Center or the Service's National Wildlife Forensics Laboratory for 
necropsy. This practice should provide an early indication of new or 
increasing pathogen threats before they reach the core metapopulation 
or impact future transient wolves to those areas.
    Disease summary--We believe that several diseases have had 
noticeable impacts on wolf population growth in the Great Lakes region 
in the past. These impacts have been both direct, resulting in 
mortality of individual wolves, and indirect, by reducing longevity and 
fecundity of individuals or entire packs or populations. Canine 
parvovirus stalled wolf population growth in Wisconsin in the early and 
mid-1980s and has been implicated in the decline in the mid-1980s of 
the isolated Isle Royale wolf population in Michigan, and in 
attenuating wolf population growth in Minnesota (Mech in litt. 2006). 
Sarcoptic mange has affected wolf recovery in Michigan's UP and in 
Wisconsin over the last ten years, and it is recognized as a continuing 
issue. Despite these and other diseases and parasites, the overall 
trend for wolf populations in the WGL DPS continues to be upward. Wolf 
management plans for Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin include disease 
monitoring components that we expect will identify future disease and 
parasite problems in time to allow corrective action to avoid a 
significant decline in overall population viability. We conclude that 
diseases and parasites will not prevent the continuation of wolf 
recovery or the maintenance of viable wolf populations in the DPS. 
Delisting wolves in the WGL DPS will not significantly change the 
incidence or impacts of disease and parasites on these wolves. 
Furthermore, we conclude that diseases and parasites will not be 
threats sufficient to cause the WGL DPS gray wolves to be in danger of 
extinction in the foreseeable future in all or a significant portion of 
the range within the WGL DPS.
    No wild animals habitually prey on gray wolves. Large prey such as 
deer, elk, or moose (Mech and Nelson 1989, pp. 207-208; Smith et al. 
2001, p. 3), or other predators, such as mountain lions (Felis 
concolor) or grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) where they are 
extant (USFWS 2005, p. 3), occasionally kill

[[Page 15101]]

wolves, but this has only been rarely documented. This very small 
component of wolf mortality will not increase with delisting.
    Wolves frequently are killed by other wolves, most commonly when 
packs encounter and attack a dispersing wolf as an intruder or when two 
packs encounter each other along a territorial boundary (Mech 1994, p. 
201). This form of mortality is likely to increase as more of the 
available wolf habitat becomes saturated with wolf pack territories, as 
is the case in northeastern Minnesota, but such a trend is not yet 
evident from Wisconsin or Michigan data. From October 1979 through June 
1998, seven (12 percent) of the mortalities of radio-collared Wisconsin 
wolves resulted from wolves killing wolves, and 8 of 73 (11 percent) 
mortalities were from this cause during 2000-05 (Wydeven 1998, p. 16 
Table 4; Wydeven and Wiedenhoeft 2001, p. 8 Table 5; 2002, pp. 8-9 
Table 4; 2003a, pp. 11-12 Table 4; 2004a, pp. 11-12 Table 5, 2005, p. 
21 Table 5). Gogan et al. (2004, p. 7) studied 31 radio-collared wolves 
in northern Minnesota from 1987-91 and found that 4 (13 percent) were 
killed by other wolves, representing 29 percent of the total mortality 
of radio-collared wolves. Intra-specific strife caused 50 percent of 
mortality within Voyageurs National Park and 20 percent of the 
mortality of wolves adjacent to the Park (Gogan et al. 2004, p. 22). 
The Del Giudice data (in litt. 2005) show a 17 percent mortality rate 
from other wolves in another study area in north-central Minnesota from 
1994-2005. This behavior is normal in healthy wolf populations and is 
an expected outcome of dispersal conflicts and territorial defense, as 
well as occasional intra-pack strife. This form of mortality is 
something that the species has evolved with and it should not pose a 
threat to wolf populations in the WGL DPS following delisting.
    Humans have functioned as highly effective predators of the gray 
wolf in North America for several hundred years. European settlers in 
the Midwest attempted to eliminate the wolf entirely in earlier times, 
and the U.S. Congress passed a wolf bounty that covered the Northwest 
Territories in 1817. Bounties on wolves subsequently became the norm 
for States across the species' range. In Michigan, an 1838 wolf bounty 
became the ninth law passed by the First Michigan Legislature; this 
bounty remained in place until 1960. A Wisconsin bounty was instituted 
in 1865 and was repealed about the time wolves were extirpated from the 
State in 1957. Minnesota maintained a wolf bounty until 1965.
    Subsequent to the gray wolf's listing as a federally endangered 
species, the Act and State endangered species statutes prohibited the 
killing of wolves except under very limited circumstances, such as in 
defense of human life, for scientific or conservation purposes, or 
under special regulations intended to reduce wolf depredations of 
livestock or other domestic animals. The resultant reduction in human-
caused wolf mortality is the main cause of the wolf's reestablishment 
in large parts of its historical range. It is clear, however, that 
illegal killing of wolves has continued in the form of intentional 
mortality and incidental deaths.
    Illegal killing of wolves occurs for a number of reasons. Some of 
these killings are accidental (e.g., wolves are hit by vehicles, 
mistaken for coyotes and shot, or caught in traps set for other 
animals); some of these accidental killings are reported to State, 
Tribal, and Federal authorities. It is likely that most illegal 
killings, however, are intentional and are never reported to government 
authorities. Because they generally occur in remote locations and the 
evidence is easily concealed, we lack reliable estimates of annual 
rates of intentional illegal killings.
    In Wisconsin, all forms of human-caused mortality accounted for 54 
percent of the diagnosed deaths of radio-collared wolves from October 
1979 through June 2005. Thirty percent of the diagnosed mortalities, 
and 55 percent of the human-caused mortalities, were from shooting 
(firearms and bows). Another 14 percent of all the diagnosed 
mortalities (25 percent of the human-caused mortalities) resulted from 
vehicle collisions. (These percentages and those in the following 
paragraphs exclude two radio-collared Wisconsin wolves that were killed 
in depredation control actions by USDA--APHIS--Wildlife Services in 
2003-04. The wolf depredation control programs in the Midwest are 
discussed separately under Depredation Control, below.) Preliminary 
2006 data through September (8 diagnosed mortalities of radio-collared 
wolves) show these mortality percentages to be unchanged, with 38 
percent of the mortalities resulting from mange, 38 percent shot, and 
13 percent from vehicle collisions (Wydeven in litt. 2006c).
    As the Wisconsin population has increased in numbers and range, 
vehicle collisions have increased as a percentage of radio-collared 
wolf mortalities. During the October 1979 through June 1992 period, 
only 1 of 27 (4 percent) known mortalities was from that cause; but 
from July 1992 through June 1998, 5 of the 26 (19 percent) known 
mortalities resulted from vehicle collisions (Wydeven 1998, p. 6). From 
2002 through 2004, 7 of 45 (16 percent) known mortalities were from 
that cause (Wydeven and Wiedenhoeft 2003a, pp. 11-12 Table 4; 2004a, 
pp. 11-12 Table 5; 2005, pp. 19-20 Table 4).
    A comparison over time for diagnosed mortalities of radio-collared 
Wisconsin wolves shows that 18 of 57 (32 percent) were illegally shot 
from October 1979 through 1998, while 12 of 42 (29 percent) were 
illegally shot from 2002 through 2004 (Wisconsin DNR 1999, p. 63; 
Wydeven and Wiedenhoeft 2003a, pp. 11-12 Table 4; 2004a, pp. 11-12 
Table 4; 2005. pp. 19-20 Table 4). However, a more recent analysis 
incorporating 2005 and preliminary 2006 data for radio-collared wolves 
indicates an increase in illegal killing of wolves since 2000 (about 32 
percent) compared to the previous decade (about 19 percent). The same 
analysis shows vehicle mortality declined and disease/malnutrition 
mortality increased from the 1990s to the 2000s (Wiedenhoeft 2006 
unpublished data).
    In the UP of Michigan, human-caused mortalities accounted for 75 
percent of the diagnosed mortalities, based upon 34 wolves recovered 
from 1960 to 1997, including mostly non-radio-collared wolves. Twenty-
eight percent of all the diagnosed mortalities and 38 percent of the 
human-caused mortalities were from shooting. In the UP during that 
period, about one-third of all the known mortalities were from vehicle 
collisions (MI DNR 1997, pp. 5-6). During the 1998 Michigan deer 
hunting season, 3 radio-collared wolves were shot and killed, resulting 
in one arrest and conviction (Hammill in litt. 1999, Michigan DNR 
1999). During the subsequent 3 years, 8 additional wolves were killed 
in Michigan by gunshot, and the cut-off radio-collar from a ninth 
animal was located, but the animal was never found. These incidents 
resulted in 6 guilty pleas, with 3 cases remaining open. Data collected 
from radio-collared wolves from the 1999 to 2004 bioyears (mid-April to 
mid-April) show that human-caused mortalities still account for the 
majority of the wolf mortalities (60 percent) in Michigan. Deaths from 
vehicular collisions were about 15 percent of total mortality (25 
percent of the human-caused mortality) and showed no trend over this 
six-year period. Deaths from illegal killing constituted 38 percent of 
all mortalities (65 percent of the human-caused mortality) over the 
period. From 1999 through 2001 illegal killings were 31 percent of the 
mortalities, but this

[[Page 15102]]

increased to 42 percent during the 2002 through 2004 bioyears (Beyer 
unpublished data 2005),
    North-central Minnesota data from 16 diagnosed mortalities of 
radio-collared wolves over a 12-year period (1994-2005) show that 
human-causes resulted in 69 percent of the diagnosed mortalities. This 
includes 1 wolf accidentally snared, 2 vehicle collisions, and 8 (50 
percent of all diagnosed mortalities) that were shot (Del Giudice in 
litt. 2005). However, this data set of only 16 mortalities over 12 
years is too small for reliable comparison to Wisconsin and Michigan 
    A smaller mortality dataset is available from a 1987-1991 study of 
wolves in, and adjacent to, Minnesota's Voyageurs National Park, along 
the Canadian border. Of 10 diagnosed mortalities, illegal killing 
outside the Park was responsible for a minimum of 60 percent of the 
deaths (Gogan et al. 2004, p. 22).
    Two Minnesota studies provide some limited insight into the extent 
of human-caused wolf mortality before and after the species' listing. 
On the basis of bounty data from a period that predated wolf protection 
under the Act by 20 years, Stenlund (1955, p. 33) found an annual 
human-caused mortality rate of 41 percent. Fuller (1989, pp. 23-24) 
provided 1980-86 data from a north-central Minnesota study area and 
found an annual human-caused mortality rate of 29 percent, a figure 
that includes 2 percent mortality from legal depredation control 
actions. Drawing conclusions from comparisons of these two studies, 
however, is difficult due to the confounding effects of habitat 
quality, exposure to humans, prey density, differing time periods, and 
vast differences in study design. Although these figures provide 
support for the contention that human-caused mortality decreased after 
the wolf's protection under the Act, it is not possible at this time to 
determine if human-caused mortality (apart from mortalities from 
depredation control) has significantly changed over the 30-year period 
that the gray wolf has been listed as threatened or endangered.
    Wolves were largely eliminated from the Dakotas in the 1920s and 
1930s and were rarely reported from the mid-1940s through the late 
1970s. Ten wolves were killed in these two States from 1981 to 1992 
(Licht and Fritts 1994, pp. 76-77). Six more were killed in North 
Dakota since 1992, with four of these mortalities occurring in 2002 and 
2003; in 2001, one wolf was killed in Harding County in extreme 
northwestern South Dakota. The number of reported sightings of gray 
wolves in North Dakota is increasing. From 1993-98, six wolf 
depredation reports were investigated in North Dakota, and adequate 
signs were found to verify the presence of wolves in two of the cases. 
A den with pups was also documented in extreme north-central North 
Dakota near the Canadian border in 1994. From 1999-2003, 16 wolf 
sightings/depredation incidents in North Dakota were reported to USDA--
APHIS--Wildlife Services, and 9 of these incidents were verified. 
Additionally, one North Dakota wolf sighting was confirmed in early 
2004, and two wolf depredation incidents were verified north of 
Garrison in late 2005. USDA--APHIS--Wildlife Services also confirmed a 
wolf sighting along the Minnesota border near Gary, South Dakota, in 
1996, and a trapper with the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks 
Department sighted a lone wolf in the western Black Hills in 2002. 
Several other unconfirmed sightings have been reported from these 
States, including two reports in South Dakota in 2003. Wolves killed in 
North and South Dakota are most often shot by hunters after being 
mistaken for coyotes, or were killed by vehicles. The 2001 mortality in 
South Dakota and one of the 2003 mortalities in North Dakota were 
caused by M-44 devices that had been legally set in response to 
complaints about coyotes.
    In and around the core recovery areas in the Midwest, a continuing 
increase in wolf mortalities from vehicle collisions, both in actual 
numbers and as a percent of total diagnosed mortalities, is expected as 
wolves continue their colonization of areas with more human 
developments and a denser network of roads and vehicle traffic. In 
addition, the growing wolf populations in Wisconsin and Michigan are 
producing greater numbers of dispersing individuals each year, and this 
also will contribute to increasing numbers of wolf-vehicle collisions. 
This increase would be unaffected by a removal of WGL DPS wolves from 
the protections of the Act.
    In those areas of the WGL DPS that are beyond the areas currently 
occupied by wolf packs in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the UP, we expect 
that human-caused wolf mortality in the form of vehicle collisions, 
shooting, and trapping have been removing all, or nearly all, the 
wolves that disperse into these areas. We expect this to continue after 
Federal delisting. Road densities are high in these areas, with 
numerous interstate highways and other freeways and high-speed 
thoroughfares that are extremely hazardous to wolves attempting to move 
across them. Shooting and trapping of wolves also is likely to continue 
as a threat to wolves in these areas for several reasons. Especially 
outside of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the UP, hunters will not expect to 
encounter wolves, and may easily mistake them for coyotes from a 
distance, resulting in unintentional shootings.
    It is important to note that, despite the difficulty in measuring 
the extent of illegal killing of wolves, all sources of wolf mortality, 
including legal (e.g., depredation control) and illegal human-caused 
mortality, have not been of sufficient magnitude to stop the continuing 
growth of the wolf population in Wisconsin and Michigan, nor to cause a 
wolf population decline in Minnesota. This indicates that total gray 
wolf mortality does not threaten the continued viability of the wolf 
population in these three States, or in the WGL DPS.
    Predation summary--The high reproductive potential of wolves allows 
wolf populations to withstand relatively high mortality rates, 
including human-caused mortality. The principle of compensatory 
mortality is believed to occur in wolf populations. This means that 
human-caused mortality is not simply added to ``natural'' mortality, 
but rather replaces a portion of it. For example, some of the wolves 
that are killed during depredation control actions would have otherwise 
died during that year from disease, intraspecific strife, or 
starvation. Thus, the addition of intentional killing of wolves to a 
wolf population will reduce the mortality rates from other causes on 
the population. Based on 19 studies by other wolf researchers, Fuller 
et al. (2003, pp. 182-186) concludes that human-caused mortality can 
replace about 70 percent of other forms of mortality.
    Fuller et al. (2003, p. 182 Table 6.8) has summarized the work of 
various researchers in estimating mortality rates, especially human 
harvest, that would result in wolf population stability or decline. 
They provide a number of human-caused and total mortality rate 
estimates and the observed population effects in wolf populations in 
the United States and Canada. While variability is apparent, in 
general, wolf populations increased if their total average annual 
mortality was 30 percent or less, and populations decreased if their 
total average annual mortality was 40 percent or more. Four of the 
cited studies showed wolf population stability or increases with human-
caused mortality rates of 24 to 30 percent. The clear conclusion is 
that a wolf population with high pup productivity--the normal situation 
in a wolf population--can

[[Page 15103]]

withstand levels of overall and of human-caused mortality without 
suffering a long-term decline in numbers.
    The wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan will 
stop growing when they have saturated the suitable habitat and are 
curtailed in less suitable areas by natural mortality (disease, 
starvation, and intraspecific aggression), depredation management, 
incidental mortality (e.g., road kill), illegal killing, and other 
means. At that time, we should expect to see population declines in 
some years followed by short-term increases in other years, resulting 
from fluctuations in birth and mortality rates. Adequate wolf 
monitoring programs, however, as described in the Michigan, Wisconsin, 
and Minnesota wolf management plans are likely to identify high 
mortality rates and/or low birth rates that warrant corrective action 
by the management agencies. The goals of all three State wolf 
management plans are to maintain wolf populations well above the 
numbers recommended in the Federal Eastern Recovery Plan to ensure 
long-term viable wolf populations. The State management plans recommend 
a minimum wolf population of 1,600 in Minnesota, 350 in Wisconsin, and 
200 in Michigan.
    Despite human-caused mortalities of wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, 
and Michigan, these wolf populations have continued to increase in both 
numbers and range. If wolves in the WGL DPS are delisted, as long as 
other mortality factors do not increase significantly and monitoring is 
adequate to document, and if necessary counteract, the effects of 
excessive human-caused mortality should that occur, the Minnesota-
Wisconsin-Michigan wolf population will not decline to nonviable levels 
in the foreseeable future as a result of human-caused killing or other 
forms of predation either within the core wolf populations or in all 
other parts of the DPS. Therefore, we conclude that predation, 
including all forms of human-caused mortality, will not be a sufficient 
future threat to cause the WGL DPS gray wolves to be in danger of 
extinction in the foreseeable future in all or a significant portion of 
the range within the WGL DPS
    D. The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.
    For the reasons described in the following section, the Service has 
determined that over a significant portion of the WGL DPS range, there 
are adequate regulatory mechanisms to ensure that this population of 
gray wolves is neither threatened nor endangered.
Regulatory Mechanisms in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan
State Wolf Management Planning
    During the 2000 legislative session, the Minnesota Legislature 
passed wolf management provisions addressing wolf protection, taking of 
wolves, and directing MN DNR to prepare a wolf management plan. The MN 
DNR revised a 1999 draft wolf management plan to reflect the 
legislative action of 2000, and completed the Minnesota Wolf Management 
Plan (MN Plan) in early 2001 (MN DNR 2001, pp. 8-9).
    The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board approved the Wisconsin Wolf 
Management Plan in October 1999 (WI Plan). In 2004 and 2005 the 
Wisconsin Wolf Science Advisory Committee and the Wisconsin Wolf 
Stakeholders group reviewed the 1999 Plan, and the Science Advisory 
Committee subsequently developed updates and recommended modifications 
to the 1999 Plan. The WI DNR presented the Plan updates and 
modifications to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board on June 28, 
2006, and the NRB approved them at that time, with the understanding 
that some numbers would be updated and an additional reference document 
would be added (Holtz in litt. 2006). The updates were completed and 
received final NRB approval on November 28, 2006 (WI DNR 2006a, p. 1).
    In late 1997, the Michigan Wolf Recovery and Management Plan (MI 
Plan) was completed and received the necessary State approvals. 
However, it is primarily focused on wolf recovery, rather than long-
term management of a large wolf population and the conflicts that 
result as a consequence of successful wolf restoration. In 2006 the MI 
DNR convened a Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable committee 
(Roundtable) to provide guiding principles to the DNR on changes and 
revisions to the 1997 Plan and to guide management of Michigan wolves 
and wolf-related issues following Federal delisting of the species. The 
MI DNR will rely heavily on those guiding principles as it drafts a new 
wolf management plan. The Roundtable is composed of representatives 
from 20 Michigan stakeholder interests in wolf recovery and management, 
and its membership is roughly equal in numbers from the UP and the LP. 
During 2006, the Roundtable provided its ``Recommended Guiding 
Principles for Wolf Management in Michigan'' to the DNR in November 
(Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable 2006. p. 2). The first public 
draft of the revised MI Plan is expected to be available for public 
review and comment in March 2007, and the plan should be completed in 
late 2007 (Hogrefe in litt. 2006). See The Michigan Wolf Management 
Plan section below for a detailed description of the efforts of the 

The Minnesota Wolf Management Plan

    The Minnesota Plan is based, in part, on the recommendations of a 
State wolf management roundtable (MN DNR 2001, Appendix V) and on a 
State wolf management law enacted in 2000 (MN DNR 2001, Appendix I). 
This law and the Minnesota Game and Fish Laws constitute the basis of 
the State's authority to manage wolves. The Plan's stated goal is ``to 
ensure the long-term survival of wolves in Minnesota while addressing 
wolf-human conflicts that inevitably result when wolves and people live 
in the same vicinity'' (MN DNR 2001, p. 2). It establishes a minimum 
goal of 1,600 wolves in the State. Key components of the plan are 
population monitoring and management, management of wolf depredation of 
domestic animals, management of wolf prey, enforcement of laws 
regulating take of wolves, public education, and increased staffing to 
accomplish these actions. Following delisting, Minnesota DNR's 
management of wolves would differ from their current management while 
listed as threatened under the Act. Most of these differences deal with 
the control of wolves that attack or threaten domestic animals.
    The Minnesota Plan divides the State into two wolf management 
zones--Zones A and B (see Figure 2 below). Zone A corresponds to 
Federal Wolf Management Zones 1 through 4 (approximately 30,000 sq mi 
(48,000 sq km) in northeastern Minnesota) in the Service's Eastern 
Recovery Plan, whereas Zone B constitutes zone 5 in the Eastern 
Recovery Plan (MN DNR 2001, pp. 19-20 and Appendix III; USFWS 1992, p. 
72). Within Zone A, wolves would receive strong protection by the 
State, unless they were involved in attacks on domestic animals. The 
rules governing the take of wolves to protect domestic animals in Zone 
B would be less protective than in Zone A.

[[Page 15104]]


    The MN DNR plans to allow wolf numbers and distribution to 
naturally expand, with no maximum population goal, and if any winter 
population estimate is below 1,600 wolves, it would take actions to 
``assure recovery'' to 1,600 wolves (MN DNR 2001 p. 19). The MN DNR 
will continue to monitor wolves in Minnesota to determine whether such 
intervention is necessary. The MN DNR will conduct a statewide 
population survey in the first and fifth years after delisting and at 
subsequent five-year intervals. In addition to these statewide 
population surveys, MN DNR annually reviews data on depredation 
incident frequency and locations provided by Wildlife Services and 
winter track survey indices (see Erb 2005) to help ascertain annual 
trends in wolf population or range (MN DNR 2001, p. 18-19).
    Minnesota (MN DNR 2001, pp. 21-24, 27-28) plans to reduce or 
control illegal mortality of wolves through education, increased 
enforcement of the State's wolf laws and regulations, by discouraging 
new road access in some areas, and by maintaining a depredation control 
program that includes compensation for livestock losses. The MN DNR 
plans to use a variety of methods to encourage and support education of 
the public about the effects of wolves on livestock, wild ungulate 
populations, and human activities and the history and ecology of wolves 
in the State (MN DNR 2001, pp. 29-30). These are all measures that have 
been in effect for years in Minnesota, although ``increased 
enforcement'' of State laws against take of wolves would replace 
enforcement of the Act's take prohibitions. Financial compensation for 
livestock losses has been increased in recent years to the full market 
value of the animal, replacing previous caps of $400 and $750 per 
animal (MN DNR 2001, p. 24). We do not expect the State's efforts will 
result in the reduction of illegal take of wolves from existing levels, 
but we believe these measures will be crucial in ensuring that illegal 
mortality does not significantly increase following Federal delisting.
    The likelihood of illegal take increases in relation to road 
density and human population density, but changing attitudes towards 
wolves may allow them to survive in areas where road and human 
densities were previously thought to be too high (Fuller et al. 2003, 
p. 181). The MN DNR does not plan to reduce current levels of road 
access, but would encourage managers

[[Page 15105]]

of land areas large enough to sustain one or more wolf packs to ``be 
cautious about adding new road access that could exceed a density of 
one mile of road per square mile of land, without considering the 
potential effect on wolves'' (MN DNR 2001, pp. 27-28).
    Under Minnesota law, the illegal killing of a wolf is a gross 
misdemeanor and is punishable by a maximum fine of $3,000 and 
imprisonment for up to one year. The restitution value of an illegally 
killed wolf is $2,000 (MN DNR 2001, p.29). The MN DNR acknowledges that 
increased enforcement of the State's wolf laws and regulations would be 
dependent on increases in staff and resources, additional cross-
deputization of tribal law enforcement officers, and continued 
cooperation with Federal law enforcement officers. They specifically 
propose after delisting to add three Conservation Officers 
``strategically located within current gray wolf range in Minnesota'' 
whose priority duty would be to implement the gray wolf management plan 
(MN DNR 2001, pp. 29, 32).
    Minnesota DNR will consider wolf population management measures, 
including public hunting and trapping seasons and other methods, in the 
future. However, State law and the Minnesota Plan state that such 
consideration will occur no sooner than five years after Federal 
delisting, and there would be opportunity for full public comment on 
such possible changes at that time (Minnesota Statutes 97B.645 Subdiv. 
9, see MN DNR 2001 Appendix 1, p. 6; MN DNR 2001, p. 20) The Minnesota 
Plan requires that these population management measures have to be 
implemented in such a way to maintain a statewide late-winter wolf 
population of at least 1,600 animals (MN DNR 2001, pp. 19-20), well 
above the Federal Recovery Plan's 1250-1400 for the State (USFWS 1992, 
p. 28).

Depredation Control in Minnesota

    While federally-protected as a threatened species in Minnesota 
(since their 1978 reclassification), wolves that have attacked domestic 
animals have been killed by designated government employees under the 
authority of a special regulation (50 CFR 17.40(d)) under section 4(d) 
of the Act. However, no control of depredating wolves was allowed in 
Federal Wolf Management Zone 1, comprising about 4,500 sq mi (7,200 sq 
km) in extreme northeastern Minnesota (USFWS 1992, p. 72). In Federal 
Wolf Management Zones 2 through 5, employees or agents of the Service 
(including USDA-APHIS--Wildlife Services) have taken wolves in response 
to depredations of domestic animals within one-half mile of the 
depredation site. Young-of-the-year captured on or before August 1 must 
be released. The regulations that allow for this take (50 CFR 
17.40(d)(2)(i)(B)(4)) do not specify a maximum duration for depredation 
control, but Wildlife Services personnel have followed internal 
guidelines under which they trap for no more than 10-15 days, except at 
sites with repeated or chronic depredation, where they may trap for up 
to 30 days (Paul pers. comm. 2004).
    During the period from 1980-2005, the Federal Minnesota wolf 
depredation control program euthanized from 20 (in 1982) to 216 (in 
1997) gray wolves annually. Annual averages (and percentage of 
statewide population) were 30 (2.2 percent) wolves killed from 1980 to 
1984, 49 (3.0 percent) from 1985 to 1989, 115 (6.0 percent) from 1990 
to 1994, and 152 (6.7 percent) from 1995 to 1999. During 2000-05 an 
average of 128 wolves (4.2 percent of the wolf population, based on the 
2003-2004 statewide estimate) were killed under the program annually. 
Since 1980, the lowest annual percentage of Minnesota wolves killed 
under this program was 1.5 percent in 1982; the highest percentage was 
9.4 in 1997 (Paul 2004, pp. 2-7; 2006, p. 1).
    This level of wolf removal for depredation control has not 
interfered with wolf recovery in Minnesota, although it may have slowed 
the increase in wolf numbers in the State, especially since the late-
1980s, and may be contributing to the possibly stabilized Minnesota 
wolf population suggested by the 2003-04 estimate (see additional 
information in Minnesota Recovery). Minnesota wolf numbers grew at an 
average annual rate of nearly 4 percent between 1989 and 1998 while the 
depredation control program was taking its highest percentages of 
wolves (Paul 2004, pp. 2-7).
    Under a Minnesota statute, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture 
(MDA) compensates livestock owners for full market value of livestock 
that wolves have killed or severely injured. A university extension 
agent or conservation officer must confirm that wolves were responsible 
for the depredation. The agent or officer also evaluates the livestock 
operation for conformance to a set of Best Management Practices (BMPs) 
designed to minimize wolf depredation and provides operators with an 
itemized list of any deficiencies relative to the BMPs (MN DNR 2001, p. 
24). The Minnesota statute also requires MDA to periodically update its 
BMPs to incorporate new practices that it finds would reduce wolf 
depredation (Minnesota Statutes 2005, Section 3.737, subdivision 5).

Post-Delisting Depredation Control in Minnesota

    Following Federal delisting, depredation control will be authorized 
under Minnesota State law and conducted in conformance with the 
Minnesota Wolf Management Plan (MN DNR 2001). The Minnesota Plan 
divides the State into Wolf Management Zones A and B. Zone A is 
composed of Federal Wolf Management Zones 1-4, covering 30,728 sq mi 
(49,452 sq km), approximately the northeastern third of the State. Zone 
B is identical to the current Federal Wolf Management Zone 5, and 
contains the 54,603 sq mi (87,875 sq km.) that make up the rest of the 
State (MN DNR 2001, pp. 19-20 and Appendix III; USFWS 1992, p. 72). The 
statewide survey conducted during the winter of 2003-04 estimated that 
there were approximately 2,570 wolves in Zone A and 450 in Zone B (Erb 
in litt. 2005). As discussed in Recovery Criteria, the Federal planning 
goal is 1251-1400 wolves for Zones 1-4 and no wolves in Zone 5 (USFWS 
1992, p. 28).
    In Zone A wolf depredation control is limited to situations of (1) 
immediate threat and (2) following verified loss of domestic animals. 
In this zone, if DNR verifies that a wolf destroyed any livestock, 
domestic animal, or pet, and if the owner requests wolf control be 
implemented, trained and certified predator controllers may take wolves 
within a one-mile radius of the depredation site (depredation control 
area) for up to 60 days. In contrast, in Zone B, predator controllers 
may take wolves for up to 214 days after MN DNR opens a depredation 
control area, depending on the time of year. Under State law, the DNR 
may open a control area in Zone B anytime within five years of a 
verified depredation loss upon request of the landowner, thereby 
providing more of a preventative approach than is allowed in Zone A, in 
order to head off repeat depredation incidents (MN DNR 2001, p. 22).
    State law and the Minnesota Plan will also allow for private wolf 
depredation control throughout the State. Persons may shoot or destroy 
a gray wolf that poses ``an immediate threat'' to their livestock, 
guard animals, or domestic animals on lands that they own, lease, or 
occupy. Immediate threat is defined as ``in the act of stalking, 
attacking, or killing.'' This does not include trapping because traps 
cannot be placed in a manner such that they trap only wolves in the act 
of stalking, attacking, or killing. Owners of domestic pets may also 
kill wolves posing an immediate

[[Page 15106]]

threat to pets under their supervision on lands that they do not own or 
lease, although such actions are subject to local ordinances, trespass 
law, and other applicable restrictions. The MN DNR will investigate any 
private taking of wolves in Zone A (MN DNR 2001, p. 23).
    To protect their domestic animals in Zone B, individuals do not 
have to wait for an immediate threat or a depredation incident in order 
to take wolves. At anytime in Zone B, persons who own, lease, or manage 
lands may shoot wolves on those lands to protect livestock, domestic 
animals, or pets. They may also employ a predator controller to trap a 
gray wolf on their land or within one mile of their land (with 
permission of the landowner) to protect their livestock, domestic 
animals, or pets (MN DNR 2001, p. 23-24).
    The Minnesota Plan will also allow persons to harass wolves 
anywhere in the State within 500 yards of ``people, buildings, dogs, 
livestock, or other domestic pets or animals''. Harassment may not 
include physical injury to a wolf.
    Depredation control will be allowed throughout Zone A, which 
includes an area (Federal Wolf Management Zone 1) where such control 
has not been permitted under the Act's protection. Depredation in Zone 
1, however, has been limited to 3 to 6 reported incidents per year, 
mostly of wolves killing dogs (Paul pers. comm. 2004), although some 
dog kills in this zone probably go unreported. There are few livestock 
in Zone 1; therefore, the number of verified future depredation 
incidents in that Zone is expected to be low, resulting in a 
correspondingly low number of depredating wolves being killed there 
after delisting.
    The final change in Zone A is the ability for owners/lessees to 
respond to situations of immediate threat by shooting wolves in the act 
of stalking, attacking, or killing livestock or other domestic animals. 
We believe this is not likely to result in the killing of many 
additional wolves, as opportunities to shoot wolves ``in the act'' will 
likely be few and difficult to successfully accomplish, a belief shared 
by the most experienced wolf depredation agent in the lower 48 States 
(Paul in litt. 2006, p. 5). It is also possible that illegal killing of 
wolves in Minnesota will decrease, because the expanded options for 
legal control of problem wolves may lead to an increase in public 
tolerance for wolves (Paul in litt. 2006, p. 5).
    Within Zone B, State law and the Minnesota Plan provide broad 
authority to landowners and land managers to shoot wolves at any time 
to protect their livestock, pets, or other domestic animals on land 
owned, leased, or managed by the individual. Such takings can occur in 
the absence of wolf attacks on the domestic animals. Thus, the 
estimated 450 wolves in Zone B could be subject to substantial 
reduction in numbers, and at the extreme, wolves could be eliminated 
from Zone B. However, there is no way to reasonably evaluate in advance 
the extent to which residents of Zone B will use this new authority, 
nor how vulnerable Zone B wolves will be. Thus, any estimate of future 
wolf numbers in Zone B would be highly speculative at this time. The 
limitation of this broad take authority to Zone B is fully consistent 
with the Federal Recovery Plan's advice that wolves should be restored 
to the rest of Minnesota but not to Zone B (Federal Zone 5) because 
that area ``is not suitable for wolves'' (USFWS 1992, p. 20). The 
Federal Recovery Plan envisioned that the Minnesota numerical recovery 
goal would be achieved solely in Zone A (Federal Zones 1-4) (USFWS 
1992, p. 28), and that has occurred. Wolves outside of Zone A are not 
necessary to the establishment and long-term viability of a self-
sustaining wolf population in the State, and therefore there is no need 
to establish or maintain a wolf population in Zone B. Therefore, there 
is no need to maintain significant protection for wolves in Zone B in 
order to maintain a Minnesota wolf population that continues to satisfy 
the Federal recovery goals after Federal delisting.
    This expansion of depredation control activities will not threaten 
the continued conservation of wolves in the State or the long-term 
viability of the wolf population in Zone A, the significant part of 
wolf range in Minnesota. Significant changes in wolf depredation 
control under State management will primarily be restricted to Zone B, 
which is outside of the area necessary for wolf recovery (USFWS 1992, 
pp. 20, 28). Furthermore, wolves may still persist in Zone B despite 
the likely increased take there. The Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Team 
concluded that the changes in wolf management in the State's Zone A 
would be ``minor'' and would not likely result in ``significant change 
in overall wolf numbers in Zone A.'' They found that, despite an 
expansion of the individual depredation control areas and an extension 
of the control period to 60 days, depredation control will remain 
``very localized'' in Zone A. The requirement that such depredation 
control activities be conducted only in response to verified wolf 
depredation in Zone A played a key role in the team's evaluation 
(Peterson in litt. 2001).
    The proposed changes in the control of depredating wolves in 
Minnesota under State management emphasize the need for post-delisting 
monitoring. Minnesota will continue to monitor wolf populations 
throughout the State and will also monitor all depredation control 
activities in Zone A (MN DNR 2001, p. 18). These and other activities 
contained in their plan will be essential in meeting their population 
goal of a minimum statewide winter population of 1,600 wolves, which 
exceeds the 1992 Federal Recovery Plan's criteria of 1,251 to 1,400 
wolves (USFWS 1992, p. 28).

The Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan

    Both the Wisconsin and Michigan Wolf Management Plans are designed 
to manage and ensure the existence of wolf populations in the States as 
if they are isolated populations and are not dependent upon immigration 
of wolves from an adjacent State or Canada. We support this approach 
and believe it provides strong assurances that the gray wolf in both 
States will remain a viable component of the WGL DPS for the 
foreseeable future.
    The WI Plan allows for differing levels of protection and 
management within four separate management zones (see figure 3). The 
Northern Forest Zone (Zone 1) and the Central Forest Zone (Zone 2) now 
contain most of the wolf population, with less than 5 percent of the 
Wisconsin wolves in Zones 3 and 4 (Wydeven et al. 2006, p. 27-29). 
Zones 1 and 2 contain all the larger unfragmented areas of suitable 
habitat (see Wolf Range Ownership and Protection, above), so most of 
the State's wolf packs will continue to inhabit those parts of 
Wisconsin for the foreseeable future. The varying levels of protection 
provided across these zones are fully consistent with our determination 
of the SPR in Wisconsin. The inclusion of all primary and secondary 
habitat in Zones 1 and 2, and the lack of suitable habitat in Zones 3 
and 4 (Wydeven et al. 1999, pp. 46-49), indicate that Zones 1 and 2 
constitute the SPR in Wisconsin and preclude the need for substantial 
wolf protection outside these zones.
    At the time the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan was completed, it 
recommended immediate reclassification from State-endangered to State-
threatened status, because Wisconsin's wolf population had already 
exceeded its reclassification criterion of 80 wolves for 3 years. That 
State reclassification occurred in 1999,

[[Page 15107]]

after the population exceeded that level for 5 years. The Wisconsin 
Plan further recommends the State manage for a gray wolf population of 
350 wolves outside of Native American reservations, and specifies that 
the species should be delisted by the State once the population reaches 
250 animals outside of reservations. The species was proposed for State 
delisting in late 2003, and the State delisting process was completed 
in 2004. Upon State delisting, the species was classified as a 
``protected nongame species,'' a designation that continues State 
prohibitions on sport hunting and trapping of the species (Wydeven and 
Jurewicz 2005, p. 1; WI DNR 2006b, p. 71). The Wisconsin Plan includes 
criteria that would trigger State relisting to threatened (a decline to 
fewer than 250 wolves for 3 years) or endangered status (a decline to 
fewer than 80 wolves for 1 year). The Wisconsin Plan will be reviewed 
annually by the Wisconsin Wolf Advisory Committee and will be reviewed 
by the public every 5 years.
    The WI Plan was updated during 2004-06 to reflect current wolf 
numbers, additional knowledge, and issues that have arisen since its 
1999 completion. This update is in the form of text changes, revisions 
to two appendices, and the addition of a new appendix to the 1999 plan, 
rather than as a major revision to the plan. Several components of the 
plan that are key to our delisting evaluation are unchanged. The State 
wolf management goal of 350 animals and the boundaries of the four wolf 
management zones remain the same as in the 1999 Plan. The updated 2006 
Plan continues access management on public lands and the protection of 
active den sites. However, protection of pack rendezvous sites is no 
longer considered to be needed in areas where wolves have become well 
established, due to the transient nature of these sites and the larger 
wolf population. The updated Plan states that rendezvous sites may need 
protection in areas where wolf colonization is still underway or where 
pup survival is extremely poor, such as in northeastern Wisconsin (WI 
DNR 2006a, p. 17). The guidelines for the wolf depredation control 
program did not undergo significant alteration during the update 
process. The only substantive change to depredation control practices 
is to expand the area of depredation control trapping in Zones 1 and 2 
to 1 mi (1.6 km) outward from the depredation site, replacing the 
previous 0.5 mi (0.8 km) radius trapping zone (WI DNR 2006a, pp. 3-4).
    An important component of the WI Plan is the annual monitoring of 
wolf populations by radio collars and winter track surveys in order to 
provide comparable annual data to assess population size and growth for 
at least 5 years after Federal delisting. This monitoring will include 
health monitoring of captured wolves and necropsies of dead wolves that 
are found. Wolf scat will be collected and analyzed to monitor for 
canine viruses and parasites. Health monitoring will be part of the 
capture protocol for all studies that involve the live capture of 
Wisconsin wolves (WI DNR 2006a, p. 14).
    Cooperative habitat management will be promoted with public and 
private landowners to maintain existing road densities in Zones 1 and 
2, protect wolf dispersal corridors, and manage forests for deer and 
beaver (WI DNR 1999, pp. 4, 22-23; 2006a, pp. 15-17). Furthermore, in 
Zone 1, a year-around prohibition on tree harvest within 330 feet of 
den sites, and seasonal restrictions to reduce disturbance within one-
half mile of dens, will be DNR policy on public lands and will be 
encouraged on private lands (WI DNR 1999, p. 23; 2006a, p. 17).

[[Page 15108]]


    The 1999 WI Plan contains, and the 2006 update retains, other 
recommendations that will provide protection to assist in maintenance 
of a viable wolf population in the State: (1) Continue the protection 
of the species as a ``protected wild animal'' with penalties similar to 
those for unlawfully killing large game species (fines of $1,000-2,000, 
loss of hunting privileges for 3-5 years, and a possible 6-month jail 
sentence), (2) maintain closure zones where coyotes cannot be shot 
during deer hunting season in Zone 1, (3) legally protect wolf dens 
under the Wisconsin Administrative Code, (4) require State permits to 
possess a wolf or wolf-dog hybrid, and (5) establish a restitution 
value to be levied in addition to fines and other penalties for wolves 
that are illegally killed (WI DNR 1999, pp. 21, 27-28, 30-31; 2006a, 
pp. 3-4).
    The 2006 update of the WI Plan continues to emphasize the need for 
public education efforts that focus on living with a recovered wolf 
population, ways to manage wolves and wolf-human conflicts, and the 
ecosystem role of wolves. The Plan continues the State reimbursement 
for depredation losses (including dogs and missing calves), citizen 
stakeholder involvement in the wolf management program, and 
coordination with the Tribes in wolf management and investigation of 
illegal killings (WI DNR 1999, pp. 24, 28-29; 2006a, pp. 22-23).
    Given the decline and ultimate termination in Federal funding for 
wolf monitoring in the future, Wisconsin and Michigan DNRs are seeking 
an effective, yet cost-efficient, method for detecting wolf population 
changes to replace the current labor-intensive and expensive monitoring 
protocols. Both DNRs have considered implementing a ``Minnesota-type'' 
wolf survey. Such methodology is less expensive for larger wolf 
populations than the intensive radio monitoring/track survey methods 
currently used by the two States, and if the wolf population continues 
to grow there will be increased need to develop and implement a less 
expensive method. However, each State conducted independent field 
testing of the Minnesota method several years ago and found that method 
to be unsuitable for both States' lower wolf population

[[Page 15109]]

density and uneven pack distribution. In both States the application of 
that method resulted in an overestimate of wolf abundance, possibly due 
to the more patchy distribution of wolves and packs in these States and 
the difficulty in accurately delineating occupied wolf range in areas 
where wolf pack density is relatively low in comparison to Minnesota 
and where agricultural lands are interspersed with forested areas 
(Wiedenhoeft 2005, pp. 11-12; Beyer in litt. 2006b).
    Both States remain interested in developing accurate but less 
costly alternate survey methods. WI DNR might test other methods 
following Federal delisting, but the State will not replace its 
traditional radio tracking/snow tracking surveys during the five year 
post-delisting monitoring period (Wydeven in litt. 2006b). The 2006 
update to the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan has not changed the WI 
DNR's commitment to annual wolf population monitoring in a manner that 
ensures accurate and comparable data (WI DNR 1999, pp. 19-20), and we 
are confident that adequate annual monitoring will continue for the 
foreseeable future.

Depredation Control in Wisconsin

    The rapidly expanding Wisconsin wolf population has resulted in 
increased need for depredation control. From 1979 through 1989, there 
were only five cases (an average of 0.4 per year) of verified wolf 
depredations in Wisconsin. Between 1990 and 1997, there were 27 
verified depredation incidents in the State (an average of 3.4 per 
year), and 82 incidents (an average of 16.4 per year) occurred from 
1998-2002. Depredation incidents increased to 23 cases (including 50 
domestic animals killed and 4 injured) in 2003, and to 35 cases (53 
domestic animals killed, 3 injured, and 6 missing) in 2004 (Wydeven and 
Wiedenhoeft 2004a, pp. 2-3, 7-8 Table 3; Wydeven et al. 2005b, p. 7). 
In 2005, depredation grew to 45 cases, with 53 domestic animals killed 
and 11 injured (Wydeven et al. 2006b, p. 7). The number of farms 
experiencing wolf depredations on livestock averaged 2.8 annually 
(range 0 to 8) during the 1990s, but jumped to an average of 14.0 per 
year during 2000-2005 (WI DNR 2006a, p. 19). During those five years an 
annual upward trend was evident, increasing from 10 in 2002, to 14 in 
2003, to 22 in 2004, and to 25 in 2005 (WI DNR 2006a, p. 34).
    A significant portion of depredation incidents in Wisconsin involve 
attacks on dogs engaged in bear hunting activities or dogs being 
trained in the field for hunting. In almost all cases, these have been 
hunting dogs that were being used for, or being trained for, hunting 
bears and bobcats at the time they were attacked. It is believed that 
the dogs entered the territory of a wolf pack and may have been close 
to a den, rendezvous site, or feeding location, thus triggering an 
attack by wolves defending their territory or pups. The frequency of 
attacks on hunting dogs has increased as the State's wolf population 
has grown. In 2004, 13 dogs involved in bear hunting or training were 
killed by wolves and 2 dogs not involved in hunting/training were 
killed. These incidents were believed to involve 7 different wolf 
packs, or 6 percent of the 108 packs in Wisconsin in the winter of 
2003-2004. Preliminary data from 2006 through the middle of October 
show a continuation of increased wolf attacks on bear hunting dogs, 
with 20 killed and 5 injured by 8 separate wolf packs, 7 percent of the 
winter 2005-2006 packs. (http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/er/mammals/wolf/dogdepred.htm, accessed Nov. 21, 2006). While Wisconsin 
DNR compensates dog owners for mortalities and injuries to their dogs, 
DNR takes no action against the depredating pack unless the attack was 
on a dog that was leashed, confined, or under the owner's control on 
the owner's land. Instead, the DNR issues press releases to warn bear 
hunters and bear dog trainers of the areas where wolf packs have been 
attacking bear dogs (WI DNR 2005, p. 4) and provides maps and advice to 
hunters on the DNR Web site (see http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/er/mammals/wolf/dogdepred.htm).

Post-Delisting Depredation Control in Wisconsin

    Following Federal delisting, wolf depredation control in Wisconsin 
will be carried out according to the 2006 Updated Wisconsin Wolf 
Management Plan (WI DNR 2006a, pp. 19-23), Wisconsin Guidelines for 
Conducting Depredation Control on Wolves (Wisconsin DNR 2005) which are 
being revised to conform to the 2006 Updated Plan, and any Tribal wolf 
management plans or guidelines that may be developed in the future for 
reservations in occupied wolf range. The 2006 updates have not 
significantly changed the 1999 State Plan, and the State wolf 
management goal of 350 wolves outside of Indian reservations (WI DNR 
2006a, p. 3) is unchanged. Verification of wolf depredation incidents 
will continue to be conducted by USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services, working 
under a cooperative agreement with WI DNR, or at the request of a 
Tribe, depending on the location of the suspected depredation incident. 
If determined to be a confirmed or probable depredation by a wolf or 
wolves, one or more of several options will be implemented to address 
the depredation problem. These options include technical assistance, 
loss compensation to landowners, translocation or euthanizing problem 
wolves, and private landowner control of problem wolves in some 
circumstances (WI DNR 2006a, pp. 3-4, 20-22).
    Technical assistance, consisting of advice or recommendations to 
prevent or reduce further wolf conflicts, will be provided. This may 
also include providing to the landowner various forms of non-injurious 
behavior modification materials, such as flashing lights, noise makers, 
temporary fencing, and fladry. Monetary compensation is also provided 
for all verified and probable losses of domestic animals and for a 
portion of documented missing calves (WI DNR 2006a, pp. 22-23).
    The WI DNR compensates livestock and pet owners for confirmed 
losses to depredating wolves. The compensation is made at full market 
value of the animal (up to a limit of $2500 for hunting dogs and pets) 
and can include veterinarian fees for the treatment of injured animals 
(WI DNR 2006c 12.54). Compensation costs have been funded from the 
endangered resources tax check-off and sales of the endangered 
resources license plates. Current Wisconsin law requires the 
continuation of the compensation payment for wolf depredation 
regardless of Federal listing or delisting of the species (WI DNR 2006c 
12.50). In recent years annual depredation compensation payments have 
ranged from $18,630 to nearly $110,000 (WI DNR 2006a, p. 22-23, 29).
    For depredation incidents in Wisconsin Zones 1 through 3, where all 
wolf packs currently reside, wolves may be trapped by Wildlife Services 
or WI DNR personnel and, if feasible, they are translocated and 
released at a point distant from the depredation site. If wolves are 
captured adjacent to an Indian reservation or a large block of public 
land the animals may be translocated locally to that area. As noted 
above, long-distance translocating of depredating wolves has become 
increasingly difficult in Wisconsin and is likely to be used 
infrequently in the future as long as the off-reservation wolf 
population is above 350 animals. In most wolf depredation cases where 
technical assistance and non-lethal methods of behavior modification 
are judged to be ineffective, wolves will be shot or trapped and 
euthanized by Wildlife Services or DNR personnel.

[[Page 15110]]

 Trapping and euthanizing will be conducted within a 1 mi (1.6 km) 
radius of the depredation in Zones 1 and 2, and within a 5 mi (8 km) 
radius in Zone 3. There is no distance limitation for depredation 
control trapping in Zone 4, and all wolves trapped in Zone 4 will be 
euthanized, rather than translocated (WI DNR 2006a, pp. 22-23).
    Following Federal delisting, Wisconsin landowners who have had a 
verified wolf depredation will be able to obtain limited-duration 
permits from WI DNR to kill a limited number of depredating wolves on 
land they own or lease. In addition, landowners and lessees of land 
statewide will be allowed to kill a wolf without obtaining a permit 
``in the act of killing, wounding, or biting a domestic animal,'' and 
the incident must be reported to a conservation warden within 24 hours 
(WI DNR 2006a, pp. 22-23).
    The updated Wisconsin Plan also envisions the possibility of 
intensive control management actions in sub-zones of the larger wolf 
management zones, but such actions, and the triggering events for them, 
have yet to be determined (WI DNR 2006a, pp. 22-23). These actions 
would be considered on a case-by-case basis to address specific 
problems, and would likely be carried out only in areas that lack 
suitable habitat, have extensive agricultural lands with little forest 
interspersion, in urban or suburban settings, and only when the State 
wolf population is well above the management goal of 350 wolves in late 
winter surveys. The use of intensive population management in small 
areas will be adapted as experience is gained with implementing and 
evaluating localized control actions (Wydeven pers. comm. 2006).
    We have evaluated future lethal depredation control based upon 
verified depredation incidents over the last decade and the impacts of 
the implementation of similar lethal control of depredating wolves 
under 50 CFR 17.40(d) for Minnesota, 17.40(o) for Wisconsin and 
Michigan, and section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Act for Wisconsin and 
Michigan. Under those authorities, WI DNR and Wildlife Services trapped 
and euthanized 17 wolves in 2003, 24 in 2004, 32 (including several 
possible hybrids) in 2005, and 18 in 2006 (WI DNR 2006a, p. 32). 
(Although these lethal control authorities applied to Wisconsin and 
Michigan DNRs for only a portion of 2003 (April through December) and 
2005 (all of January for both States; April 1 and April 19, for 
Wisconsin and Michigan respectively, through September 13), they 
covered nearly all of the verified wolf depredations during those 
years, and thus provide a reasonable measure of annual lethal 
depredation control. Lethal control authority only occurred for about 4 
months in 2006.) For 2003, 2004, and 2005 this represents 5.1 percent, 
6.4 percent, 7.4 percent (including the several possible wolf-dog 
hybrids), respectively, of the late winter population of Wisconsin 
wolves during the previous winter. Note that some of the wolves 
euthanized after August 1 were young-of-the-year who were not present 
during the late winter survey, so the cited percentages are 
overestimates. This level of lethal depredation control was followed by 
a wolf population increase of 11 percent from 2003 to 2004, 17 percent 
from 2004 to 2005, and 7 percent from 2005 to 2006 (Wydeven and 
Jurewicz 2005, p.5; Wydeven et al 2006a, p. 10). This provides strong 
evidence that this form and magnitude of depredation control will not 
adversely impact the viability of the Wisconsin wolf population. The 
locations of depredation incidents provide additional evidence that 
lethal control will not be an adverse impact on the State's wolf 
population. Most livestock depredations are caused by packs near the 
northern forest--farm land interface. Few depredations occur in core 
wolf range and in large blocks of public land. Thus, lethal depredation 
control actions will not impact most of the Wisconsin wolf population 
(WI DNR 2006a, p. 30).
    One substantive change to lethal control that likely will result 
from Federal delisting is the ability of a small number of private 
landowners, whose farms have a history of recurring wolf depredation, 
to obtain DNR permits to kill depredating wolves (WI DNR 2006a, p. 23). 
We estimate that up to 3 wolves from each of 5 to 10 farms may be 
killed annually under these permits in the several years immediately 
after delisting. Because the late-winter 2005-06 Wisconsin wolf 
population was approaching 500 animals, the death of these 5 to 30 
additional wolves--only 1 to 6 percent of the State wolves--would not 
affect the viability of the population. Another substantive change may 
be potential proactive trapping or ``intensive control'' of wolves in 
limited areas as described above. While it is not possible to estimate 
the number of wolves that might be killed via these actions, we are 
confident that they will not impact the long-term viability of the 
Wisconsin wolf population, because they will be carried out only if the 
State's late-winter wolf population exceeds 350 animals.
    The State's current guidelines for conducting depredation control 
actions say that no control trapping will be conducted on wolves that 
kill ``dogs that are free-roaming, roaming at large, hunting, or 
training on public lands, and all other lands except land owned or 
leased by the dog owner'' (Wisconsin DNR 2005, p, 4). Because of these 
State-imposed limitations, we believe that lethal control of wolves 
depredating on hunting dogs will be rare, and therefore will not be a 
significant additional source of mortality in Wisconsin.
    Lethal control of wolves that attack captive deer is included in 
the WI DNR depredation control program, because farm-raised deer are 
considered to be livestock under Wisconsin law (WI DNR 2005, p. 4; 
2006c, 12.52). However, Wisconsin regulations for deer farms fencing 
have been strengthened, and it is unlikely that more than an occasional 
wolf will need to be killed to end wolf depredations inside deer farms 
in the foreseeable future. Claims for wolf depredation compensation are 
rejected if the claimant is not in compliance with regulations 
regarding farm-raised deer fencing or livestock carcass disposal 
(Wisconsin Statutes 90.20 & 90.21, WI DNR 2006c 12.54).
    Data from verified wolf depredations in recent years indicate that 
depredation on livestock is likely to increase as long as the Wisconsin 
wolf population increases in numbers and range. Most large areas of 
forest land and public lands are included in Wisconsin Wolf Management 
Zones 1 and 2, and they have already been colonized by wolves. 
Therefore, new areas likely to be colonized by wolves in the future 
will be in Zones 3 and 4, where they will be exposed to much higher 
densities of farms, livestock, and residences. During the period from 
July 2004 through June 2005, 29 percent (8 of 28) of farms experiencing 
wolf depredation were in Zone 3, yet only 4 percent of the State wolf 
population occurs in this zone (Wydeven and Wiedenhoeft 2005, p. 3). 
Further expansion of wolves into Zone 3 would likely lead to an 
increase in depredation incidents and an increase in lethal control 
actions against Zone 3 wolves. However, these Zone 3 mortalities will 
have no impact on wolf population viability in Wisconsin because of the 
much larger wolf populations in Zones 1 and 2.
    For the foreseeable future, the wolf population in Zones 1 and 2 
will continue to greatly exceed the Federal recovery goal of 200 late 
winter wolves for an isolated population and 100 wolves for a 
subpopulation connected to the larger Minnesota population, regardless 
of the extent of wolf mortality from all causes in Zones 3 and 4. 
Ongoing annual wolf population monitoring by WI DNR will provide

[[Page 15111]]

timely and accurate data to evaluate the effects of wolf management 
under the Wisconsin Plan.
    The possibility of a public harvest of wolves is acknowledged in 
the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan and in plan update drafts (WI DNR 
1999, Appendix D; 2006c, p. 23). However, the question of whether a 
public harvest will be initiated and the details of such a harvest are 
far from resolved. Public attitudes toward a wolf population in excess 
of 350 would have to be fully evaluated, as would the impacts from 
other mortalities, before a public harvest could be initiated. 
Establishing a public harvest would be preceded by extensive public 
input, including public hearing, and would require legislative 
authorization and approval by the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board. 
Because of the steps that must precede a public harvest of wolves and 
the uncertainty regarding the possibility of, and the details of, any 
such program, it is not possible to evaluate the potential impacts of 
the public harvest of wolves. Therefore, we consider public harvest of 
Wisconsin wolves to be highly speculative at this time. The Service 
will closely monitor any steps taken by States and/or Tribes within the 
WGL DPS to establish any public harvest of gray wolves during our post-
delisting monitoring program. The fact that the Wisconsin Plan calls 
for State relisting of the wolf as a threatened species if the 
population falls to fewer than 250 for 3 years provides a strong 
assurance that any future public harvest is not likely to threaten the 
persistence of the population (WI DNR 1999, pp. 15-17). Based on wolf 
population data, the current Wisconsin Plan and the 2006 updates, we 
believe that any public harvest plan would continue to maintain the 
State wolf population well above the recovery goal of 200 wolves in 
late winter.

Michigan Wolf Management Plan

    The 1997 Michigan Gray Wolf Recovery and Management Plan (MI Plan) 
(MI DNR 1997) describes the wolf recovery goals and management actions 
needed to achieve a viable wolf population in the UP of Michigan. It 
does not address the potential need for wolf recovery or management in 
the Lower Peninsula, nor wolf management within Isle Royale National 
Park (where the wolf population is fully protected by the National Park 
Service). Necessary wolf management actions detailed in the Michigan 
Plan include public education and outreach activities, annual wolf 
population and health monitoring, research, depredation control, and 
habitat management. As described above, MI DNR currently is in the 
process of revising its plan to enable more effective management of a 
recovered and expanding wolf population. The revision is expected to be 
completed in late 2007.
    As with the WI Plan, the MI DNR has chosen to manage the State's 
wolves as though they are an isolated population that receives no 
genetic or demographic benefits from immigrating wolves. Therefore, 
although we do not know if the revised Michigan Plan will contain any 
long-term minimum numerical goal for wolves in the UP or NLP, as a 
result of written commitments from the MI DNR, as discussed below, we 
are confident that the State plan will have a goal of maintaining a 
wolf population that is large enough so as to be viable for the 
foreseeable future and will not have to be listed as threatened or 
endangered under either State or Federal law (Moritz in litt. 2006; 
Koch in litt. 2006a). The MI DNR has assured us that ``the new revised 
Plan will underscore commitments to wolf management already made in the 
1997 plan.'' (Koch in litt. 2006b). We strongly support this approach, 
as it provides assurance that a viable wolf population will remain in 
the UP regardless of the future fate of wolves in Wisconsin or Ontario.
    Until the MI Plan revision is completed, the 1997 Michigan Plan 
will remain in effect, as supplemented by additional guidance developed 
since 1997 to deal with aspects of wolf management and recovery not 
adequately covered in the 1997 Plan, such as ``Guidelines for 
Management and Lethal Control of Wolves Following Confirmed Depredation 
Events'' (MI DNR 2005a).
    The 1997 Michigan Plan identifies wolf population monitoring as a 
priority activity (MI DNR 1997, pp. 21-22). As discussed previously, 
the size of the wolf population is determined annually by extensive 
radio and snow tracking surveys. Recently the Michigan DNR also 
conducted a field evaluation of a less expensive ``Minnesota-type'' 
wolf survey. However, similar to Wisconsin DNR's experience, the 
evaluation concluded that the method overestimated wolf numbers, and is 
not suitable for use on the State's wolf population as it currently is 
distributed (Beyer in litt. 2006b).
    The MI DNR remains interested in developing accurate but less 
costly alternate survey methods, and in the winter of 2006-2007 is 
planning to implement a sampling approach to increase the efficiency of 
the survey based on an analysis by Potvin et al. (2005, p. 1668). The 
UP will be stratified into three sampling areas, and within each 
stratum the DNR will intensively survey roughly 40 to 50 percent of the 
wolf habitat area annually. Computer simulations have shown that such a 
geographically stratified monitoring program will produce unbiased and 
precise estimates of the total wolf population which can be 
statistically compared to estimates derived from the previous method to 
detect significant changes in the UP wolf population (Beyer in litt 
2006b, see attachment by Drummer; Lederle in litt. 2006).
    The 1997 Michigan Plan identifies 800 wolves as the estimated 
biological carrying capacity of suitable areas in the UP (MI DNR 1997, 
p. 17). ``Carrying capacity'' is the number of animals that an area is 
able to support over the long term; for wolves, it is primarily based 
on the availability of prey animals and competition from other wolf 
packs. Under the 1997 Michigan Plan, wolves in the State will be 
considered recovered when a sustainable population of at least 200 
wolves is maintained for 5 consecutive years. The UP has had more than 
200 wolves since the winter of 1999-2000. Therefore, Michigan 
reclassified wolves from endangered to threatened in June 2002, and the 
gray wolf became eligible for State delisting under the Michigan Plan's 
criteria in 2004. In Michigan, however, State delisting cannot occur 
until after Federal delisting; therefore we expect State delisting to 
be initiated in the near future. During the State delisting process, 
Michigan intends to amend its Wildlife Conservation Order to grant 
``protected animal'' status to the gray wolf. That status would 
``prohibit take, establish penalties, and restitution for violations of 
the Order, and detail conditions under which lethal depredation control 
measures could be implemented'' (Humphries in litt. 2004). Population 
management, except for depredation control, is not addressed in the 
1997 Michigan Plan beyond statements that the wolf population may need 
to be controlled by lethal means at some future time.
    Similar to the Wisconsin Plan, the 1997 Michigan Plan recommends 
high levels of protection for wolf den and rendezvous sites, whether on 
public or private land. The Plan recommends that most land uses be 
prohibited at all times within 330 feet (100 meters) of active sites. 
Seasonal restrictions (March through July) should be enforced within 
0.5 mi (0.8 km) of these sites, to prevent high-disturbance activities, 
such as logging, from disrupting pup-rearing activities. These 
restrictions should remain in effect even after State delisting occurs 
(MI DNR 1997, pp. 26-

[[Page 15112]]

27), but they may be modified by the revision of the 1997 Plan, which 
is expected to be completed in late 2007.
    The 1997 Michigan Plan calls for re-evaluation of the plan at 5-
year intervals. The MI DNR initiated this re-evaluation process in 
2001, with the appointment of a committee to evaluate wolf recovery and 
management. As a result of that review, MI DNR concluded that a 
revision of the 1997 Plan is needed, and a more formal review, 
including extensive stakeholder input, was recently initiated. 
Recognizing that wolf recovery has been achieved in Michigan, 
additional scientific knowledge has been gained, and new social issues 
have arisen since the 1997 Plan was drafted, the DNR intends the 
revised plan to be more of a wolf management document than a recovery 
plan. The DNR convened a Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable to assist 
in this endeavor. The Roundtable is a diverse group of 20 citizens 
drawn from organizations spanning the spectrum of those interested in, 
and impacted by, wolf recovery and management in Michigan, including 
Tribal entities and organizations focused on agriculture, hunting/
trapping, the environment, animal protection, law enforcement and 
public safety, and tourism.
    To help the Roundtable produce guiding principles that are based on 
the best biological and sociological data available, the MI DNR 
developed a ``Review of Social and Biological Science Relevant to Wolf 
Management in Michigan'' (Beyer et al. 2006). The MI DNR instructed the 
Roundtable to provide strategic guidance for the DNR's use in 
subsequent development of an operational wolf management plan. The 
Roundtable was asked to review the 1997 wolf management goal, to set 
priorities for management issues, and to recommend strategic goals or 
policies the DNR should use in addressing the management issues. The 
Roundtable was not asked to provide input regarding specific methods to 
achieve wolf management goals and objectives. The DNR's instructions 
specified the ``wolf management working goal'' currently is ``to 
establish and maintain a population of gray wolves in the Upper 
Peninsula at a level that (1) assures wolf population sustainability, 
(2) is consistent with available wolf habitat, and (3) is compatible 
with human land-use practices'' (Moritz in litt 2006, attachment pp. 1-
    The Roundtable has provided this guidance to MI DNR in the form of 
a series of ``guiding principles'' that were developed by member 
consensus over a period of 10 days of meetings over a 5-month period. 
The Roundtable prefaced their guidance by stating that wolf management 
should have a goal of maintaining ``acceptable levels of positive and 
negative [wolf-human] interactions while ensuring the long-term 
viability of a wolf population'' (Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable 
2006, p. 5). Because the factors that influence the levels of wolf-
human interactions vary across geographic scales and over time, the 
Roundtable felt that setting numerical goals for large geographical 
areas would be unwise. Instead, the Roundtable believes that local and 
case-by-case management would be better able to enhance opportunities 
for positive interactions and reduce negative interactions. Therefore, 
in place of recommending a numerical goal for the Michigan wolf 
population, the Roundtable provided a series of general guiding 
principles for the DNR to use in wolf population management (Michigan 
Wolf Management Roundtable 2006, pp. 6-7):
     Strategic management goals should be based on positive and 
negative wolf impacts, rather than on wolf numbers, and should consider 
genetic diversity, population sustainability, ecological and social 
benefits, impacts on wildlife and their habitats, human safety, and 
limiting wolf depredation on domestic animals.
     Wolf-human conflicts are best resolved at the individual 
wolf or pack level, with broader scale wolf population management 
considered only when excessive wolf numbers are determined to be the 
cause of significant conflict.
     Wolf management should be ``adaptive management'' and 
should include evaluation of management practices.
     Michigan wolves will need to be killed on a case-by-case 
basis to resolve conflicts, and hunters can be used for such management 
in the future.
     Natural expansion of wolves to the NLP should be 
accompanied by education efforts to enhance public tolerance of that 
    The Roundtable provided a series of guiding principles that 
specifically deal with wolf-related conflicts in order to minimize such 
conflicts and provide relief when they occur, with the goal of ensuring 
long-term viability of the wolf population (Michigan Wolf Management 
Roundtable 2006, pp. 7-9).
     Lethal control is an accepted option, but more emphasis is 
needed on the development and use of non-lethal methods. The Roundtable 
does not recommend the use of lethal measures as a preventative 
approach where conflicts do not yet exist.
     Attacks on dogs trespassing into a pack territory are 
predictable and normal wolf behavior, and the primary responsibility 
for reducing the attacks lies with the dog owner. Lethal control of the 
pack should not be used unless non-lethal methods are ineffective and 
the attacks become chronic.
     Compensation for livestock losses should be tied to the 
use of best management practices to decrease wolf-livestock conflicts. 
An incremental approach by MI DNR to resolve wolf-livestock conflicts 
should involve technical support, non-lethal methods, and lethal 
control, and should be implemented in a manner that reflects the 
severity and frequency of the attacks.
     Livestock owners should be allowed, without a permit, to 
kill wolves in the act of attacking livestock on private property. 
Lethal take permits should be available to landowners if non-lethal 
methods are ineffective following verified wolf depredations. Abuses of 
these permits should be referred for prosecution.
    While recognizing that public hunting or trapping of wolves is a 
valid management tool to reduce wolf-related conflicts under specific 
conditions, the Roundtable was unable to come to a consensus position 
on conducting a wolf hunting or trapping program in the absence of a 
need to reduce the wolf population to address identified conflicts. 
Developing guiding principles regarding such a public harvest of wolves 
was not possible due to the significantly different and deeply held 
fundamental values of various Roundtable members (Michigan Wolf 
Management Roundtable 2006, p. 10).
    Guiding principles also were provided by the Roundtable to stress 
the importance of continuing and enhancing information, education, and 
research components of wolf management and to include information in 
the management plan regarding the cultural and spiritual significance 
of the wolf to Native Americans. The Roundtable provided additional 
guiding principles that support a prohibition on the private possession 
of wolves without a permit, express concern that wolf-dog hybrids will 
have negative effects on the State's wild wolf population, and 
encourage annual review by a State wolf advisory council and plan 
updates at 5-year intervals.
    Because the Michigan plan revision process will not be completed 
until late in 2007, we cannot evaluate the goals, strategies, or 
activities that it will contain. However, MI DNR has long been an 
innovative leader, not a reluctant follower, in wolf recovery

[[Page 15113]]

efforts, exemplified by its initiation of the nation's first attempt to 
reintroduce wild wolves to vacant historical wolf habitat in 1974 
(Weise et al. 1975). MI DNR's history of leadership in wolf recovery, 
its repeated written commitments to ensure the continued viability of a 
Michigan wolf population above a level that would trigger State or 
Federal listing as threatened or endangered, along with the protective 
``Guiding Principles'' from the Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable, 
lead us to conclude that both the current Michigan Plan, and the 
revised plan to be developed using the guidance of the Roundtable, will 
provide adequate regulatory mechanisms for Michigan wolves. The DNR's 
goal remains to ``ensure the wolf population remains viable and above a 
level that would require either Federal or State reclassification as a 
threatened or endangered species'' (Moritz in litt. 2006) and upon 
Federal delisting to ``conduct management to ensure the persistence of 
a viable wolf population in Michigan, and thus preclude the need for 
its reclassification as threatened or endangered under State or Federal 
law'' (Koch in litt. 2006a).

Depredation Control in Michigan

    Data from Michigan show a general increase in confirmed wolf 
depredations on livestock: 3 in 1998, 1 in 1999, 5 in 2000, 3 in 2001, 
5 in 2002, 13 in 2003, 11 in 2004, and 5 in 2005. These livestock 
depredations occurred at 34 different UP farms; nearly three-quarters 
of the depredations were on cattle, with the rest on sheep, poultry and 
captive cervids ( Beyer et al. 2006, p. 85).
    Michigan has not experienced as high a level of attacks on dogs by 
wolves as Wisconsin, although a slight increase in such attacks has 
occurred over the last decade. The number of dogs killed in the State 
was one in 1996, two in 1999, three in 2001, four in 2002, eight in 
2003, 4 in 2004, and 2 in 2005; seven additional dogs were injured in 
wolf attacks during that same period (Beyer et al. 2006, p. 93). 
Similar to Wisconsin, MI DNR has guidelines for its depredation control 
program, stating that lethal control will not be used when wolves kill 
dogs that are free-roaming, hunting, or training on public lands. 
Lethal control of wolves, however, would be considered if wolves have 
killed confined pets and remain in the area where more pets are being 
held (MI DNR 2005a, p. 6).
    During the several years that lethal control of depredating wolves 
had been conducted in Michigan, there is no evidence of resulting 
adverse impacts to the maintenance of a viable wolf population in the 
UP. Four, six, two, and seven wolves, respectively, were euthanized in 
2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 (Beyer et al. 2006, p. 88; Roell in litt. 
2006c, p. 1). This represents 1.2 percent, 1.7 percent, 0.5 percent, 
and 1.6 percent, respectively, of the UP's late winter population of 
wolves during the previous winter. Following this level of lethal 
depredation control, the UP wolf population increased 12 percent from 
2003 to 2004, 13 percent from 2004 to 2005, and 7 percent from 2005 to 
2006, demonstrating that the wolf population continues to increase at a 
healthy rate (Huntzinger et al. 2005, p. 6; MI DNR 2006a).

Post-Delisting Depredation Control in Michigan

    Following Federal delisting, wolf depredation control in Michigan 
would be carried out according to the 1997 Michigan Wolf Recovery and 
Management Plan (MI DNR 1997), the revised Michigan management plan 
when completed, and any Tribal wolf management plans that may be 
developed in the future for reservations in occupied wolf range. Until 
such time as MI DNR adopts changes to wolf depredation control 
measures, the following management practices will be used following the 
effective date of Federal delisting.
    To provide depredation control guidance when lethal control is an 
option, MI DNR has developed detailed instructions for incident 
investigation and response (MI DNR 2005a). Verification of wolf 
depredation incidents will be conducted by MI DNR or USDA-APHIS-
Wildlife Services personnel (working under a cooperative agreement with 
MI DNR or at the request of a Tribe, depending on the location) who 
have been trained in depredation investigation techniques. The MI DNR 
specifies that the verification process will use the investigative 
techniques that have been developed and successfully used in Minnesota 
by Wildlife Services (MI DNR 2005a, Append. B, pp. 9-10). Following 
verification, one or more of several options will be implemented to 
address the depredation problem. Technical assistance, consisting of 
advice or recommendations to reduce wolf conflicts, will be provided. 
Technical assistance may also include providing to the landowner 
various forms of non-injurious behavior modification materials, such as 
flashing lights, noise makers, temporary fencing, and fladry.
    Trapping and translocating depredating wolves has been used in the 
past, resulting in the translocation of 23 UP wolves during 1998-2003 
(Beyer et al. 2006, p. 88), and it may be used in the future, but as 
with Wisconsin, suitable relocation sites are becoming rarer, and there 
is local opposition to the release of translocated depredators. 
Furthermore, none of the past translocated depredators have remained 
near their release sites, making this a questionable method to end the 
depredation behaviors of these wolves (MI DNR 2005a, pp. 3-4).
    Lethal control of depredating wolves is likely to be the most 
common future response in situations when improved livestock husbandry 
and wolf behavior modification techniques (e.g., flashing lights, 
noise-making devices) are judged to be inadequate. As wolf numbers 
continue to increase on the UP, the number of verified depredations 
will also increase, and will probably do so at a rate that exceeds the 
rate of wolf population increase. This will occur as wolves 
increasingly disperse into and occupy areas of the UP with more 
livestock and more human residences, leading to additional exposure to 
domestic animals. In a recent application for a lethal take permit 
under section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Act, MI DNR requested authority to 
euthanize up to 10 percent of the late-winter wolf population annually 
(MI DNR 2005b, p. 1). However, based on 2003-2005 depredation data, it 
is likely that significantly less than 10 percent lethal control will 
be needed over the next several years.
    The Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable has provided 
recommendations to guide management of various conflicts caused by wolf 
recovery, including depredation on livestock and pets, human safety, 
and public concerns regarding wolf impacts on other wildlife. We view 
the Roundtable's depredation and conflict control recommendations to be 
conservative, in that they recommend non-lethal depredation management 
whenever possible, oppose preventative wolf removal where problems have 
not yet occurred, encourage incentives for best management practices 
that decrease wolf-livestock practices without impacting wolves, and 
support closely monitored and enforced take by landowners of wolves 
``in the act of livestock depredation'' or under limited permits if 
depredation is confirmed and non-lethal methods are determined to be 
ineffective. Based on these guiding principles for the revised MI Plan, 
the current MI Plan, and stated goals for maintaining wolf populations 
at or above recovery goals, the Service believes any wolf management 
changes will not be implemented in a manner

[[Page 15114]]

that results in significant reductions in Michigan wolf populations. At 
this time, MI DNR remains committed to ensuring a viable wolf 
population above a level that would trigger Federal relisting as either 
threatened or endangered in the future (Koch in litt. 2006a), and we do 
not see any indication from their Plan revision efforts that the DNR is 
departing from that commitment.
    Similar to Wisconsin, Michigan livestock owners are compensated 
when they lose livestock as a result of a confirmed wolf depredation. 
Currently there are two complementary compensation programs in 
Michigan, one funded by the MI DNR and implemented by Michigan 
Department of Agriculture (MI DA) and another set up through donations 
(from Defenders of Wildlife and private citizens) and administered by 
the International Wolf Center (IWC), a non-profit organization. From 
the inception of the program to 2000, MI DA has paid 90 percent of full 
market value of depredated livestock value at the time of loss. The IWC 
account was used to pay the remaining 10 percent from 2000 to 2002 when 
MI DA began paying 100 percent of the full market value of depredated 
livestock. The IWC account continues to be used to pay the difference 
between value at time of loss and the full fall market value for 
depredated young of the year livestock, and together the two funds have 
provided nearly $20,000 in livestock loss compensation through 2005 
(Beyer et al. 2006, p. 86). Neither of these programs provide 
compensation for pets or for veterinary costs to treat wolf-inflicted 
livestock injuries. The MI DNR plans to continue cooperating with MI DA 
and other organizations to maintain the wolf depredation compensation 
program (Pat Lederle pers. comm. 2004).
    The complete text of the Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota wolf 
plans, as well as our summaries of those plans, can be found on our Web 
site (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section above).

Regulatory Mechanisms in Other States and Tribal Areas Within the WGL 

North Dakota and South Dakota

    North Dakota lacks a State endangered species law or regulations. 
Any gray wolves in the State currently are classified as furbearers, 
with a closed season. North Dakota Game and Fish Department is unlikely 
to change the species' State classification immediately following 
Federal delisting. Wolves are included in the State's July 2004 list of 
100 Species of Conservation Concern as a ``Level 3'' species. Level 3 
species are those ``having a moderate level of conservation priority, 
but are believed to be peripheral or do not breed in North Dakota.'' 
Placement on this list gives species greater access to conservation 
funding, but does not afford any additional regulatory or legislative 
protection (Bicknell in litt. 2005).
    Currently any wolves that may be in South Dakota are not State 
listed as threatened or endangered, nor is there a hunting or trapping 
season for them. Upon the effective date of Federal delisting gray 
wolves in eastern South Dakota will fall under general protections 
afforded all State wildlife. These protections require specific 
provisions--seasons and regulations--be established prior to initiating 
any form of legal take. Thus, the State could choose to implement a 
hunting, or trapping season for gray wolves east of the Missouri River; 
however, absent some definitive action to establish a season, wolves 
would remain protected. Following Federal delisting, any verified 
depredating wolves east of the Missouri will likely be trapped and 
killed by the USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services program (Larson in litt. 
2005). Non-depredating federally-delisted wolves in North and South 
Dakota will continue to receive protection by the States' wildlife 
protection statutes unless specific action is taken to open a hunting 
or trapping season or otherwise remove existing protections.

Post-Delisting Depredation Control in North and South Dakota

    Since 1993, five incidents of verified wolf depredation have 
occurred in North Dakota, with one in September 2003 and two more in 
December 2005. There have been no verified wolf depredations in South 
Dakota in recent decades. Following Federal delisting we assume that 
lethal control of a small number of depredating wolves will occur in 
one or both of these States. Lethal control of depredating wolves may 
have adverse impacts on the ability of wolves to occupy any small areas 
of suitable or marginally suitable habitat that may exist in the 
States. However, lethal control of depredating wolves in these two 
States will have no adverse affects on the long-term viability of wolf 
populations in the WGL DPS as a whole, because the existence of a wolf 
or a wolf population in the Dakotas will not make a meaningful 
contribution to the maintenance of the current viable, self-sustaining, 
and representative metapopulation of wolves in the WGL DPS.

Other States in the Western Great Lakes DPS

    This delisted DPS includes the portion of Iowa that is north of 
Interstate Highway 80, which is approximately 60 percent of the State. 
The Iowa Natural Resource Commission currently lists gray wolves as 
furbearers, with a closed season (Howell in litt. 2005). If the State 
retains this listing following Federal delisting of this DPS, wolves 
dispersing into northern Iowa will be protected by State law.
    The portion of Illinois that is north of Interstate Highway 80, 
less than one-fifth of the State, is included in this DPS, and is part 
of the geographic area where wolves are now delisted and removed from 
Federal protection. Gray wolves are currently protected in Illinois as 
a threatened species under the Illinois Endangered Species Protection 
Act (520 ILCS 10). Thus, following this Federal delisting, wolves 
dispersing into northern Illinois will continue to be protected from 
human take by State law.
    The extreme northern portions of Indiana and northwestern Ohio are 
included within this delisted DPS, and any wolves that are found in 
this area are no longer federally protected under the Act. The State of 
Ohio classifies the gray wolf as ``extirpated,'' and there are no plans 
to reintroduce or recover the species in the State. The species lacks 
State protection, but State action is likely to apply some form of 
protection if wolves begin to disperse into the State (Caldwell in 
litt. 2005). Indiana DNR lists the gray wolf as extirpated in the 
State, and the species would receive no State protection under this 
classification following this Federal delisting. The only means to 
provide State protection would be to list them as State-endangered, but 
that is not likely to occur unless wolves become resident in Indiana 
(Johnson in litt. 2005, in litt. 2006). Thus, federally delisted wolves 
that might disperse into Indiana and Ohio would lack State protection 
there, unless these two States take specific action to provide new 
    Because the portions of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio within 
the WGL DPS do not contain suitable habitat or currently established 
packs, depredation control in these States will not have any 
significant impact on the continued viability of the WGL DPS wolf 

Tribal Management and Protection of Gray Wolves

    Native American tribes and multi-tribal organizations have 
indicated to the Service that they will continue to

[[Page 15115]]

conserve wolves on most, and probably all, Native American reservations 
in the core recovery areas of the WGL DPS. The wolf retains great 
cultural significance and traditional value to many Tribes and their 
members (additional discussion is found in Factor E), and to retain and 
strengthen cultural connections, many tribes oppose unnecessary killing 
of wolves on reservations and on ceded lands, even following Federal 
delisting (Hunt in litt. 1998; Schrage in litt. 1998a; Schlender in 
litt. 1998). Some Native Americans view wolves as competitors for deer 
and moose, whereas others are interested in harvesting wolves as 
furbearers (Schrage in litt. 1998a). Many tribes intend to sustainably 
manage their natural resources, wolves among them, to ensure that they 
are available to their descendants. Traditional natural resource 
harvest practices, however, often include only a minimum amount of 
regulation by the Tribal government (Hunt in litt. 1998).
    Although the Tribes with wolves that visit or reside on their 
reservations do not yet have management plans specific to the gray 
wolf, several Tribes have informed us that they have no plans or 
intentions to allow commercial or recreational hunting or trapping of 
the species on their lands after Federal delisting. The Service has 
recently provided the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians 
(Michigan) with grant funding to develop a gray wolf monitoring and 
management plan. The Service has also awarded a grant to the Ho-Chunk 
Nation to identify wolf habitat on reservation lands.
    As a result of many past contacts with, and previous written 
comments from, the Midwestern Tribes and their off-reservation natural 
resource management agencies--the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife 
Commission (GLIFWC), the 1854 Authority, and the Chippewa Ottawa Treaty 
Authority--it is clear that their predominant sentiment is strong 
support for the continued protection of wolves at a level that ensures 
that viable wolf populations remain on reservations and throughout the 
treaty-ceded lands surrounding the reservations. While several Tribes 
stated that their members may be interested in killing small numbers of 
wolves for spiritual or other purposes, this would be carried out in a 
manner that would not impact reservation or ceded territory wolf 
    The Tribal Council of the Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Ojibwe 
(Council) approved a resolution that describes the sport and 
recreational harvest of gray wolves as an inappropriate use of the 
animal. That resolution supports limited harvest of wolves to be used 
for traditional or spiritual uses by enrolled Tribal members if the 
harvest is done in a respectful manner and would not negatively affect 
the wolf population. The Council is revising the Reservation 
Conservation Code to allow Tribal members to harvest some wolves after 
Federal delisting (Googgleye, Jr. in litt. 2004). In 2005, the Leech 
Lake Reservation was home to an estimated 75 gray wolves, the largest 
population of wolves on a Native American reservation in the 48 
conterminous States (Mortensen pers. comm. 2006; White in litt. 2003).
    The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians (Minnesota) has indicated 
that it is likely to develop a wolf management plan that will be very 
similar in scope and content to the plan developed by the MN DNR. The 
Band's position on wolf management is ``wolf preservation through 
effective management,'' and the Band is confident that wolves will 
continue to thrive on their lands (Bedeau in litt. 1998). The 
Reservation currently has nine packs with an estimated 15-30 wolves 
within its boundaries (Huseby pers. comm. 2006).
    The Fond du Lac Band (Minnesota) believes that the ``well being of 
the wolf is intimately connected to the well being of the Chippewa 
People'' (Schrage in litt. 2003). In 1998, the Band passed a resolution 
opposing Federal delisting and any other measure that would permit 
trapping, hunting, or poisoning of the gray wolf (Schrage in litt. 
1998b, in litt. 2003). If this prohibition is rescinded, the Band's 
Resource Management Division will coordinate with State and Federal 
agencies to ensure that any wolf hunting or trapping would be 
``conducted in a biologically sustainable manner'' (Schrage in litt. 
    The Red Cliff Band (Wisconsin) has strongly opposed State and 
Federal delisting of the gray wolf. Current Tribal law protects gray 
wolves from harvest, although harvest for ceremonial purposes would 
likely be permitted after Federal delisting (Symbal in litt. 2003).
    The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (Michigan) will continue to list 
the gray wolf as a protected animal under the Tribal Code following 
Federal delisting, with hunting and trapping prohibited (Mike Donofrio 
pers. comm. 1998). Furthermore, the Keweenaw Bay Community plans to 
develop a Protected Animal Ordinance that will address gray wolves 
(Donofrio in litt. 2003).
    While we have not received any written comments from the Menominee 
Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the Tribe has shown a great deal of interest 
in wolf recovery and protection in recent years. In 2002, the Tribe 
offered their Reservation lands as a site for translocating seven 
depredating wolves that had been trapped by WI DNR and Wildlife 
Services. Tribal natural resources staff participated in the soft 
release of the wolves on the Reservation and helped with the subsequent 
radio-tracking of the wolves. Although by early 2005 the last of these 
wolves died on the reservation, the tribal conservation department 
continued to monitor another pair that had moved onto the Reservation, 
as well as other wolves near the reservation (Wydeven in litt. 2006a). 
When that pair produced pups in 2006, but the adult female was killed, 
Reservation biologists and staff worked diligently with the WI DNR and 
the Wildlife Science Center (Forest Lake, Minnesota) to raise the pups 
in captivity in the hope that they could later be released to the care 
of the adult male. However, the adult male died prior to pup release, 
and they have been moved back to the Wildlife Science Center where they 
will likely remain in captivity (Pioneer Press 2006).
    Several Midwestern tribes (e.g., the Bad River Band of Lake 
Superior Chippewa Indians and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa 
Indians) have expressed concern that Federal delisting will result in 
increased mortality of gray wolves on reservation lands, in the areas 
immediately surrounding the reservations, and in lands ceded by treaty 
to the Federal Government by the Tribes (Kiogama and Chingwa in litt. 
2000). At the request of the Bad River Tribe of Lake Superior Chippewa 
Indians, we are currently working with their Natural Resource 
Department and WI DNR to develop a wolf management agreement for lands 
adjacent to the Bad River Reservation. The Tribe's goal is to reduce 
the threats to reservation wolf packs when they are temporarily off the 
reservation. Other Tribes have expressed interest in such an agreement. 
If this and similar agreements are implemented, they will provide 
additional protection to certain wolf packs in the midwestern U.S.
    The GLIFWC has stated its intent to work closely with the States to 
cooperatively manage wolves in the ceded territories in the core areas, 
and will not develop a separate wolf management plan (Schlender in 
litt. 1998). Furthermore, the Voigt Intertribal Task Force of GLIFWC 
has expressed its support for strong protections for the wolf, stating 
`` [delisting] hinges on whether wolves are sufficiently restored and 
will be sufficiently protected to

[[Page 15116]]

ensure a healthy and abundant future for our brother and ourselves'' 
(Schlender in litt. 2004).
    According to the 1854 Authority, ``attitudes toward wolf management 
in the 1854 Ceded Territory run the gamut from a desire to see total 
protection to unlimited harvest opportunity.'' However, the 1854 
Authority would not ``implement a harvest system that would have any 
long-term negative impacts to wolf populations'' (Edwards in litt. 
2003). In comments submitted for our 2004 delisting proposal for a 
larger Eastern DPS of the gray wolf, the 1854 Authority stated that the 
Authority does not have a wolf management plan for the 1854 Ceded 
Territory, but is ``confident that under the control of state and 
tribal management, wolves will continue to exist at a self-sustaining 
level in the 1854 Ceded Territory. Sustainable populations of wolves, 
their prey and other resources within the 1854 Ceded Territory are 
goals to which the 1854 Authority remains committed. As such, we intend 
to work with the State of Minnesota and other tribes to ensure 
successful state and tribal management of healthy wolf populations in 
the 1854 Ceded Territory'' (Myers in litt. 2004).
    While there are few written Tribal protections currently in place 
for gray wolves, the highly protective and reverential attitudes that 
have been expressed by Tribal authorities and members have assured us 
that any post-delisting harvest of reservation wolves would be very 
limited and would not adversely impact the delisted wolf populations. 
Furthermore, any off-reservation harvest of wolves by Tribal members in 
the ceded territories would be limited to a portion of the harvestable 
surplus at some future time. Such a harvestable surplus would be 
determined and monitored jointly by State and Tribal biologists, and 
would be conducted in coordination with the Service and the Bureau of 
Indian Affairs, as is being successfully done for the ceded territory 
harvest of inland and Great Lakes fish, deer, bear, moose, and 
furbearers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Therefore, we 
conclude that any future Native American take of delisted wolves will 
not significantly impact the viability of the wolf population, either 
locally or across the WGL DPS.

Federal Lands

    The five national forests with resident wolves (Superior, Chippewa, 
Chequamegon-Nicolet, Hiawatha, and Ottawa National Forests) in 
Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan are all operating in conformance 
with standards and guidelines in their management plans that follow the 
1992 Recovery Plan's recommendations for the Eastern Timber Wolf (USDA 
FS 2004a, chapter 2, p. 31; USDA FS 2004b, chapter 2, p. 28; USDA FS 
2004c, chapter 2, p. 19; USDA FS 2006a, chapter 2, p. 17; USDA FS 
2006b, chapter 2, pp. 28-29). Delisting is not expected to lead to an 
immediate change in these standards and guidelines; in fact, the 
Regional Forester for U.S. Forest Service Region 9 is expected to 
maintain the classification of the gray wolf as a Regional Forester 
Sensitive Species for at least 5 years after Federal delisting (Moore 
in litt. 2003). Under these standards and guidelines, a relatively high 
prey base will be maintained, and road densities will be limited to 
current levels or decreased. For example, on the Chequamegon-Nicolet 
National Forest in Wisconsin, the standards and guidelines specifically 
include the protection of den sites and key rendezvous sites, and 
management of road densities in existing and potential wolf habitat 
(USDA 2004c, Chap. 2, p. 19). The trapping of depredating wolves would 
likely be allowed on national forest lands under the guidelines and 
conditions specified in the respective State wolf management plans. 
However, there are relatively few livestock raised within the 
boundaries of national forests in the upper midwest, so wolf 
depredation and lethal control of wolves is neither likely to be a 
frequent occurrence, nor constitute a significant mortality factor, for 
the WGL DPS. Similarly, in keeping with the practice for other state-
managed game species, any public hunting or trapping season for wolves 
that might be opened in the future by the States would likely include 
hunting and trapping within the national forests (Lindquist in litt. 
2005; Williamson in litt. 2005; Piehler in litt. 2005; Evans in litt. 
2005). The continuation of current national forest management practices 
will be important in ensuring the long-term viability of gray wolf 
populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
    Gray wolves regularly use four units of the National Park System in 
the WGL DPS and may occasionally use three or four other units. 
Although the National Park Service (NPS) has participated in the 
development of some of the State wolf management plans in this area, 
NPS is not bound by States' plans. Instead, the NPS Organic Act and the 
NPS Management Policy on Wildlife generally require the agency to 
conserve natural and cultural resources and the wildlife present within 
the parks. National Park Service management policies require that 
native species be protected against harvest, removal, destruction, 
harassment, or harm through human action, although certain parks may 
allow some harvest in accordance with state management plans. 
Management emphasis in National Parks after delisting will continue to 
minimize the human impacts on wolf populations. Thus, because of their 
responsibility to preserve all native wildlife, units of the National 
Park System are often the most protective of wildlife. In the case of 
the gray wolf, the NPS Organic Act and NPS policies will continue to 
provide protection following Federal delisting.
    Management and protection of wolves in Voyageurs National Park, 
along Minnesota's northern border is not likely to change after 
delisting. The park's management policies require that ``native animals 
will be protected against harvest, removal, destruction, harassment, or 
harm through human action.'' No population targets for wolves will be 
established for the NP (Holbeck in litt. 2005). To reduce human 
disturbance, temporary closures around wolf denning and rendezvous 
sites will be enacted whenever they are discovered in the park. Sport 
hunting is already prohibited on park lands, regardless of what may be 
allowed beyond park boundaries (West in litt. 2004). A radio telemetry 
study conducted between 1987-91 of wolves living in and adjacent to the 
park found that all mortality inside the park was due to natural causes 
(e.g., killing by other wolves or starvation), whereas the majority 
(60-80 percent) of mortality outside the park was human-induced (e.g., 
shooting and trapping) (Gogan et al. 2004, p. 22). If there is a need 
to control depredating wolves outside the park, which seems unlikely 
due to the current absence of agricultural activities adjacent to the 
park, the park would work with the State to conduct control activities 
where necessary (West in litt. 2004).
    The wolf population in Isle Royale National Park is described above 
(see Michigan Recovery). The NPS has indicated that it will continue to 
closely monitor and study these wolves. This wolf population is very 
small and isolated from the other WGL DPS gray wolf populations; as 
described above, it is not considered to be significant to the recovery 
or long-term viability of the gray wolf (USFWS 1992, p. 28).
    Two other units of the National Park System, Pictured Rocks 
National Lakeshore and St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, are 
regularly used by wolves. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a

[[Page 15117]]

narrow strip of land along Michigan's Lake Superior shoreline. Lone 
wolves periodically use, but do not appear to be year-round residents 
of, the Lakeshore. If denning occurs after delisting, the Lakeshore 
would protect denning and rendezvous sites at least as strictly as the 
Michigan Plan recommends (Gustin in litt. 2003). Harvesting wolves on 
the Lakeshore may be allowed (i.e., if the Michigan DNR allows for 
harvest in the State), but trapping is not allowed. The St. Croix 
National Scenic Riverway, in Wisconsin and Minnesota, is also a mostly 
linear ownership. At least 18 wolves from 6 packs use the Riverway. The 
Riverway is likely to limit public access to denning and rendezvous 
sites and to follow other management and protective practices outlined 
in the respective State wolf management plans, although trapping is not 
allowed on NPS lands except possibly by Native Americans (Maercklein in 
litt. 2003).
    Gray wolves occurring on NWRs in the WGL DPS will be monitored, and 
refuge habitat management will maintain the current prey base for them 
for a minimum of 5 years after delisting. Trapping or hunting by 
government trappers for depredation control will not be authorized on 
NWRs. Because of the relatively small size of these NWRs, however, most 
or all of these packs and individual wolves also spend significant 
amounts of time off of these NWRs.
    Gray wolves also occupy the Fort McCoy military installation in 
Wisconsin. In 2003, one pack containing five adult wolves occupied a 
territory that included the majority of the installation; in 2004 and 
2006, the installation had one pack with two adults; in 2005 there was 
a single pack with 4 wolves. Management and protection of wolves on the 
installation will not change significantly after Federal and/or State 
delisting. Den and rendezvous sites would continue to be protected, 
hunting seasons for other species (i.e. coyote) would be closed during 
the gun-deer season, and current surveys would continue, if resources 
are available. Fort McCoy has no plans to allow a public harvest of 
wolves on the installation (Nobles in litt. 2004; Wydeven et al. 2005a, 
p. 25; 2006a, p. 25).
    At least one pair of wolves produced pups on Camp Ripley Army 
National Guard Training Facility in Minnesota since 1994. This military 
base currently hosts two packs that have the majority of their 
territories within the base boundaries. The population of the two packs 
generally ranges between 10 and 20 animals. Currently three wolves in 
each pack are being radio-tracked. There have been no significant 
conflicts with military training or with the permit-only public deer 
hunting program there, and no new conflicts are expected following 
delisting (Brian Dirks pers. comm. 2006).
    The protection afforded to resident and transient wolves, their den 
and rendezvous sites, and their prey by five national forests, four 
National Parks, two military facilities, and numerous National Wildlife 
Refuges in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan would further ensure the 
conservation of wolves in the three States after delisting. In 
addition, wolves that disperse to other units of the National Refuge 
System or the National Park System within the WGL DPS will also receive 
the protection afforded by these Federal agencies.
    In summary, following this Federal delisting of the WGL DPS of gray 
wolves, there will be varying State and Tribal classifications and 
protections provided to wolves. The wolf management plans currently in 
place for Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan will be more than 
sufficient to retain viable wolf populations in each State that are 
above the Federal recovery criteria for wolf metapopulation subunits, 
and even for three completely isolated wolf populations. These State 
plans provide a very high level of assurance that wolf populations in 
these three States will not decline to nonviable levels in the 
foreseeable future. Furthermore, the 2006 Update to the Wisconsin Wolf 
Management Plan (WI DNR 2006a, pp. 3-4) demonstrates the State's 
commitment by retaining the previous management goal of 350 wolves, and 
it did not weaken any significant component of the original 1999 Plan. 
Similarly, current work on revising the Michigan wolf plan is being 
conducted in a manner that will maintain the State's commitments to 
maintain viable wolf populations after this Federal delisting. While 
these State plans recognize there may be a need to control or even 
reduce wolf populations at some future time, none of the plans include 
a public harvest of wolves.
    Federally delisted wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan 
will continue to receive protection from general human persecution by 
State laws and regulations. Michigan has met the criteria established 
in their management plan for State delisting and, subsequent to Federal 
delisting, intends to amend the Wildlife Conservation Order to grant 
``protected animal'' status to the gray wolf. That status would 
``prohibit take, establish penalties and restitution for violations of 
the Order, and detail conditions under which lethal depredation control 
measures could be implemented'' (Humphries in litt. 2004). Following 
Federal delisting, Wisconsin will fully implement a ``protected wild 
animal'' for the species, including protections that provide for fines 
of $1,000 to $2,000 for unlawful hunting. Minnesota DNR will consider 
population management measures, including public hunting and trapping, 
but this will not occur sooner than 5 years after Federal delisting and 
will maintain a wolf population of at least 1600 animals (MN DNR 2001, 
p. 2). In the meantime, wolves in Zone A could only be legally taken in 
Minnesota for depredation management or public safety, and Minnesota 
plans to increase its capability to enforce laws against take of wolves 
(MN DNR 2001, pp. 3-4).
    Except for the very small portions of Indiana and Ohio, WGL DPS 
wolves are likely to remain protected by various state designations for 
the immediate future. States within the boundaries of the DPS either 
currently have mechanisms in place to kill depredating wolves (North 
Dakota and South Dakota) or can be expected to develop mechanisms 
following this Federal delisting of the DPS, in order to deal with 
wolf-livestock conflicts in areas where wolf protection is no longer 
required by the Act. Because these States constitute only about one-
third of the land area within the DPS, and contain virtually no 
suitable habitat of sufficient size to host viable gray wolf 
populations, it is clear that even complete protection for gray wolves 
in these areas would neither provide significant benefits to wolf 
recovery in the DPS, nor to the long-term viability of the recovered 
populations that currently reside in the DPS. Therefore, although 
current and potential future regulatory mechanisms may allow the 
killing of gray wolves in these six States, these threats, and the area 
in which they will be manifest, will not impact the recovered wolf 
populations in the DPS now or in the foreseeable future.
    Finally, although to our knowledge no Tribes have completed wolf 
management plans at this time, based on communications with Tribes and 
Tribal organizations, federally delisted wolves are very likely to be 
adequately protected on Tribal lands. Furthermore, the numerical 
recovery criteria in the Federal Recovery Plan would be achieved and 
maintained (based on the population and range of off-reservation 
wolves) even without Tribal protection of wolves on reservation lands. 
In addition, on the basis of information received from other Federal 
land management agencies in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, we 
expect National Forests, units of the National

[[Page 15118]]

Park System, military bases, and National Wildlife Refuges will provide 
protections to gray wolves after delisting that will match, and in some 
will cases exceed, the protections provided by State wolf management 
plans and State protective regulations.
    Therefore, we conclude that the regulatory mechanisms that will be 
in place subsequent to Federal delisting will preclude threats 
sufficient to cause the WGL DPS gray wolves to be in danger of 
extinction in the foreseeable future in all or a significant portion of 
the range within the WGL DPS.
E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence
Taking of Wolves by Native Americans for Religious, Spiritual, or 
Traditional Cultural Purposes
    As noted elsewhere in this final rule, the wolf has great 
significance to many Native Americans in the Western Great Lakes area, 
especially to Wolf Clan members, and has a central role in their 
creation stories. The wolf, Ma''ingan, is viewed as a brother to the 
Anishinaabe people, and their fates are believed to be closely linked. 
Ma''ingan is a key element in many of their beliefs, traditions, and 
ceremonies, and wolf pack systems are used as a model for Anishinaabe 
families and communities. We are not aware of any takings of wolves in 
the Midwest for use in these traditions or ceremonies while the wolf 
has been listed as a threatened or endangered species. While wolves 
have been listed as threatened in Minnesota, we have instructed 
Wildlife Services to provide, upon request, gray wolf pelts and other 
parts from wolves killed during depredation control actions to Tribes 
in order to partially serve these traditional needs.
    Some Tribal representatives, as well as the GLIFWC, have indicated 
that following delisting there is likely to be interest in the taking 
of small numbers of wolves for traditional ceremonies (King in litt. 
2003; White in litt. 2003). This take could occur on reservation lands 
where it could be closely regulated by a Tribe to ensure that it does 
not affect the viability of the reservation wolf population. Such 
takings might also occur on off-reservation treaty lands on which 
certain Tribes retained hunting, fishing, and gathering rights when the 
land was ceded to the Federal Government in the 19th Century. Native 
American taking of wolves from ceded lands would be limited to a 
specified portion of a harvestable surplus of wolves that is 
established by the States in coordination with the Tribes, consistent 
with past Federal court rulings on treaty rights. Such taking will not 
occur until such time as a harvestable surplus has been documented 
based on biological data, and regulations and monitoring have been 
established by the States and Tribes to ensure a harvest can be carried 
out in a manner that ensures the continued viability of the wolf 
population in that State. Previous court rulings have ensured that 
Native American treaty harvest of fish or wildlife species have not 
risked endangering the resource.
    If requested by the Tribes, multitribal natural resource agencies, 
and/or the States, the Service or other appropriate Federal agencies 
will work with these parties to help determine if a harvestable surplus 
exists, and if so, to assist in devising reasonable and appropriate 
methods and levels of harvest for delisted wolves for traditional 
cultural purposes.
    We conclude that small number of wolves that may be taken by Native 
Americans will not be a threat sufficient to cause the WGL DPS gray 
wolves to be in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future in all 
or a significant portion of the range within the WGL DPS.

Public Attitudes Toward the Gray Wolf

    An important determinant of the long-term status of gray wolf 
populations in the United States will be human attitudes toward this 
large predator. These attitudes are based on the conflicts between 
human activities and wolves, concern with the danger the species may 
pose to humans, its symbolic representation of wilderness, the economic 
effect of livestock losses, the emotions regarding the threat to pets, 
the perceived competition with hunters for deer and moose, the 
conviction that the species should never be a target of sport hunting 
or trapping, wolf traditions of Native American tribes, and other 
    We have seen indications of a change in public attitudes toward the 
wolf over the last few decades. Public attitude surveys in Minnesota 
and Michigan (Kellert 1985, pp. 157-163; 1990, pp. 100-102; 1999, pp. 
400-403), as well as the citizen input into the wolf management plans 
of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, have indicated strong public 
support for wolf recovery if the adverse impacts on recreational 
activities and livestock producers can be minimized (MI DNR 1997, pp. 
13-14, 50-56; MN DNR 1998, p. 2; WI DNR 1999, pp. 51-55; WI DNR 2006c, 
pp. 9-11). However, more recent surveys of Michigan residents may show 
that attitudes are changing now that the wolf recovery has succeeded 
and long-term wolf management is required. Although the majority of 
Michigan residents still support wolf recovery efforts, UP residents' 
support for wolf recovery has declined substantially since the 1990 
Kellert survey (Mertig 2004, p. 37). At the same time, respondents from 
across the State have increased their support for killing individual 
problem wolves; support for lethal control of problem wolves ranges 
from 70 percent in the Southern Lower Peninsula to 85 percent in the UP 
(Mertig 2004, p. 40). In Wisconsin, a number of recent surveys, when 
taken together, provide strong evidence of support for a Wisconsin wolf 
population of 250-350 wolves or more (Naughton-Treves et al. 2003; 
Schanning and Vazquez 2005; Naughton et al. 2005 unpublished report; WI 
DNR 2006a, p. 9).
    Once this delisting is in effect, States and tribes will have 
increased flexibility to deal with wolf human conflicts, including the 
use of lethal control of problems wolves, as specified in their current 
wolf management plans. It is unclear whether such flexibility of wolf 
control will affect public attitudes towards wolves (i.e., diminish 
opposition to the local presence of wolves), due to the strong 
influence of other factors.
    The Minnesota DNR recognizes that to maintain public support for 
wolf conservation it must work to ensure that people are well informed 
about wolves and wolf management in the State. Therefore, MN DNR plans 
to provide ``timely and accurate information about wolves to the 
public, to support and facilitate wolf education programs, and to 
encourage wolf ecotourism,'' among other activities (MN DNR 2001, p. 
29-30). Similarly, the Wisconsin and Michigan wolf management plans 
emphasize the need for long-term cooperative efforts with private 
educational and environmental groups to develop and distribute 
educational and informational materials and programs for public use (MI 
DNR 1997, p. 20; WI DNR 1999, pp. 26-27). We fully expect organizations 
such as the International Wolf Center (Ely, MN), the Timber Wolf 
Alliance (Ashland, WI), Timber Wolf Information Network (Waupaca, WI), 
the Wildlife Science Center (Forest Lake, MN), and other organizations 
to continue to provide educational materials and experiences with 
wolves far into the future, regardless of the Federal status of wolves.
    In summary, we conclude that there is evidence showing strong 
public support for current wolf population levels in the

[[Page 15119]]

WGL DPS, especially if problem wolves, and to a lesser extent wolf 
numbers, are controlled. This support is a key component in our 
assessment of threats to the WGL DPS. Notwithstanding a small but 
significant societal segment who is opposed to the current level of 
wolf recovery and which may resort to illegal actions if problem wolves 
and the overall wolf population is not adequately managed, we believe 
that delisting while public support for wolves is still strong, 
followed by more intensive management of wolf populations by the 
States, is the best way to reduce the level of threat caused by human-
induced mortality. We conclude that public attitudes towards wolves now 
and in the foreseeable future will not be threats sufficient to cause 
the WGL DPS gray wolves to be in danger of extinction in the 
foreseeable future in all or a significant portion of the range within 
the WGL DPS.

Summary of Our Five-Factor Analysis of Potential Threats

    As required by the Act, we considered the five potential threat 
factors to assess whether wolves are threatened or endangered 
throughout all or a significant portion of their range in the WGL DPS 
and, therefore, whether the WGL DPS should be listed as threatened or 
endangered. While wolves historically occurred over most of the DPS, 
large portions of this area are no longer significant, and the wolf 
population in the WGL DPS will remain centered in Minnesota, Michigan, 
and Wisconsin.
    While we recognize that gray wolves in the WGL DPS do not occupy 
all portions of their historical range, including some disjunct but 
potentially suitable areas with low road and human density and a 
healthy prey base within the WGL DPS, wolves in this DPS no longer meet 
the definition of a threatened or endangered species. Although there 
may be historical habitat within the DPS that remains unoccupied, many 
of these areas are no longer suitable. None of these historical areas 
are significant portions of the range of the WGL DPS.
    We have based our determinations on the current status of, and 
future threats likely to be faced by, existing wolf populations within 
the WGL DPS in the foreseeable future.
    The number of wolves in the WGL DPS greatly exceeds the recovery 
criteria (USFWS 1992, p. 24-26) for (1) a secure wolf population in 
Minnesota, and (2) a second population of 100 wolves for 5 successive 
years. Based on the criteria set by the Eastern Wolf Recovery Team in 
1992 and reaffirmed in 1997 and 1998 (Peterson in litt. 1997, in litt. 
1998), and endorsed by the peer reviewers, the DPS contains sufficient 
wolf numbers and distribution to ensure their long-term survival within 
the DPS. The maintenance and expansion of the Minnesota wolf population 
has maximized the preservation of the genetic diversity that remained 
in the WGL DPS when its wolves were first protected in 1974. 
Furthermore, the Wisconsin-Michigan wolf population has even exceeded 
the numerical recovery criterion for a completely isolated population. 
Therefore, even if this two-State population was to become totally 
isolated and wolf immigration from Minnesota and Ontario completely 
ceased, it would still remain a viable wolf population for the 
foreseeable future, as defined by the Recovery Plan (USFWS 1992, p. 25-
26). Finally, the wolf populations in Wisconsin and Michigan each have 
separately exceeded 200 animals for 8 and 7 years respectively, so if 
they each somehow were to become isolated, they are already above 
viable population levels, and each State has committed to manage its 
wolf population at or above viable population levels. The wolf's 
numeric and distributional recovery criteria in the WGL DPS clearly 
have been exceeded in both magnitude and duration. The wolf's recovery 
in numbers and distribution in the WGL DPS, together with the status of 
the remaining threats, indicates that the WGL DPS of the gray wolf is 
not in danger of extinction, nor likely to become an endangered 
species, within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant 
portion of its range.
    Post-delisting wolf protection, management, and population and 
health monitoring by the States, Tribes, and Federal land management 
agencies--especially in Minnesota Zone A, Wisconsin Zones 1 and 2, and 
across the UP of Michigan, which constitute the significant portion of 
the species' range--will ensure the continuation of viable wolf 
populations above the Federal recovery criteria for the foreseeable 
future. Post-delisting threats to wolves in Zone B in Minnesota, Zones 
3 and 4 in Wisconsin, and in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan--all areas 
that are not significant portions of the range of the WGL DPS--will be 
more substantial, and may preclude the establishment of wolf packs in 
most or all of these areas in Wisconsin and Michigan. Similarly, the 
lack of sufficient areas of suitable habitat in those parts of North 
Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio that are within 
the WGL DPS are expected to preclude the establishment of viable 
populations in these areas, although dispersing wolves and packs may 
temporarily occur in some of these areas. However, these areas are not 
SPR and wolf numbers in these areas will have no impact on the 
continued viability of the recovered WGL DPS. Reasonably foreseeable 
threats to wolves in all parts of the WGL DPS are not likely to 
threaten wolf population viability in the WGL DPS in the foreseeable 
    In summary, we find that the threat of habitat destruction or 
degradation or a reduction in the range of the gray wolf; utilization 
by humans; disease, parasites, or predatory actions by other animals or 
humans; regulatory measures by State, Tribal, and Federal agencies; or 
other threats will not individually or in combination be likely to 
cause the WGL DPS of the gray wolf to be in danger of extinction in the 
foreseeable future in all or a significant portion of the species' 
range. Ongoing effects of recovery efforts over the past decade, which 
resulted in a significant expansion of the occupied range of wolves in 
the WGL DPS, in conjunction with future State, Tribal, and Federal 
agency wolf management across that occupied range, will be adequate to 
ensure the conservation of the SPR of the WGL DPS. These activities 
will maintain an adequate prey base, preserve denning and rendezvous 
sites and dispersal corridors, monitor disease, restrict human take, 
and keep wolf populations well above the numerical recovery criteria 
established in the Federal Recovery Plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf 
(USFWS 1992, pp. 25-28).
    After a thorough review of all available information and an 
evaluation of the previous five factors specified in section 4(a)(1) of 
the Act, as well as consideration of the definitions of ``threatened'' 
and ``endangered'' contained in the Act and the reasons for delisting 
as specified in 50 CFR 424.11(d), we conclude that removing the WGL DPS 
from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (50 CFR 17.11) is 
appropriate. Gray wolves have recovered in the WGL DPS as a result of 
the reduction of threats as described in the analysis of the five 
categories of threats.
Available Conservation Measures
    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 

[[Page 15120]]

 Recognition through listing encourages and results in conservation 
actions by Federal, State, and private agencies, groups, and 
individuals. The Act provides for possible land acquisition and 
cooperation with the States and requires that recovery actions be 
carried out for all listed species. The final rule removes these 
Federal conservation measures for all gray wolves within the WGL DPS.
Effects of the Rule
    This rule removes the protections of the Act for the WGL DPS by 
removing the wolves in that DPS from the List of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife. Elsewhere in today's Federal Register, we also 
identify the Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) DPS and remove the gray 
wolves in that DPS from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, 
except for the gray wolves in Wyoming, a significant portion of the NRM 
DPS range, which will continue to be listed as an experimental 
population. As the Service is taking these regulatory actions with 
respect to the WGL DPS and the NRM DPS at the same time, this final 
rule includes regulatory revisions under Sec.  17.11(h) that reflect 
the removal of the protections of the Act for both the WGL DPS and most 
of the NRM DPS, and reflect that gray wolves in Wyoming, a significant 
portion of the NRM DPS range, continue to be listed as an experimental 
population. However, only that portion of the revised gray wolf listing 
in Sec.  17.11(h) that pertains to the WGL DPS is attributable to this 
final rule.
    The separate experimental population listing in portions of 
Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas continues unchanged.
    This final rule removes the special regulations under section 4(d) 
of the Act for wolves in Minnesota. These regulations currently are 
found at 50 CFR 17.40(d).
    Critical habitat was designated for the gray wolf in 1978 (43 FR 
9607, March 9, 1978). That rule (codified at 50 CFR 17.95(a)) 
identifies Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, and Minnesota wolf 
management zones 1, 2, and 3, as delineated in 50 CFR 17.40(d)(1), as 
critical habitat. Wolf management zones 1, 2, and 3 comprise 
approximately 25,500 sq km (9,845 sq mi) in northeastern and north-
central Minnesota. This final rule removes the designation of critical 
habitat for gray wolves in Minnesota and on Isle Royale, Michigan.
    This notice does not apply to the listing or protection of the red 
wolf (C. rufus). Furthermore, the remaining protections of the gray 
wolf under the Act do not extend to gray wolf-dog hybrids.

Post-Delisting Monitoring

    Section 4(g)(1) of the Act, added in the 1988 reauthorization, 
requires us to implement a system, in cooperation with the States, to 
monitor for not less than 5 years the status of all species that have 
recovered and been removed from the Lists of Endangered and Threatened 
Wildlife and Plants (50 CFR 17.11 and 17.12). The purpose of this post-
delisting monitoring (PDM) is to verify that a species delisted due to 
recovery remains secure from risk of extinction after it no longer has 
the protections of the Act. To do this, PDM generally focuses on 
evaluating (1) demographic characteristics of the species, (2) threats 
to the species, and (3) implementation of legal and/or management 
commitments that have been identified as important in reducing threats 
to the species or maintaining threats at sufficiently low levels. We 
are to make prompt use of the emergency listing authorities under 
section 4(b)(7) of the Act to prevent a significant risk to the well-
being of any recovered species. Section 4(g) of the Act explicitly 
requires cooperation with the States in development and implementation 
of PDM programs, but we remain responsible for compliance with section 
4(g) and, therefore, must remain actively engaged in all phases of PDM. 
We also will seek active participation of other entities that are 
expected to assume responsibilities for the species' conservation, 
after delisting.
    We are developing a PDM plan for the gray wolves in the WGL DPS 
with the assistance of the Eastern Gray Wolf Recovery Team. Once 
completed, we will make that document available on our Web site (See 
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section). At this time, we anticipate 
the PDM program will be a continuation of State monitoring activities 
similar to those which have been conducted by Minnesota, Wisconsin, and 
Michigan DNRs in recent years. These States comprise the core recovery 
areas within the DPS, and therefore the numerical recovery criteria in 
the Recovery Plan apply only to them. These activities will include 
both population monitoring and health monitoring of individual wolves. 
During the PDM period, the Service and the Recovery Team will conduct a 
review of the monitoring data and program. We will consider various 
relevant factors (including but not limited to mortality rates, 
population changes and rates of change, disease occurrence, range 
expansion or contraction) to determine if the population of gray wolves 
within the DPS warrants expanded monitoring, additional research, 
consideration for relisting as threatened or endangered, or emergency 
    Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan DNRs have monitored wolves for 
several decades with significant assistance from numerous partners, 
including the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, USDA-APHIS-
Wildlife Services, Tribal natural resource agencies, and the Service. 
To maximize comparability of future PDM data with data obtained before 
delisting, all three State DNRs have committed to continue their 
previous wolf population monitoring methodology, or will make changes 
to that methodology only if those changes will not reduce the 
comparability of pre- and post-delisting data.
    In addition to monitoring wolf population numbers and trends, the 
PDM will evaluate post-delisting threats, in particular human-caused 
mortality, disease, and implementation of legal and management 
commitments. If at any time during the monitoring period we detect a 
substantial downward change in the populations or an increase in 
threats to the degree that population viability may be threatened, we 
will evaluate and change (intensify, extend, and/or otherwise improve) 
the monitoring methods, if appropriate, and/or consider relisting the 
WGL DPS, if warranted.
    This monitoring program will extend for 5 years beyond the 
effective delisting date of the DPS. At the end of the 5-year period we 
and the Recovery Team will conduct another review and post the results 
on our Web site. In addition to the above considerations, the review 
will determine whether the PDM program should be terminated or 

Required Determinations

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have determined that an Environmental Assessment or an 
Environmental Impact Statement, as defined under the authority of the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, need not be prepared in 
connection with regulations adopted pursuant to section 4(a) of the 
Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination 
in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

Paperwork Reduction Act

    Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regulations at 5 CFR part 
1320 implement provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 
3501 et seq.).

[[Page 15121]]

 The OMB regulations at 5 CFR 1320.3(c) define a collection of 
information as the obtaining of information by or for an agency by 
means of identical questions posed to, or identical reporting, 
recordkeeping, or disclosure requirements imposed on, 10 or more 
persons. Furthermore, 5 CFR 1320.3(c)(4) specifies that ``ten or more 
persons'' refers to the persons to whom a collection of information is 
addressed by the agency within any 12-month period. For purposes of 
this definition, employees of the Federal Government are not included. 
The Service may not conduct or sponsor, and you are not required to 
respond to, a collection of information unless it displays a currently 
valid OMB control number.
    This rule does not include any collections of information that 
require approval by OMB under the Paperwork Reduction Act. As proposed 
under the Post-delisting Monitoring section above, gray wolf 
populations in the Western Great Lakes DPS will be monitored by the 
States of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in accordance with their 
gray wolf State management plans. There may also be additional 
voluntary monitoring activities conducted by a small number of tribes 
in these three States. We do not anticipate a need to request data or 
other information from 10 or more persons during any 12-month period to 
satisfy monitoring information needs. If it becomes necessary to 
collect standardized information from 10 or more non-Federal 
individuals, groups, or organizations per year, we will first obtain 
information collection approval from OMB.

Executive Order 13211

    On May 18, 2001, the President issued Executive Order 13211 on 
regulations that significantly affect energy supply, distribution, and 
use. Executive Order 13211 requires agencies to prepare Statements of 
Energy Effects when undertaking certain actions. As this final rule is 
not expected to significantly affect energy supplies, distribution, or 
use, this action is not a significant energy action and no Statement of 
Energy Effects is required.

Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, 
``Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments'' (59 FR 22951), Executive Order 13175, and 512 DM 2, we 
have coordinated the proposed rule and this final rule with the 
affected Tribes. Throughout several years of development of earlier 
related rules and the proposed rule, we have endeavored to consult with 
Native American tribes and Native American organizations in order to 
both (1) provide them with a complete understanding of the proposed 
changes, and (2) to understand their concerns with those changes. We 
have fully considered their comments during the development of this 
final rule. If requested, we will conduct additional consultations with 
Native American tribes and multitribal organizations subsequent to this 
final rule in order to facilitate the transition to State and tribal 
management of gray wolves within the WGL DPS.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this document is 
available upon request from the Ft. Snelling, Minnesota, Regional 
Office and is posted on our Web site (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT section above).


    The primary author of this final rule is Laura J. Ragan, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, Ft. Snelling, Minnesota, Regional Office (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section above). The majority of this final 
rule is based on the February 8, 2007 final rule for which the primary 
author was Ronald L. Refsnider, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ft. 
Snelling, Minnesota, Regional Office).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Regulation Promulgation

Accordingly, we hereby amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 
50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below:


1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Public Law 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise 

Sec.  17.11   [Amended]

2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by revising the entry for ``Wolf, gray'' under 
``MAMMALS'' in the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife to read 
as follows:

Sec.  17.11   Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

[[Page 15122]]

                       Species                                              Vertebrate population
------------------------------------------------------   Historic range      where  endangered or       Status     When listed    Critical     Special
           Common name              Scientific name                               threatened                                      habitat       rules
                                                                      * * * * * * *
Wolf, gray......................  Canis lupus........  Holarctic.........  U.S.A., conterminous     E                1, 6, 13,          N/A          N/A
                                                                            (lower 48) States,                          15, 35
                                                                            except: (1) Where
                                                                            listed as an
                                                                            population below; (2)
                                                                            Minnesota, Wisconsin,
                                                                            Michigan, eastern
                                                                            North Dakota (that
                                                                            portion north and east
                                                                            of the Missouri River
                                                                            upstream to Lake
                                                                            Sakakawea and east of
                                                                            the centerline of
                                                                            Highway 83 from Lake
                                                                            Sakakawea to the
                                                                            Canadian border),
                                                                            eastern South Dakota
                                                                            (that portion north
                                                                            and east of the
                                                                            Missouri River),
                                                                            northern Iowa,
                                                                            northern Illinois, and
                                                                            northern Indiana
                                                                            (those portions of IA,
                                                                            IL, and IN north of
                                                                            the centerline of
                                                                            Interstate Highway
                                                                            80), and northwestern
                                                                            Ohio (that portion
                                                                            north of the
                                                                            centerline of
                                                                            Interstate Highway 80
                                                                            and west of the Maumee
                                                                            River at Toledo); (3)
                                                                            MT, ID, WY (however,
                                                                            see experimental
                                                                            population designation
                                                                            below), eastern WA
                                                                            (that portion of WA
                                                                            east of the centerline
                                                                            of Highway 97 and
                                                                            Highway 17 north of
                                                                            Mesa and that portion
                                                                            of WA east of the
                                                                            centerline of Highway
                                                                            395 south of Mesa),
                                                                            eastern OR (portion of
                                                                            OR east of the
                                                                            centerline of Highway
                                                                            395 and Highway 78
                                                                            north of Burns
                                                                            Junction and that
                                                                            portion of OR east of
                                                                            the centerline of
                                                                            Highway 95 south of
                                                                            Burns Junction), and
                                                                            north central UT (that
                                                                            portion of UT east of
                                                                            the centerline of
                                                                            Highway 84 and north
                                                                            of Highway 80). Mexico.
......do........................  ......do...........  ......do..........  U.S.A. (portions of AZ,  XN                     631          N/A     17.84(k)
                                                                            NM, and TX--see Sec.                                               17.84(i).
Wolf, gray [Northern Rocky        Canis lupus........  U.S.A. (MT, ID,     U.S.A. (WY--see Sec.     XN                561, 562          N/A    17.84(n).
 Mountain DPS].                                         WY, eastern WA,     17.84(i) and Sec.
                                                        eastern OR, and     17.84(n)).
                                                        north central UT).
                                                                      * * * * * * *

[[Page 15123]]

Sec.  17.40  [Amended]

3. Amend Sec.  17.40 by removing and reserving paragraph (d).

Sec.  17.95   [Amended]

4. Amend Sec.  17.95(a) by removing the critical habitat entry for 
``Gray Wolf (Canis lupus).''

    Dated: March 10, 2009.
Rowan W. Gould,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
 [FR Doc. E9-5981 Filed 4-1-09; 8:45 am]