[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 175 (Monday, September 10, 2012)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 55529-55604]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-21988]



[[Page 55529]]

Vol. 77

Monday,

No. 175

September 10, 2012

Part II





Department of the Interior





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Fish and Wildlife Service





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50 CFR Part 17





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

Federal Register / Vol. 77 , No. 175 / Monday, September 10, 2012 / 
Rules and Regulations

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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0039; FXES11130900000C6-123-FF09E30000]
RIN 1018-AX94


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

AGENCY: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: The best scientific and commercial data available indicate 
that gray wolves (Canis lupus) in Wyoming are recovered and are no 
longer in need of protection as part of an endangered or threatened 
species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). 
Therefore, we, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), remove the 
gray wolf in Wyoming from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened 
Wildlife. Wyoming's gray wolf population is stable, threats are 
sufficiently minimized, and a post-delisting monitoring and management 
framework has been developed. Therefore, this final rule returns 
management for this species to the appropriate State, Tribal, or 
Federal agencies; management in National Parks and National Wildlife 
Refuges will continue to be guided by existing authorizing and 
management legislation and regulations. Finally, this action makes 
obsolete and removes the Yellowstone Experimental Population Area 
established in 1994 to facilitate reintroductions.

DATES: This rule becomes effective on September 30, 2012.

ADDRESSES: This final rule, comments received, and additional 
supporting information are available on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov, Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0039. Additional 
background information is also available online at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/. Comments and materials we 
received, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this 
rule are available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal 
business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie 
Region Office, Ecological Services Division, 134 Union Blvd., Lakewood, 
CO 80228; telephone 303-236-7400. Persons who use a telecommunications 
device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay 
Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mountain-Prairie Region Office, 
Ecological Services Division; telephone 303-236-7400. Direct all 
questions or requests for additional information to: GRAY WOLF 
QUESTIONS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie Region 
Office, Ecological Services Division, 134 Union Blvd., Lakewood, CO 
80228. Individuals who are hearing-impaired or speech-impaired may call 
the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8337 for TTY assistance.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Table of Contents

Executive Summary
Background
    --Delisting Wolves in Wyoming
    --Previous Federal Actions
    --Reengaging Wyoming and Changes to Its Wolf Management Plan
    --Species Description and Basic Biology
    --Recovery Planning and Implementation
    [cir] Recovery Planning and the Development of Recovery Criteria
    [cir] Monitoring and Managing Recovery
    [cir] Recovery by State
    [cir] Recovery by Recovery Area
    [cir] Genetic Exchange Relative to our Recovery Criteria
    [cir] Conclusion on Progress Towards our Recovery Goals

Summary of Comments and Recommendations
    --Technical and Editorial Comments
    --The Delisting Process and Compliance with Applicable Laws, 
Regulations, and Policy
    --Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) Gray Wolf Recovery Goals
    --The Geographic Scope of Recovery and the Impact of This 
Decision on Range
    --General Comments on Whether To Delist
    --Human-Caused Mortality
    --Gene Flow and Genetic Diversity
    --Adequacy of Regulatory Mechanisms
    --Public Attitudes Toward Wolves
    --Other Potential Threat Factors
    --Cumulative Impacts of Threats
    --Post-Delisting Monitoring
    --Positives and Negatives of Wolf Restoration
    --Native American Tribal Considerations

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species
    --Factor A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, 
or Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range.
    [cir] Suitable Habitat
    [cir] Unoccupied Suitable Habitat
    [cir] Currently Occupied Habitat
    [cir] Potential Threats Affecting Habitat or Range
    --Factor B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, 
Scientific, or Educational Purposes.
    [cir] Commercial or Recreational Uses
    [cir] Overutilization for Scientific or Educational Purposes
    --Factor C. Disease or Predation.
    [cir] Disease
    [cir] Natural Predation
    [cir] Human-caused Mortality
    --Factor D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms.
    [cir] National Park Service
    [cir] National Wildlife Refuges
    [cir] Tribal Lands
    [cir] Forest Service
    [cir] State Regulatory Mechanisms
    [cir] Environmental Protection Agency
    --Factor E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its 
Continued Existence.
    [cir] Public Attitudes Toward the Gray Wolf
    [cir] Genetic Considerations
    [cir] Poison
    [cir] Climate Change
    [cir] Catastrophic Events
    [cir] Impacts to Wolf Pack Social Structure as a Result of 
Human-caused Mortality

Conclusion (Including Cumulative Impacts)
Significant Portion of the Range Analysis
Post-Delisting Monitoring
Effects of the Rule
Required Determinations
    --Paperwork Reduction Act
    --National Environmental Policy Act
    --Executive Order 13211
    --Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes
References Cited
Authority
List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17
Regulation Promulgation

Executive Summary

(1) Purpose of the Regulatory Action

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

(2) Major Provision of the Regulatory Action

    This action is authorized by the Act. We are amending Sec.  
17.11(h), subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal 
Regulations by removing the entry for ``Wolf, gray [Northern Rocky 
Mountain DPS]'' under MAMMALS in the List of Endangered and Threatened 
Wildlife. We are also amending Sec.  17.84, subchapter B of chapter I, 
title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations by removing and reserving 
both paragraphs

[[Page 55531]]

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

(3) Costs and Benefits

    We have not analyzed the costs or benefits of this rulemaking 
action because the Act precludes consideration of such impacts on 
listing and delisting determinations. Instead, listing and delisting 
decisions are based solely on the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the status of the subject species.

Background

Delisting Wolves in Wyoming

    This rulemaking is separate and independent from, but additive to, 
the previous action delisting wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain 
(NRM) Distinct Population Segment (DPS) (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009; 76 
FR 25590, May 5, 2011). We conclude that this approach is appropriate 
given the Congressional directive to reissue our 2009 delisting, which 
created a remnant piece of the NRM DPS. This approach is also 
consistent with our 2009 delisting determination, which stated that 
``if Wyoming were to develop a Service-approved regulatory framework it 
would be delisted in a separate rule'' (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009, p. 
15155). This rule is separate from prior actions to remove the other 
portions of the NRM DPS from the List of Endangered and Threatened 
Wildlife. Outside Wyoming, this rule will not affect the status of the 
gray wolf in the portions of the NRM DPS under State laws or suspend 
any other legal protections provided by State law.

Previous Federal Actions

    In 1967, we determined the eastern timber wolf (C. l. lycaon) in 
the Great Lakes region was threatened with extinction (32 FR 4001, 
March 11, 1967). In 1973, we added the NRM gray wolf (C. l. irremotus) 
to the U.S. List of Endangered Fish and Wildlife (38 FR 14678, June 4, 
1973). Both of these listings were issued pursuant to the Endangered 
Species Conservation Act of 1969. In 1974, these subspecies were listed 
as endangered under the Act of 1973 (39 FR 1158, January 4, 1974). We 
listed a third gray wolf subspecies, the Mexican wolf (C. l. baileyi) 
as endangered on April 28, 1976, (41 FR 17736) in Mexico and the United 
States Southwest. Later in 1976, we listed the Texas gray wolf 
subspecies (C. l. monstrabilis) as endangered in Texas and Mexico (41 
FR 24062, June 14, 1976).
    Due to questions about the validity of subspecies classification at 
the time and issues associated with the narrow geographic scope of each 
subspecies, we published a rule reclassifying the gray wolf as 
endangered at the species level (C. lupus) throughout the coterminous 
48 States and Mexico (43 FR 9607, March 9, 1978). The exception was 
Minnesota, where the gray wolf was reclassified to threatened. This 
rule also provided assurance that this reclassification would not alter 
our intention to focus recovery on each population as separate 
entities. Accordingly, recovery plans were developed for: The Great 
Lakes in 1978 (revised in 1992) (Service 1978, entire; Service 1992, 
entire); the NRM region in 1980 (revised in 1987) (Service 1980, 
entire; Service 1987, entire); and the Southwest in 1982 (Service 1982, 
entire). A revision to the Southwest recovery plan is now under way.
    In 1994, we established nonessential experimental gray wolf 
populations under section 10(j) of the Act (50 CFR 17.84(i)), in 
portions of Idaho, Montana, and all of Wyoming, including the 
Yellowstone Experimental Population Area (59 FR 60252, November 22, 
1994) and the Central Idaho Experimental Population Area (59 FR 60266, 
November 22, 1994). These designations assisted us in initiating gray 
wolf reintroductions in central Idaho and in Yellowstone National Park 
(YNP). The Yellowstone Experimental Population Area included the entire 
State of Wyoming. In 2005 and 2008, we revised these regulations to 
provide increased management flexibility for this recovered wolf 
population in States and on Tribal lands with Service-approved post-
delisting wolf management plans (70 FR 1286, January 6, 2005; 73 FR 
4720, January 28, 2008; 50 CFR 17.84(n)).
    The NRM gray wolf population achieved its numerical and 
distributional recovery goals at the end of 2000 (Service et al. 2012, 
Table 4). The temporal portion of the recovery goal was achieved in 
2002 when the numerical and distributional recovery goals were exceeded 
for the third successive year (Service et al. 2012, Table 4). In light 
of this success, we once reclassified and twice delisted all or part of 
this population (68 FR 15804, April 1, 2003; 73 FR 10514, February 27, 
2008; 74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009). These reclassification and delisting 
rules were overturned by U.S. District Courts (Defenders of Wildlife, 
et al. v. Norton, et al., 354 F.Supp.2d 1156 (D. Or. 2005); National 
Wildlife Federation, et al. v. Norton, et al., 386 F.Supp.2d 553 (D. 
Vt. 2005); Defenders of Wildlife, et al. v. Hall, et al., 565 F.Supp.2d 
1160 (D. Mont. 2008); Defenders of Wildlife, et al. v. Salazar, et al., 
729 F.Supp.2d 1207 (D. Mont. 2010). Each of these rulemakings and the 
subsequent litigation are discussed below.
    In 2003, we reclassified the coterminous 48-State listing into 
three DPSs including a threatened Western DPS, a threatened Eastern 
DPS, and an endangered Southwestern DPS (68 FR 15804, April 1, 2003). 
The Western DPS, centered around the recovered NRM gray wolf 
population, included California, northern Colorado, Idaho, Montana, 
Oregon, northern Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. This rule also removed 
the protections of the Act for gray wolves in all or parts of 16 
southern and eastern States where the species historically did not 
occur. Finally, this rule established a special 4(d) rule to respond to 
wolf-human conflicts in areas not covered by existing nonessential 
experimental population rules. In 2005, the U.S. District Courts in 
Oregon and Vermont concluded that the 2003 final rule was ``arbitrary 
and capricious'' and violated the Act (Defenders of Wildlife, et al. v. 
Norton, et al., 354 F.Supp.2d 1156 (D. Or. 2005); National Wildlife 
Federation, et al. v. Norton, et al., 386 F.Supp.2d 553 (D. Vt. 2005)). 
Both courts ruled the Service improperly downlisted entire DPSs based 
just on the viability of a core population. The courts' rulings 
invalidated the April 2003 changes to the gray wolf listing under the 
Act.
    In 2003, we also published an advanced notice of proposed 
rulemaking announcing our intention to delist the Western DPS as the 
recovery goals had been satisfied (68 FR 15876, April 1, 2003). This 
notice explained that delisting would require consideration of threats, 
and that the adequacy of State wolf management plans to address threats 
in the absence of protections of the Act would be a major determinant 
in any future delisting evaluation.
    In 2004, we determined that Montana's and Idaho's laws and wolf 
management plans were adequate to assure that their shares of the NRM 
wolf population would be maintained above recovery levels (Williams 
2004a; Williams 2004b). However, we also found the 2003 Wyoming 
legislation and plan were not adequate to maintain Wyoming's share of a 
recovered NRM gray wolf population (Williams 2004c). Wyoming challenged 
this

[[Page 55532]]

determination, and the United States District Court in Wyoming 
dismissed the case (State of Wyoming, et al., v. United States 
Department of Interior, et al., 360 F.Supp.2d 1214, (D. Wyoming 2005)). 
Wyoming's subsequent appeal was unsuccessful (State of Wyoming, et al. 
v. United States Department of Interior, et al., 442 F.Supp.3d 1262 
(10th Cir. 2006)). This challenge was resolved on procedural grounds 
because Wyoming failed to identify a final agency action necessary for 
judicial review. In 2005, Wyoming petitioned us to revise the listing 
status for the gray wolf by recognizing a NRM DPS and to remove it from 
the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species (Freudenthal 
2005, entire). In 2006, we announced a 12-month finding that Wyoming's 
petition (delisting wolves in all of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming) was 
not warranted because the 2003 Wyoming State laws and its 2003 wolf 
management plan did not provide adequate regulatory mechanisms to 
maintain Wyoming's share of a recovered NRM wolf population (71 FR 
43410, August 1, 2006). Wyoming challenged this finding in Wyoming 
Federal District Court. This challenge was rendered moot by Wyoming's 
revisions to its laws and management plan in 2007, which allowed 
delisting to move forward. On February 27, 2008, a Wyoming Federal 
District Court issued an order dismissing the case (State of Wyoming, 
et al., v. United States Department of Interior, et al., U.S. District 
Court Case No. 2:06-CV-00245).
    In 2008, we issued a final rule recognizing the NRM DPS and 
removing it from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (73 FR 
10514, February 27, 2008). This DPS included Idaho, Montana, eastern 
Oregon, north-central Utah, eastern Washington, and Wyoming. This DPS 
was smaller than the 2003 Western DPS and more closely approximates the 
historical range of the originally listed NRM gray wolf in the region 
and the areas focused on in both NRM recovery plans (39 FR 1175 January 
4, 1974; Service 1980, pp. 3, 7-8; Service 1987, pp. 2, 23). The 
Service removed protections across the entire DPS after Wyoming revised 
its wolf management plan and State law. At the time, we concluded this 
Wyoming framework provided adequate regulatory protections to conserve 
Wyoming's portion of a recovered wolf population into the foreseeable 
future (Hall 2007).
    Environmental litigants challenged this final rule in the U.S. 
District Court for the District of Montana. The plaintiffs also moved 
to preliminarily enjoin the delisting. On July 18, 2008, the court 
granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and 
enjoined the Service's implementation of the final delisting rule 
(Defenders of Wildlife, et al., v. Hall, et al., 565 F.Supp.2d 1160 (D. 
Mont. 2008)). The court stated that we acted arbitrarily in delisting a 
wolf population that lacked evidence of natural genetic exchange 
between subpopulations. The court also stated that we acted arbitrarily 
and capriciously when we approved Wyoming's 2007 wolf management plan 
because the State failed to commit to managing for at least 15 breeding 
pairs. In addition, the court concluded we acted arbitrarily in 
approving Wyoming's 2007 post-delisting management framework that 
contained a Wyoming statute allowing the Wyoming Game and Fish 
Commission (WGFC) to diminish Wyoming's Wolf Trophy Game Management 
Area (Trophy Area) if it ``determines the diminution does not impede 
the delisting of gray wolves and will facilitate Wyoming's management 
of wolves.'' In light of the court order, on September 22, 2008, we 
asked the court to vacate the final rule and remand it to us. On 
October 14, 2008, the court granted our request (Defenders of Wildlife 
v. Hall, 9:08-CV-00056-DWM (D. Mont 2008)). The court's order 
invalidated the February 2008 rule designating and delisting the NRM 
DPS.
    Following the July 18, 2008, court ruling, we reexamined the NRM 
DPS and Wyoming's statutes, regulations, and management plan. This 
reevaluation considered several issues not considered in the previous 
evaluation. We determined that the best scientific and commercial data 
available demonstrated that: (1) The NRM DPS was not threatened or 
endangered throughout ``all'' of its range (i.e., not threatened or 
endangered throughout all of the DPS); and (2) the Wyoming portion of 
the range represented a significant portion of the range where the 
species remained in danger of extinction because of the inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms. Thus, on April 2, 2009, we published a 
final rule recognizing the NRM DPS and removing the DPS from the List 
of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, except in Wyoming, where wolves 
continued to be regulated as a nonessential experimental population 
under 50 CFR 17.84(i) and (n) (74 FR 15123). The decision to retain the 
Act's protections only in Wyoming was consistent with a March 16, 2007, 
Memorandum Opinion issued by the Solicitor of the Department of the 
Interior, ``The Meaning of `In Danger of Extinction Throughout All or a 
Significant Portion of Its Range' '' (M-Opinion) (Department of the 
Interior 2007, entire). The final rule determined that Wyoming's 
existing regulatory framework did not provide adequate regulatory 
mechanisms to maintain Wyoming's share of a recovered NRM wolf 
population if the protections of the Act were removed and stated that, 
until Wyoming revised its statutes, regulations, and management plan, 
and obtained Service approval, wolves in Wyoming would remain protected 
by the Act (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009).
    The 2009 rule (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009) was challenged in the 
U.S. District Court for the District of Montana by environmental 
litigants and in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming by 
the State of Wyoming, the Wyoming Wolf Coalition, and Park County, 
Wyoming. On August 5, 2010, the U.S. District Court for Montana ruled 
on the merits of the case and vacated our April 2009 final rule 
(Defenders of Wildlife, et al., v. Salazar, et al., 729 F. Supp.2d 1207 
(D. Mont. 2010)). The court concluded that the NRM DPS must be listed 
or delisted in its entirety. The court rejected the rule's approach 
allowing protection of only a portion of the species' range because it 
was inconsistent with the Act's definition of ``species.'' Thus, before 
delisting could occur, Wyoming had to develop a regulatory framework 
that was determined by the Service to be adequate to maintain Wyoming's 
share of a recovered NRM gray wolf population. The court's ruling 
invalidated the 2009 rule designating and delisting most of the NRM 
DPS.
    On October 26, 2010, in compliance with the order of the U.S. 
District Court for Montana, we published a final rule notifying the 
public that the Federal protections in place prior to the 2009 
delisting had been reinstated (75 FR 65574). Wolves in eastern 
Washington, eastern Oregon, north-central Utah, the Idaho panhandle, 
and northern Montana were again listed as endangered. Former special 
rules designating the gray wolf in the remainder of Montana and Idaho 
as nonessential experimental populations were likewise reinstated. 
Additionally, the NRM gray wolf DPS established by the April 2, 2009, 
final rule was set aside. Because wolves in Wyoming were not delisted 
by the April 2, 2009, final rule, their listed status was not affected 
by the October 26, 2010, rule.
    Following the Montana District Court decision, the United States 
Congress passed, and President Obama signed, H.R. 1473, Public Law 112-
10--The Department of Defense and Full Year

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Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 (hereafter referred to as the 
2011 Appropriations Act). Section 1713 of the law directed the Service 
to reissue its April 2009 delisting rule. The Service complied with the 
Appropriations Act on May 5, 2011 (76 FR 25590). Thus, gray wolves in 
Montana, Idaho, eastern Oregon, north-central Utah, and eastern 
Washington were once again delisted. The constitutionality of section 
1713 of the 2011 Appropriations Act was upheld in the Montana District 
Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Alliance for the Wild 
Rockies et al., v. Salazar, et al., case no. CV 11-70-M-DWM; Alliance 
for the Wild Rockies, et al., v.  Salazar, et al., case no. 11-35670). 
The Department of Interior withdrew the M-Opinion on this topic on May 
4, 2011 (Department of the Interior 2011, entire).
    As for the Wyoming challenge to the April 2009 partial delisting 
rule (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009), a United States District Court for 
Wyoming ruled in favor of the Wyoming plaintiffs on November 18, 2010 
(Wyoming et al., v. U.S. Department of the Interior, et al., 2010 U.S. 
Dist. LEXIS 122829). The court rejected the Service's recommendation 
that the entire State of Wyoming be designated as a Trophy Area, and 
the court found this position to be arbitrary and capricious, because 
it was not supported by the administrative record. The court stated 
that the record indicated only northwestern Wyoming, which has the vast 
majority of the State's suitable habitat, was biologically essential to 
maintaining the NRM population. However, the court did not render an 
opinion on whether Wyoming's current plan, including the size and 
location of its 2007 Trophy Area, was sufficient. Instead, the court 
remanded the matter to us to reconsider whether Wyoming's regulatory 
framework would maintain its share of a recovered wolf population and 
provide adequate genetic connectivity. Subsequent to this order, the 
Service and the State reinitiated discussions on revisions to the 
State's wolf management framework that would satisfy the standards of 
the Act and allow delisting to again move forward. These discussions 
led to an agreement and modification of the Wyoming wolf management 
plan (WGFC 2011, entire).
    On October 5, 2011, we proposed to remove the gray wolf in Wyoming 
from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (76 FR 61782). This 
proposal relied on Wyoming's 2011 wolf management plan (WGFC 2011, 
entire) and noted that conforming changes to State law and regulations 
would be required to allow Wyoming's plan to be implemented as written. 
Following publication of the proposal, Wyoming revised its State 
statutes and gray wolf management regulations (chapter 21) and 
developed gray wolf hunting season regulations (chapter 47) and an 
Addendum to the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan. On May 1, 2012, we 
reopened the public comment period on our October 5, 2011, proposal to 
allow all interested parties an additional opportunity to comment on 
the proposed rule in light of these documents (77 FR 25664, May 1, 
2012).

Reengaging Wyoming and Changes to Its Wolf Management Plan

    The 2009 rule stated that ``until Wyoming revises their statutes, 
management plan, and associated regulations, and is again Service 
approved, wolves in Wyoming continue to require the protections of the 
Act'' (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009). This rule specifically expressed 
concern over: (1) The size and permanency of the Trophy Area; (2) 
conflicting language within the State statutes concerning whether 
Wyoming would manage for at least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 
wolves, exactly 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves, or only 7 breeding 
pairs and 70 wolves; and (3) liberal depredation control authorizations 
and legislative mandates to aggressively manage the population down to 
minimum levels.
    In early 2011, we began discussions with Wyoming seeking to develop 
a strategy to address each of these issues. In August 2011, the Service 
and the State of Wyoming announced the framework of an agreement that 
we conclude will maintain a recovered wolf population in Wyoming (WGFC 
2011, appendix I). Since this agreement, Wyoming has incorporated these 
changes into its regulatory framework. Below we summarize the key 
points in the agreement relative to the three overarching Service 
concerns highlighted above.
    First, Wyoming made the existing Trophy Area permanent by 
incorporating it into State statute. In total, Wyoming wolves will be 
managed as game animals year-round or protected in about 38,500 square 
kilometers (km\2\) (15,000 square miles (mi\2\)) in the northwestern 
portion of the State (15.2 percent of Wyoming), including YNP, Grand 
Teton National Park, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, 
adjacent U.S. Forest Service-designated Wilderness Areas, adjacent 
public and private lands, the National Elk Refuge, and most of the Wind 
River Indian Reservation (Lickfett 2012). This area of Wyoming contains 
the majority of suitable wolf habitat within the State. Wolves will be 
designated as predatory animals in the remainder of the State (predator 
area). The above protected and permanent game areas (see Figure 1) 
include: 100 percent of the portion of the Greater Yellowstone Area 
(GYA) recovery area within Wyoming (Service 1987, Figure 2); 
approximately 79 percent of the Wyoming portion of the primary analysis 
area used in the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement on The 
Reintroduction of Gray Wolves to YNP and Central Idaho (1994 
Environmental Impact Statement) (areas analyzed as potentially being 
impacted by wolf recovery in the GYA) (Service 1994, Figure 1.1); the 
entire home range for 24 of 27 breeding pairs (88 percent), 40 of 48 
packs (83 percent), and 282 of 328 individual wolves (86 percent) in 
the State at the end of 2011 (Service et al. 2012, Tables 2, 4, Figure 
3; Jimenez 2012a; Jimenez 2012, pers. comm.); and approximately 81 
percent of the State's suitable habitat (including over 81 percent of 
the high-quality habitat (greater than 80 percent chance of supporting 
wolves) and over 62 percent of the medium-high-quality habitat (50 to 
79 percent chance of supporting wolves) (Oakleaf 2011; Mead 2012a)).

BILLING CODE 4310-55-P

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[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR10SE12.000

BILLING CODE 4310-55-C
    The State of Wyoming also addressed our prior concern that the size 
of the Trophy Area would affect natural connectivity and genetic 
exchange. State wolf management regulations (chapter 21(4)(a)(ii)) 
commit to managing wolves in Wyoming so that genetic diversity and 
connectivity issues do not threaten the population. The State's wolf 
management plan further clarifies a goal for gene flow of at least one 
effective natural migrant per generation entering into the GYA, as 
measured over multiple generations (WGFC 2011, pp. 4, 9, 26-29, 54). To 
assist in this goal, a Wyoming statute provides for a seasonal 
expansion of the Trophy Area approximately 80 kilometers (km) (50 miles 
(mi)) south for 4 and a half months during peak wolf dispersal periods 
(WGFC 2011, pp. 2, 8, 52). We conclude that this seasonal protection 
will benefit natural dispersal. Furthermore, Wyoming commits to an 
adaptive management approach that adjusts management if the above 
minimum level of gene flow is not

[[Page 55535]]

documented (WGFC 2011, pp. 26-29; WGFC 2012, pp. 6-7). Finally, 
translocation of wolves between subpopulations would be used as a last 
resort, only if necessary to increase genetic interchange (WGFC 2012, 
p. 7). These efforts would be coordinated with Montana and Idaho (WGFC 
2012, p. 7).
    Next, Wyoming agreed to maintain a population of at least 10 
breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves in portions of Wyoming outside 
YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation (WGFC 2011, pp. 1-5, 16-26, 
52). Importantly, this commitment does not reflect an intention by the 
Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to reduce the population down 
to this minimum population level. Rather, Wyoming intends to maintain 
an adequate buffer above minimum population objectives to accommodate 
management needs and ensure uncontrollable sources of mortality do not 
drop the population below this minimum population level (WGFC 2011, p. 
24; WGFC 2012, pp. 3-5).
    The wolf populations in YNP and on the lands of sovereign nations 
will provide an additional buffer above the minimum recovery goal. From 
2000 to the end of 2011 (the most recent official wolf population 
estimates available), the wolf population in YNP ranged from 96 to 174 
wolves, and between 6 to 16 breeding pairs. While a lower future 
population level in YNP is predicted (between 50 to 100 wolves and 5 to 
10 packs with 4 to 6 of these packs meeting the breeding pair 
definition annually) (Smith 2012), YNP will always provide a secure 
wolf population providing a safety margin above the minimum recovery 
goal. The Wind River Indian Reservation typically contains a small 
number of wolves (single digits), which sometimes form packs that count 
toward Tribal population totals. On the whole, we expect the statewide 
wolf population in Wyoming will be maintained well above minimum 
recovery levels.
    Another substantial improvement is Wyoming's management framework 
inside the Trophy Area. For example, Wyoming removed statutory mandates 
for aggressive management of wolves (WGFC 2011, pp. 24, 52). Previous 
Wyoming law required aggressive management until the population outside 
the National Parks fell to six breeding pairs or below. The Service was 
concerned with Wyoming's previous State law, and it has been remedied.
    Additionally, Wyoming agreed that wolves in the permanent Trophy 
Area would not be treated as predatory animals (WGFC 2011, pp. 3, 16-
17, 23). Past State laws allowed depredating wolves within the Trophy 
Area to be treated as predatory animals under certain circumstances at 
the discretion of the State Game and Fish Commission (WGFC 2011, pp. 3, 
16-17, 23). Wyoming modified W.S. 23-1-302(a)(ii) to ensure it does not 
apply to wolves in the Trophy Area. This change is a substantial 
improvement over current Wyoming law that will provide for a wolf 
population in Wyoming (outside of YNP and the Wind River Indian 
Reservation) that always maintains at least 10 breeding pairs and at 
least 100 individuals.
    Furthermore, Wyoming established defense-of-property regulations 
that are similar to our nonessential experimental population rules (50 
CFR 17.84(n)) (WGFC 2011, pp. 4, 22-23, 30-31, 53). Also, Wyoming's 
management of depredating wolves will be similar to Service management 
under the Act's protections (WGFC 2011, pp. 4, 22-23, 30-31, 53). Such 
rules were in place in Montana and Idaho prior to delisting and allowed 
continued population growth. These management approaches constitute an 
additional improvement over the framework Wyoming had in place for most 
of 2008.
    These and other improvements discussed in more detail below have 
addressed the Service's concerns about wolf management in Wyoming and 
make this delisting rule possible. Appropriate changes have been 
incorporated into State statute, State regulations, and the Wyoming 
wolf management plan.

Species Description and Basic Biology

    Gray wolves (Canis lupus) are the largest wild members of the dog 
family (Canidae). Adult gray wolves range from 18-80 kilograms (kg) 
(40-175 pounds (lb)) depending upon sex and geographic region (Mech 
1974, p. 1). In the NRM region, adult male gray wolves average just 
over 45 kg (100 lb), but may weigh up to 60 kg (130 lb). Females weigh 
about 20 percent less than males. Wolves' fur color is frequently a 
grizzled gray, but it can vary from pure white to coal black (Gipson et 
al. 2002, p. 821).
    Gray wolves have a circumpolar range including North America, 
Europe, and Asia. As Europeans began settling the United States, they 
poisoned, trapped, and shot wolves, causing this once-widespread 
species to be eradicated from most of its range in the 48 conterminous 
States (Mech 1970, pp. 31-34; McIntyre 1995, entire). Gray wolf 
populations were eliminated from Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, as well 
as adjacent southwestern Canada by the 1930s (Young and Goldman 1944, 
p. 414). Gray wolves continue to occur in large numbers in Canada and 
Alaska and are now well connected to the restored NRM wolf populations 
(Pletscher et al. 1991, pp. 547-548; Boyd and Pletscher 1999, pp. 1105-
1106; Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada 2001, 
pp. iii, v-vi, 13, 21-22, 30-32, 38, 42, 44-46; Boitani 2003, p. 322; 
Sime 2007; vonHoldt et al. 2010, p. 4412; Jimenez et al. In review, p. 
1).
    Wolves primarily prey on medium and large mammals. Wolf prey in the 
NRM region is composed mainly of elk (Cervus canadensis), white tailed 
deer (Odocoileus virginianus), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), moose 
(Alces alces), and (in the GYA) bison (Bison bison). Bighorn sheep 
(Ovis canadensis), mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus), and pronghorn 
antelope (Antilocapra americana) also are common but less important 
wolf prey, at least to date.
    Wolves normally live in packs of 2 to 12 animals. In the NRM 
region, pack sizes average 7 wolves but are slightly larger in 
protected areas. A few complex packs have been substantially bigger in 
some areas of YNP (Smith et al. 2006, p. 243; Service et al. 2012, 
Tables 1-3). Packs typically occupy large territories from 518 to 1,295 
km\2\ (200 to 500 mi\2\). Once a given area is occupied by resident 
wolf packs, it becomes saturated and wolf numbers become regulated by 
the amount of available prey, intraspecific conflict (wolf-on-wolf 
conflict), other forms of mortality, and dispersal. Dispersing wolves 
may cover large areas as they try to join other packs or attempt to 
form their own pack in unoccupied habitat (Mech and Boitani 2003, pp. 
11-17).
    Typically, only one male and female in each pack breed and produce 
pups (Packard 2003, p. 38; Smith et al. 2006, pp. 243-24; Service et 
al. 2012, Tables 1-3). Females and males typically begin breeding as 2-
year-olds and may annually produce young until they are over 10 years 
old. In the NRM region, litters are typically born in April and range 
from 1 to 7 pups, but average around 5 pups (Service et al. 1989-2012, 
Tables 1-3). Most years, 80 percent of pups survive until winter 
(Service et al. 1989-2012, Tables 1-3). Wolves can live 13 years 
(Holyan et al. 2005, p. 446), but the average lifespan in YNP is less 
than 4 years (Smith et al. 2006, p. 245). Pup production and survival 
can increase when wolf density is lower and food availability per wolf 
increases (Fuller et al. 2003, p. 186). Pack social structure is very 
adaptable and resilient. Breeding members can be quickly replaced 
either from within or outside the pack, and pups can be reared by 
another pack member, should

[[Page 55536]]

their parents die (Boyd and Jimenez 1994, entire; Packard 2003, p. 38; 
Brainerd et al. 2008; Mech 2006, p. 1482). Consequently, wolf 
populations can rapidly recover from severe disruptions, such as very 
high levels of human-caused mortality or disease. Wolf populations have 
been shown to increase rapidly if mortality is reduced after severe 
declines (Fuller et al. 2003, pp. 181-183; Service et al. 2012, Table 
4).
    For detailed information on the biology of this species see the 
``Biology and Ecology of Gray Wolves'' section of the April 1, 2003, 
final rule to reclassify and remove the gray wolf from the list of 
endangered and threatened wildlife in portions of the coterminous 
United States (2003 Reclassification Rule) (68 FR 15804).

Recovery Planning and Implementation

    This section includes a detailed discussion of the recovery 
criteria including their development, continuous evaluation, and 
revision as necessary. Additionally, this section includes our summary 
of progress towards recovery including an assessment of whether the 
criteria are met. This section discusses the entire NRM population 
because the recovery criteria apply to the entire population.
    Recovery Planning and the Development of Recovery Criteria--As 
general background, recovery plans are not regulatory documents, but 
are instead intended to provide guidance to the Service, States, and 
other partners on methods of minimizing threats to listed species and 
on criteria that may be used to determine when recovery is achieved. 
There are many paths to accomplishing recovery of a species, and 
recovery may be achieved without all criteria being fully met. For 
example, one or more criteria may have been exceeded while other 
criteria may not have been accomplished. In that instance, the Service 
may judge that the threats have been minimized sufficiently, and the 
species is robust enough to reclassify from endangered to threatened or 
to delist. In other cases, recovery opportunities may have been 
recognized that were not known at the time the recovery plan was 
finalized. These opportunities may be used instead of methods 
identified in the recovery plan. Likewise, information on the species 
may become available that was not known at the time the recovery plan 
was finalized. The new information may change the extent that criteria 
need to be met for recognizing recovery of the species. Recovery of a 
species is a dynamic process requiring adaptive management that may, or 
may not, fully follow the guidance provided in a recovery plan.
    For NRM gray wolves, we formed the Interagency Wolf Recovery Team 
to complete a recovery plan for the NRM population shortly after it was 
listed (Service 1980, p. i; Fritts et al. 1995, p. 111). The NRM Wolf 
Recovery Plan (recovery plan) was approved in 1980 (Service 1980, p. i) 
and revised in 1987 (Service 1987, p. i). The 1980 recovery plan's 
objective was to reestablish and maintain viable populations of the NRM 
wolf (C. l. irremotus) in its former range where feasible (Service 
1980, p. iii). This plan did not include recovery goals (i.e., 
delisting criteria). The 1980 plan covered an area similar to the NRM 
DPS, as it was once believed to be the range of the purported NRM wolf 
subspecies. It recommended that recovery actions be focused on the 
large areas of public land in northwestern Montana, central Idaho, and 
the GYA. The 1987 revised recovery plan (Service 1987, p. 57) concluded 
that the subspecies designations may no longer be valid and simply 
referred to gray wolves in the NRM region. Consistent with the 1980 
plan, it also recommended focusing recovery actions on the large blocks 
of public land in the NRM region.
    The 1987 plan specified recovery criteria of a minimum of 10 
breeding pairs of wolves (defined as 2 wolves of opposite sex and 
adequate age, capable of producing offspring) for a minimum of 3 
successive years in each of 3 distinct recovery areas including: (1) 
Northwestern Montana (Glacier National Park; the Great Bear, Bob 
Marshall, and Lincoln Scapegoat Wilderness Areas; and adjacent public 
and private lands); (2) central Idaho (Selway-Bitterroot, Gospel Hump, 
Frank Church River of No Return, and Sawtooth Wilderness Areas; and 
adjacent, mostly Federal, lands); and (3) the YNP area (including the 
Absaroka-Beartooth, North Absaroka, Washakie, and Teton Wilderness 
Areas; and adjacent public and private lands). That plan recommended 
that wolf establishment not be promoted outside these distinct recovery 
areas, but it encouraged connectivity between recovery areas. However, 
no attempts were made to prevent wolf pack establishment outside of the 
recovery areas unless chronic conflict required resolution (Service 
1994, pp. 1-15, 16; Service 1999, p. 2). Since completion of the 1987 
recovery plan, we have expended considerable effort to develop, 
repeatedly reevaluate, and when necessary modify, the recovery goals 
(Service 1987, p. 12; Service 1994, appendix 8 and 9; Fritts and Carbyn 
1995, p. 26; Bangs 2002, p. 1).
    The 1994 Environmental Impact Statement reviewed the wolf recovery 
standards in the NRM region and the adequacy of the recovery goals to 
assure that the 1987 goals were sufficient (Service 1994, pp. 6:68-78). 
We were particularly concerned about the 1987 definition of a breeding 
pair because it included two adult wolves `capable' of producing 
offspring instead of two adult wolves that had actually produced 
offspring. We also believed the relatively small recovery areas 
identified in the 1987 plan greatly reduced the amount of area that 
could be used by wolves and would almost certainly eliminate the 
opportunity for meaningful natural demographic and genetic 
connectivity. We conducted a thorough literature review of wolf 
population viability analysis and minimum viable populations, reviewed 
the recovery goals for other wolf populations, surveyed the opinions of 
the top 43 wolf experts in North America (of which 25 responded), and 
incorporated our own expertise into a review of the NRM wolf recovery 
goal. We published our analysis in the 1994 Environmental Impact 
Statement and a peer-reviewed paper (Service 1994, appendix 8 & 9; 
Fritts and Carbyn 1995, pp. 26-38).
    Our 1994 analysis concluded that the 1987 recovery goal was, at 
best, a minimum recovery goal, and that modifications were warranted on 
the basis of more recent information about wolf distribution, 
connectivity, and numbers. We also concluded, ``Data on survival of 
actual wolf populations suggest greater resiliency than indicated by 
theory,'' and theoretical treatments of population viability ``have 
created unnecessary dilemmas for wolf recovery programs by overstating 
the required population size'' (Fritts and Carbyn 1995, p. 26). Based 
on our analysis, we redefined a breeding pair as an adult male and an 
adult female wolf that have produced at least two pups that survived 
until December 31 of the year of their birth, during the previous 
breeding season. We also concluded that ``Thirty or more breeding pairs 
comprising some 300+ wolves in a metapopulation (a population that 
exists as partially isolated sets of subpopulations) with genetic 
exchange between subpopulations should have a high probability of long 
term persistence'' because it would contain enough individuals in 
successfully reproducing packs that were distributed over distinct but 
somewhat connected large areas, to be viable for the long term (Service 
1994, p. 6:75). We explicitly

[[Page 55537]]

stated that the required genetic exchange could occur by natural means 
or by human-assisted migration management and that dispersal of wolves 
between recovery areas was evidence of that genetic exchange (Service 
et al. 1994, appendix 8, 9). In defining a ``Recovered Wolf 
Population,'' we found ``in the northern Rockies a recovered wolf 
population is 10 breeding pairs of wolves in each of 3 areas for 3 
successive years with some level of movement between areas'' (Service 
1994, pp. 6-7). We further determined that a metapopulation of this 
size and distribution among the three areas of core suitable habitat in 
the NRM DPS would result in a wolf population that would fully achieve 
our recovery objectives.
    For more than 15 years, we have concluded that movement of 
individuals between the metapopulation segments could occur either 
naturally or by human-assisted migration management (Service 1994, pp. 
7-67). Specifically, the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement stated 
``The importance of movement of individuals between subpopulations 
cannot be overemphasized. The dispersal ability of wolves makes such 
movement likely, unless wolves were heavily exploited between recovery 
areas, as could happen in the more developed corridor between central 
Idaho and YNP. Intensive migration management might become necessary if 
1 of the 3 subpopulations should develop genetic or demographic 
problems'' (Service 1994, pp. 7-67). The finding went on to say that 
human-assisted migration should not be viewed negatively and would be 
necessary in other wolf recovery programs (Service 1994, pp. 7-67). 
Furthermore, we found that the 1987 wolf recovery plan's population 
goal of 10 breeding pairs of wolves in 3 separate recovery areas for 3 
consecutive years was reasonably sound and would maintain a viable wolf 
population into the foreseeable future. We did caution that the 
numerical recovery goal was somewhat conservative, and should be 
considered minimal (Service 1994, pp. 6-75).
    We conducted another review of what constitutes a recovered wolf 
population in late 2001 and early 2002 to reevaluate and update our 
1994 analysis and conclusions (Service 1994, appendix 9). We attempted 
to resurvey the same 43 experts we had contacted in 1994 as well as 43 
other biologists from North America and Europe who were recognized 
experts about wolves and conservation biology. We asked experts with a 
wide diversity of perspectives to participate in our review. In total, 
53 people provided their expert opinions regarding a wide range of 
issues related to the NRM recovery goal. We also reviewed a wide range 
of literature, including wolf population viability analyses from other 
areas (Bangs 2002, pp. 1-9).
    Despite varied professional opinions and a great diversity of 
suggestions, experts overwhelmingly thought the recovery goal derived 
in our 1994 analysis was more biologically appropriate than the 1987 
recovery plan's criteria for recovery and represented a viable and 
recovered wolf population. Reviewers also thought genetic exchange, 
either natural or human-facilitated, was important to maintaining the 
metapopulation configuration and wolf population viability. Reviewers 
also believed the proven ability of a breeding pair to show successful 
reproduction was a necessary component of a biologically meaningful 
breeding pair definition. Reviewers recommended other concepts/numbers 
for recovery goals, but most were slight modifications to those we 
recommended in our 1994 analysis. While experts strongly (78 percent) 
supported our 1994 conclusions regarding a viable wolf population, they 
also tended to believe that wolf population viability was enhanced by 
higher, rather than lower, population levels and longer, rather than 
shorter, demonstrated timeframes. A common minority recommendation was 
an alternative goal of 500 wolves and 5 years. A slight majority of 
reviewers indicated that even the 1987 recovery goal of only 10 
breeding pairs (defined as a male and female capable of breeding) in 
each of 3 distinct recovery areas may be viable, given the persistence 
of other small wolf populations in other parts of the world. Based on 
the above review and considering all available information, we 
reaffirmed our more relevant and stringent 1994 definition of wolf 
breeding pairs, population viability, and recovery (Service 1994, p. 
6:75; Bangs 2002, pp. 1-9).
    We measure the wolf recovery goal by the number of breeding pairs 
as well as by the number of wolves because wolf populations are 
maintained by packs that successfully raise pups. We use ``breeding 
pairs'' (packs that have at least one adult male and at least one adult 
female and that raised at least two pups until December 31) to describe 
successfully reproducing packs (Service 1994, p. 6:67; Bangs 2002, pp. 
7-8; Mitchell et al. 2008, p. 881; Mitchell et al. 2010, p. 101). The 
breeding pair metric includes most of the important biological concepts 
in wolf conservation, including the potential disruption of human-
caused mortality that might affect breeding success in social 
carnivores (Brainerd et al. 2008, p. 89; Wallach et al. 2009, p. 1; 
Creel and Rotella 2010, p. 1). Specifically, we thought it was 
important for breeding pairs to have: Both male and female members 
together going into the February breeding season; successful occupation 
of a territory (generally 500-1,300 km\2\ (200-500 mi\2\)); enough pups 
to replace themselves; offspring that become yearling dispersers; at 
least four wolves at the end of the year, which is near the population 
low point (note that the absolute low point occurs in April just before 
pups are born); all social structures and age classes represented 
within a wolf population; and adults that can raise and mentor younger 
wolves.
    We also determined that an equitable distribution of wolf breeding 
pairs and individual wolves among the three States and the three 
recovery areas is an essential part of achieving recovery. Like peer 
reviewers in 1994 and 2002, we concluded that NRM wolf recovery and 
long term wolf population viability is dependent on its distribution as 
well as maintaining the minimum numbers of breeding pairs and wolves. 
Uniform distribution is not necessary. But a well-distributed 
population is necessary to maintain proportionate numbers of packs and 
individuals in all three recovery areas. This approach will maintain 
wolf distribution in and adjacent to all three recovery areas and most 
of the region's suitable habitat. Such an approach will retain sizable 
subpopulations within easily traversable distances from one another 
and, thus, facilitate natural connectivity.
    Following the 2002 review of our recovery criteria, we began to use 
States, in addition to recovery areas, to measure progress toward 
recovery goals (Service et al. 2003-2012, Table 4). Because Montana, 
Idaho, and Wyoming each contain the vast majority of one of the 
original three core recovery areas, we determined the metapopulation 
structure would be best conserved by equally dividing the overall 
recovery goal between the three States (73 FR 10514, February 27, 2008, 
p. 10522). This approach made each State's responsibility for wolf 
conservation fair, consistent, and clear. It avoided any possible 
confusion that one State might assume the responsibility for 
maintaining the required number of wolves and wolf breeding pairs in a 
shared recovery area that was the responsibility of the adjacent State. 
State regulatory authorities and traditional management of resident 
game populations occur on a State-by-

[[Page 55538]]

State basis. We determined that management by State would still 
maintain a sizable wolf population in each core recovery area because 
they each contain manmade or natural refugia from intensive human-
caused mortality (e.g., wilderness and roadless areas, National Parks, 
and remote Federal lands) that provide a stronghold for wolf 
populations in each State. Recovery targets by State promote 
connectivity and genetic exchange between the metapopulation segments 
by avoiding management that focuses solely on wolf breeding pairs in 
relatively distinct core recovery areas. This approach also will 
increase the numbers of potential wolf breeding pairs in the GYA 
because it is shared by all three States. A large and well-distributed 
population within the GYA is especially important because it is the 
most isolated recovery segment within the NRM DPS (Oakleaf et al. 2006, 
p. 554; vonHoldt et al. 2007, p. 19).
    To recap, we have expended considerable effort to develop, 
repeatedly reevaluate, and, when necessary, modify, these recovery 
goals (Service 1980; Service 1987; Service 1994, appendix 8 and 9; 
Fritts and Carbyn 1995; Bangs 2002, entire). The 1980 recovery plan 
required simply that we reestablish and maintain viable populations 
within its former range where feasible. The 1987 recovery plan further 
quantified the goals by requiring a minimum of 10 breeding pairs of 
wolves (defined as 2 wolves of opposite sex and adequate age, capable 
of producing offspring) for a minimum of 3 successive years in 
northwestern Montana, central Idaho, and the YNP area. In 1994, we 
revised the definition of a breeding pair (redefined as an adult male 
and an adult female wolf that have produced at least two pups that 
survived until December 31 of the year of their birth, during the 
previous breeding season) and added a requirement that there be genetic 
exchange (preferably natural, but human assisted if needed) between 
subpopulations. In 2002, we conducted a peer review of the above 
information, which led us to reaffirm the conclusions reached above 
(i.e., the definition of wolf breeding pairs, our view of population 
viability, and what constitutes recovery), but moved us towards 
counting recovery by State in addition to by recovery area.
    Finally, every NRM rulemaking conducted over the last decade has 
also included a peer review in which reviewers were asked to weigh in 
on our conclusions. The vast majority of these reviewers supported our 
conclusion on long term population viability assuming these criteria 
were maintained. In the most recent peer review, four of the five peer 
reviewers concurred with our conclusion that the Wyoming wolf 
population, whose management is to be driven by the recovery goals, 
would continue to be a viable population after delisting (Atkins 2011, 
pp. 6, 10; Atkins 2012, p. 3). Those peer reviewers who specifically 
addressed the recovery criteria were unanimously supportive of the 
criteria (Atkins 2011, appendix B). For example, Dr. Scott Mills stated 
that the thresholds for delisting are consistent with current state-of-
the-art viability analysis science and are an appropriate standard for 
delisting (Atkins 2011, p. 60). Similarly, Dr. David Mech concluded 
that the recovery criteria still seem adequate (Atkins 2011, p. 73). 
None of the reviews provided by the independent peer reviewers 
challenged the adequacy of the recovery criteria (Atkins 2011, appendix 
B).
    The numerical component of the recovery goal represents the minimum 
number of breeding pairs and individual wolves needed to achieve and 
maintain recovery. Because the NRM wolf population must always exceed 
the recovery goal of 30 breeding pairs and 300 wolves, we required that 
Montana and Idaho each manage for at least 15 breeding pairs and at 
least 150 wolves in mid-winter. This 50 percent safety margin above 
minimum recovery levels was intended to provide an adequate safety 
margin, recognizing that all wildlife populations, including wolves, 
can fluctuate widely over a relatively short period of time. Managing 
for a buffer above the minimum recovery target is consistent with our 
1994 determination that the addition of a few extra pairs would add 
security to the population and should be considered in future 
management planning (Service 1994, pp. 6-75). Additionally, because the 
recovery goal components are measured in mid-winter when the wolf 
population is near its annual low point (note the absolute low point 
occurs in April just before spring litters are born), the average 
annual wolf population will be higher than these minimal goals.
    Because Wyoming, unlike Montana and Idaho, has a large portion of 
its wolf population in areas outside the State's control (e.g., YNP and 
the Wind River Indian Reservation), we developed an approach for 
Wyoming that recognizes this fact, but still holds the State to the 
same commitment to achieve the desired safety margin above the minimum 
recovery goal. Specifically, we determined that at least 10 breeding 
pairs and at least 100 wolves at mid-winter in Wyoming outside YNP and 
the Wind River Indian Reservation will satisfy Wyoming's contribution 
to NRM gray wolf recovery. Under this approach, the wolf populations in 
YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation will provide a buffer above 
the minimum recovery goal. We conclude that the YNP wolf population can 
effectively buffer the rest of the Wyoming wolf population because of 
the amount of available habitat in the park, the sizable wolf 
population the park does now and will continue to support, and the 
relative security of the park population.
    Wyoming's wolf population will be further buffered because WGFD 
intends to maintain an adequate buffer above minimum population 
objectives to accommodate management needs so that uncontrollable 
sources of mortality do not drop the population in Wyoming outside of 
YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation below the 10 breeding pair 
and 100 wolf minimum population levels (WGFC 2011, p. 24; WGFC 2012, 
pp. 3-5). The State of Wyoming also intends to coordinate with YNP and 
the Wind River Indian Reservation to contribute to the objective of at 
least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves statewide, including 
YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation. This approach in Wyoming is 
biologically superior to a single statewide standard in that: It 
provides population stability outside the park, minimizing the chances 
of a bad year in YNP compromising maintenance of the minimum recovery 
goal; it adds an extra layer of representation, resiliency, and 
redundancy to the GYA's gray wolf population; and it builds public 
tolerance for a minimum wolf population outside YNP. Further 
justification for this approach to wolf management after delisting and 
an additional explanation of why we view this approach as superior for 
wolf conservation in Wyoming long term is included in Issue and 
Response 18 below.
    To summarize, based on the information above, the current recovery 
goal for the NRM gray wolf population is: Thirty or more breeding pairs 
(an adult male and an adult female that raise at least two pups until 
December 31) comprising 300+ wolves well-distributed between Montana, 
Idaho, and Wyoming functioning as a metapopulation (a population that 
exists as partially isolated sets of subpopulations) with genetic 
exchange (either natural or, if necessary, agency-managed) between 
subpopulations. This goal further holds Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming to 
each maintain a population

[[Page 55539]]

of at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves at the end of the 
year. To provide that these minimum levels are not compromised, Montana 
and Idaho each are required to manage for a population minimum of at 
least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves at the end of the year. 
So as not to risk relisting and to provide management flexibility, 
Montana and Idaho intend to manage well above these minimum required 
levels. In Wyoming, the State will maintain the entire minimum recovery 
goal of at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves outside of 
YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation. So as not to risk relisting 
and to provide management flexibility, Wyoming also intends to manage 
well above these minimum required levels. A sizable wolf population in 
YNP and in the Wind River Indian Reservation will further buffer the 
population so that minimum recovery goals are not compromised. Our 
recovery and post-delisting management goals were designed to provide 
the NRM gray wolf population with sufficient representation, 
resilience, and redundancy for their long term conservation. After 
evaluating all available information, we conclude that the best 
scientific and commercial information available indicates the 
population will remain viable following delisting if the recovery 
targets continue to be met.
    Monitoring and Managing Recovery--In 1989, we formed an Interagency 
Wolf Working Group (Working Group) composed of Federal, State, and 
Tribal agency personnel (Bangs 1991, p. 7; Fritts et al. 1995, p. 109; 
Service et al. 1989-2012, p. 1). The Working Group conducted four basic 
recovery tasks, in addition to the standard enforcement functions 
associated with the take of a listed species. These tasks were: (1) 
Monitor wolf distribution and numbers; (2) control wolves that attacked 
livestock by moving them, conducting other nonlethal measures, or by 
killing them (Bangs et al. 2006, p. 7); (3) conduct research and 
publish scientific publications on wolf relationships to ungulate prey, 
other carnivores and scavengers, livestock, and people; and (4) provide 
accurate science-based information to the public and mass media so that 
people could develop their opinions about wolves and wolf management 
from an informed perspective.
    The minimum size and distribution of the wolf population is 
estimated by the Working Group each year and, along with other 
information, is published in an interagency annual report (Service et 
al. 1989-2012, Table 4, Figure 1). Since the early 1980s, the Service 
and our cooperating partners have radio-collared and monitored 
approximately 2,000 wolves in the NRM region to assess population 
status, conduct research, and to reduce/resolve conflict with 
livestock. The Working Group's annual minimum population estimates 
represent the best scientific and commercial data available regarding 
minimum year-end NRM gray wolf population size and trends, as well as 
distributional and other information.
    Recovery by State--At the end of calendar year 2000, the NRM 
population first met its overall numerical and distributional recovery 
goal of a minimum of 30 breeding pairs and more than 300 wolves well-
distributed among Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming (68 FR 15804, April 1, 
2003; Service et al. 2012, Table 4). Because the recovery goal must be 
achieved for 3 consecutive years, the temporal element of recovery was 
not achieved until the end of 2002 when at least 663 wolves and at 
least 49 breeding pairs were present (Service et al. 2012, Table 4). By 
the end of 2011, the NRM wolf population achieved its numerical and 
distributional recovery goal for 12 consecutive years, while the 
temporal portion of the recovery criterion has been met for 10 
consecutive years (Service et al. 2012, Table 4; 68 FR 15804, April 1, 
2003; 71 FR 6634, February 8, 2006). By the end of 2011, the NRM gray 
wolf population included a minimum population estimate of 1,774 wolves 
(including at least: 653 in Montana; 746 in Idaho; 328 in Wyoming; 18 
in Washington; and 29 in Oregon) in 109 breeding pairs (including at 
least: 39 in Montana; 40 in Idaho; 27 in Wyoming; 2 in Washington; and 
1 in Oregon). Distribution at the end of 2011 is illustrated in Figure 
2. Population trends through the end of 2011 are illustrated in Figure 
3.

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    Recovery by Recovery Area--As discussed previously, after the 2002 
peer review of the wolf recovery efforts, we began using States, in 
addition to recovery areas, to measure progress toward recovery goals 
(Service et al. 2003-2012, Table 4). However, because the 1987 Recovery 
Plan (Service 1987, pp. v, 12, 23) included goals for core recovery 
areas, we have included the following discussion on the history of the 
recovery efforts and status of these core recovery areas, including how 
the wolf population's distribution and metapopulation structure is 
important to maintaining its viability and how the biological 
characteristics of each core recovery area differ (Service et al. 2012, 
Table 4).
    The Northwestern Montana Recovery Area's 84,800 km\2\ (33,386 
mi\2\) includes: Glacier National Park; the Great Bear, Bob Marshall, 
and Lincoln Scapegoat Wilderness Areas; and adjacent public and private 
lands in northern Montana and the northern Idaho panhandle. Wolves in 
this recovery area were listed and managed as endangered species. 
Wolves naturally recolonized this area from Canada. Reproduction first 
occurred in northwestern Montana in 1986 (Ream et al. 1989, entire). 
The natural ability of wolves to find and quickly recolonize empty 
habitat (Mech and Boitani 2003, pp. 17-19), the interim control plan 
(Service 1988, 1999, entire), and the interagency recovery program 
combined to effectively promote an increase in wolf numbers (Bangs 
1991, pp. 7-13). By 1996, the number of known wolves had grown to about 
70 wolves in 7 known breeding pairs. However, from 1996 through 2004, 
the minimum estimated number of breeding pairs and wolves in 
northwestern Montana fluctuated at a low level, partly due to actual 
population size and partly due to limited monitoring effort. However, 
since 2005, it has steadily increased (Service et al. 2012, Table 4). 
At the end of 2011, we estimated a minimum of 431 wolves in 25 breeding 
pairs in the northwestern Montana recovery area (Service et al. 2012, 
Table 4).
    The Northwestern Montana Recovery Area has sustained fewer wolves 
than the other recovery areas because there is less suitable habitat 
and it is naturally more fragmented (Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 560; Smith 
et al. 2010, p. 622). Some of the variation in our minimum wolf 
population estimates for northwestern Montana is also due to the 
difficulty of counting wolves in the area's thick forests. Wolves in 
northwestern Montana also prey mainly on white-tailed deer, resulting 
in smaller packs and territories, which lower the chances of detecting 
a pack (Bangs et al. 1998, p. 878). Increased monitoring efforts in 
northwestern Montana by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks since 2005 
were likely responsible for more accurate minimum population estimates. 
Wolf numbers in 2003 and 2004 also likely exceeded 10 breeding pairs 
and 100 wolves, but were not documented simply due to less intensive 
monitoring those years (Service et al. 2012, Table 4). By the end of 
2011, this recovery area contained more than 10 breeding pairs and 100 
wolves for the seventh consecutive year (2005-2011), and probably did 
so for the last 10 years (2002-2011) (Service et al. 2012, Table 4).
    Routine dispersal of wolves has been documented among northwestern 
Montana, central Idaho, and adjacent Canadian populations demonstrating 
that northwestern Montana's wolves are demographically and genetically 
linked to both the wolf population in Canada and in central Idaho 
(Pletscher et al. 1991, pp. 547-548; Boyd and Pletscher 1999, pp. 1105-
1106; Sime 2007; vonHoldt et al. 2010, p. 4412; Jimenez et al. In 
review, p. 1). Because of fairly contiguous but fractured suitable 
habitat, wolves dispersing into northwestern Montana from both 
directions will continue to join or form new packs and supplement this 
segment of the overall wolf population (Forbes and Boyd 1996, p. 1082; 
Forbes and Boyd 1997, p. 1226; Boyd et al. 1995, p. 140; vonHoldt et 
al. 2007, p. 19; vonHoldt et al. 2010; Thiessen 2007, p. 50; Sime 2007; 
Jimenez et al. In review, p. 1).
    Unlike YNP or the central Idaho Wilderness complex, northwestern 
Montana lacks a large core refugium that contains large numbers of 
overwintering wild ungulates and few livestock. Therefore, wolf numbers 
may not ever be as high in northwestern Montana as they are in the 
central Idaho or the GYA recovery areas. However, wolves have persisted 
in this area for over 30 years, the population is robust today, and 
habitat there is capable of supporting hundreds of wolves (Service et 
al. 2012, Table 4). State management, pursuant to the Montana State 
wolf management plan (Montana Wolf Management Advisory Council 2003), 
provides that this population segment will continue to thrive.
    The Central Idaho Recovery Area's 53,600 km\2\ (20,700 mi\2\) 
includes the Selway-Bitterroot, Gospel Hump, Frank Church River of No 
Return, and Sawtooth Wilderness Areas; adjacent, mostly Federal lands, 
in central Idaho; and adjacent parts of southwestern Montana (Service 
1994, p. iv). In January 1995, 15 young adult wolves from Alberta, 
Canada, were released in central Idaho (Bangs and Fritts 1996, p. 409; 
Fritts et al. 1997, p. 7). In January 1996, an additional 20 wolves 
from British Columbia were released (Bangs et al. 1998, p. 787). 
Central Idaho contains the greatest amount of highly suitable wolf 
habitat compared to either northwestern Montana or the GYA (Oakleaf et 
al. 2006, p. 559). Consequently, the central Idaho area population has 
grown substantially and expanded its range since reintroduction. As in 
the Northwestern Montana Recovery Area, some of the Central Idaho 
Recovery Area's increase in its minimum wolf population estimate 
beginning in 2005 was likely due to an increased monitoring effort by 
Idaho Department of Fish and Game. The central Idaho population peaked 
in 2008 and appears to have declined since then (Service et al. 2012, 
Table 4). We estimated a minimum of 797 wolves in 43 breeding pairs in 
the central Idaho recovery area at the end of 2011 (Service et al. 
2012, Table 4). This recovery area has contained at least 10 breeding 
pairs and at least 100 wolves for 14 consecutive years (1998-2011) 
(Service et al. 2012; Table 4).
    The GYA recovery area (63,700 km\2\ (24,600 mi\2\)) includes 
portions of southeastern Montana, eastern Idaho, and northwestern 
Wyoming. Portions of Wyoming that are occupied by wolves (Figure 1 
above) include most of YNP, Grand Teton National Park, and John D. 
Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway; the Absaroka Beartooth, Bridger, 
Fitzpatrick, Gros Ventre, Jedediah Smith, North Absaroka, Popo Agie, 
Teton, Washakie, and Winegar Hole Wilderness Areas; the Dubois 
Badlands, Owl Creek, Scab Creek, and Whiskey Mountain Wilderness Study 
Areas; and adjacent public and private lands (Service 1994, p. iv). 
Much of the wilderness portions of the GYA are only used seasonally by 
wolves due to high elevation, deep snow, and low productivity (in terms 
of sustaining year-round wild ungulate populations) (Service et al. 
2012, Figure 3; 71 FR 43410, August 1, 2006). In 1995, 14 wolves 
representing 3 family groups from Alberta were released in YNP (Bangs 
and Fritts 1996, p. 409; Fritts et al. 1997, p. 7; Phillips and Smith 
1996, pp. 33-43). In 1996, this procedure was repeated with 17 wolves 
representing 4 family groups from British Columbia. Finally, 10 pups 
were removed from northwestern Montana in a wolf control action and 
released in YNP in the spring of 1997 (Bangs et al. 1998, p. 787). Two 
of these pups became breeding adults

[[Page 55543]]

and their genetic signature is common both in YNP and the GYA (vonHoldt 
et al. 2010, p. 4421). We estimated a minimum of 499 wolves and 38 
breeding pairs were in the GYA at the end of 2011 (Service et al. 2012, 
Table 4). By the end of 2011, this recovery area had at least 10 
breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves for twelve consecutive years 
(2000-2011) (Service et al. 2012, Table 4).
    Wolf numbers in the GYA were relatively stable from 2007 through 
2009 with around 450 wolves and between 33 and 38 breeding pairs 
(Service et al. 2012, Table 4). In 2010 and 2011, the GYA population 
grew to about 500 wolves with 37 to 38 breeding pairs, primarily 
because numbers of wolves outside YNP in Wyoming grew while wolves in 
YNP have declined. Specifically, wolves in YNP declined from highs of 
around 170 wolves and between 11 and 16 breeding pairs in 2003, 2004, 
and 2007 to around 100 wolves and between 6 and 8 breeding pairs in 
2009, 2010, and 2011 (Service et al. 1998-2012, Table 2). This decline 
in YNP likely occurred because: (1) Highly suitable habitat in YNP was 
saturated with wolf packs; (2) conflict among packs appeared to limit 
population density; (3) fewer elk occur in YNP than when reintroduction 
took place (White and Garrott 2006, p. 942; Vucetich et al. 2005, p. 
259); and (4) suspected outbreaks of disease in 2005 and 2008 (canine 
distemper (CD) or possibly canine parvovirus (CPV)) reduced pup 
survival to 20 percent (Service et al. 2006, 2009, Table 2; Smith et 
al. 2006, p. 244; Smith and Almberg 2007, pp. 17-20; Almberg et al. 
2010, p. 2058). YNP predicts wolf numbers in YNP may settle into a 
lower equilibrium long term (Smith 2012). Maintaining wolf populations 
safely above recovery levels and promoting demographic and genetic 
exchange in the GYA segment of the NRM DPS will depend on wolf packs 
living outside the National Park and wilderness portions of 
northwestern Wyoming and southwestern Montana (vonHoldt et al. 2010, p. 
4422).
    Genetic Exchange Relative to our Recovery Criteria--Finally, as 
noted above, the recovery criteria requires the NRM DPS to function as 
a metapopulation (a population that exists as partially isolated sets 
of subpopulations) with genetic exchange between subpopulations. The 
available data conclusively demonstrate that this portion of the 
recovery criteria (i.e., ``genetic exchange'') is met. Specifically, 
vonHoldt et al. (2010, p. 4412) demonstrated 5.4 effective migrants per 
generation among the subpopulations from 1995 through 2004 when the NRM 
region contained between 101 and 846 wolves. Dispersal data of radio-
collared wolves also demonstrates genetic exchange satisfying this 
criteria (Boyd and Pletscher 1999, pp. 1105-1106; Jimenez et al. In 
review, entire). This issue is discussed further in Factor E below.
    Conclusion on Progress Towards our Recovery Goals--Given the above, 
the best scientific and commercial information available demonstrates 
that all prongs of the recovery criteria are met. The numeric and 
distributional components of the overarching recovery goal have been 
exceeded for 12 consecutive years, while the temporal portion of the 
recovery criterion has been met for 10 consecutive years. Furthermore, 
Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming have each individually met or exceeded the 
minimum per-State recovery targets every year since at least 2002 and 
met or exceeded the minimum management targets every year since at 
least 2004. It is also worth noting that each of the recovery areas 
(which were originally used to measure progress towards recovery) have 
been documented at or above 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves 
every year since 2005 (and probably exceeded these levels every year 
since 2002) (Service et al. 2012, Table 4). Finally, the available 
evidence demonstrates that the NRM gray wolf population is functioning 
as a metapopulation with gene flow between subpopulations. Thus, we 
conclude that the population has recovered.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    On October 5, 2011, we opened a 100-day comment period in which 
interested parties could submit comments or information on the proposal 
(76 FR 61782). This proposal relied heavily on Wyoming's wolf 
management plan and noted that conforming changes to State law and 
regulations would be required to allow Wyoming's plan to be implemented 
as written. Wyoming modified its State statutes and implementing 
regulations and amended its wolf management plan in early 2012. On May 
1, 2012, we reopened the comment period for 15 days so the public could 
comment on the proposal in light of these new or revised management 
documents (77 FR 25664, May 1, 2012).
    In total, the comment period was open from October 5, 2011, through 
January 13, 2012, and from May 1, 2012, through May 16, 2012 (76 FR 
61782, October 5, 2011; 77 FR 25664, May 1, 2012). We also held a 
public hearing and an open house on the proposal on November 15, 2011, 
in Riverton, Wyoming (76 FR 61782, October 5, 2011). Collectively, 
during the 115-day comment period, we received approximately 250,000 
comments. Comments were submitted by a wide array of parties, including 
the general public, environmental organizations, groups representing 
outdoor recreational interests, agricultural organizations, and 
Federal, State, and local governments.
    In accordance with our Interagency Policy for Peer Review in 
Endangered Species Act Activities (59 FR 34270, July 1, 1994), the 
proposed rule underwent peer review. Specifically, we contracted with 
an independent consultant to assemble a scientific peer review to 
review the proposed rule and its supporting information, including the 
Wyoming wolf management plan. This report was delivered to the Service 
and posted online for public review and comment in late 2011. While the 
peer review report was largely supportive of the scientific basis, 
analysis, and conclusions of the delisting proposal, the peer review 
report made a number of suggestions including recommending Wyoming 
further clarify how it intends to meet its management objectives in the 
face of multiple human-caused mortality factors. Following revision to 
the State law, regulations and management plan, we reopened the comment 
period. Accordingly, the independent expert peer reviewers were 
provided an opportunity to revise or supplement their review during the 
reopened comment period.
    We reviewed and considered all comments in this final decision. 
Substantive comments received during the comment periods and new 
information have been addressed below or incorporated directly into 
this final rule. Comments of a similar nature are grouped together 
under subject headings in a series of ``Issues'' and ``Responses.''

Technical and Editorial Comments

    Issue 1: Numerous technical and editorial comments and corrections 
were provided by respondents on various parts of the proposal. Several 
peer reviewers and others suggested or provided additional literature 
to consider in the final rule.
    Response 1: We corrected and updated this final rule wherever 
appropriate and possible. We considered scientific publications and 
other literature recommended by peer reviewers and others. This 
information was incorporated, as appropriate, into this final rule.

[[Page 55544]]

    Issue 2: Some comments noted that the population estimates provided 
would be more accurately described as minimum population estimates 
because the method of only counting confirmed wolves underestimates the 
wolf population. A few comments noted that more wolves exist in Wyoming 
than show up on our description of abundance and illustrations of 
distribution (i.e., Figures 1 and 2 in the proposed rule (76 FR 61872, 
October 5, 2011)). Similarly, the peer reviewers suggested that, while 
these data are indicative of trends, they should not be used to 
characterize or quantify small year-to-year changes in the population. 
One peer reviewer recommended that Wyoming's monitoring protocols 
incorporate detection probabilities into its methodology. Other 
comments questioned the methods used to estimate population levels 
(particularly in Montana and Idaho) and suggested the resulting 
estimates were flawed. A few comments suggested our population 
estimates in Montana and Idaho were likely too optimistic given the 
ongoing hunts. Some comments suggested erroneous population estimates 
undermined the legitimacy of hunting quotas.
    Response 2: We agree that end-of-year population estimates should 
be referred to as population minimums as we only count confirmed 
wolves, packs, and reproduction. Furthermore, we recognize that while 
our population data are a reasonably good indicator of relative changes 
and general trends over time, they should not be used to indicate exact 
year-to-year changes. We have modified our discussion of population 
estimates and changes over time throughout the rule to reflect these 
facts. Similarly, our illustration of wolf packs and their home range 
only illustrates confirmed packs and their home range if known. Thus, 
should any undocumented packs or lone wolves exist, they would not be 
illustrated in Figures 1 and 2. Additionally, because the population is 
measured in mid-winter when the wolf population is near its annual low 
point (note the absolute low point occurs in April just before spring 
litters are born), the average annual wolf population will be higher 
than these minimal estimates. Although there have been some criticisms 
of the methods Montana and Idaho employ to estimate minimum wolf 
abundance, distribution, and trends, we have the utmost confidence 
these numbers are reliable and, if anything, underestimate actual 
abundance and distribution at the end of the year. The monitoring 
methods for each State are further described below.
    Montana wolf packs are monitored year round. Common wolf monitoring 
techniques include direct observational counts, howling and track 
surveys, use of trail cameras, and public wolf reports. Montana Fish, 
Wildlife, and Parks seeks to document pack size and breeding pair 
status of known packs, to verify wolf activity in new areas that can 
result in new packs forming, to document dispersal to the extent 
possible and assess connectivity, to determine pack territories, and to 
identify potentially affected private landowners and livestock 
producers. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks conducts ground tracking 
and aerial telemetry 1 to 2 times per month to locate radio-collared 
animals, determine localized use throughout the year, and document the 
number of wolves traveling together. Den and rendezvous sites are 
visited to document reproduction. Additional information is collected, 
such as identification of private lands used by wolves, identification 
of public land grazing allotments where conflicts could occur, and 
common travel patterns. Monthly or semimonthly telemetry flights 
throughout summer and fall keep track of wolf numbers and status.
    At the end of the year, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks compiles 
information gathered through field surveys, telemetry, and public 
reporting to estimate the minimum number of wolves in each pack, lone 
dispersing animals, and successful breeding pairs (an adult male and a 
female wolf that have produced at least two pups that survived until 
December 31). The total number of packs is determined by counting the 
number of packs with two or more individual animals that existed on the 
Montana landscape on December 31. If a pack was removed because of 
livestock conflicts or otherwise did not exist at the end of the 
calendar year (e.g. as the result of disease, natural/illegal 
mortality, or dispersal), it is not included in the year-end total or 
displayed on the Montana wolf pack distribution map for that calendar 
year. The statewide minimum wolf population is estimated by adding up 
the number of observed wolves in verified packs and known lone animals 
as of December 31 each year. This is a minimum count and has been 
reported as such since wolves first began recolonizing northwest 
Montana in the mid-1980s. Suspected wolf packs are those that could not 
be verified with confidence. They are not included in the final minimum 
estimated count. Suspected packs may or may not persist. This 
information is used to make decisions to address wolf-livestock 
conflicts, to set wolf hunting and trapping regulations, and to set 
harvest quotas. We conclude that Montana's monitoring methods and 
resulting minimum population estimates is more than adequate to inform 
wolf management decisions, and as a reliable indicator of the 
population's recovered status.
    The Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Nez Perce Tribe use 
wolf observation reports from agencies and the public to locate areas 
of suspected wolf activity and verify wolf presence. Field crews may 
decide to capture and radio-collar wolves. Radio-collared wolves are 
then located from the air one or more times per month dependent on a 
host of factors including funding, personnel, aircraft availability, 
weather, and other priorities. At the end of the year, they then 
compile agency-confirmed wolf observations to estimate the minimum 
number and location of adult wolves and pups that were likely alive on 
December 31 of that year. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the 
Nez Perce Tribe estimate minimum wolf numbers, distribution, and 
breeding success by radio-collaring selected packs from representative 
areas across the State. Wolves are captured through foothold trapping 
in summer or helicopter darting in winter, and monitored one or more 
times per month via aerial telemetry. In addition, in recent years 
Idaho has been placing 20 or more GPS collars on wolves each year; 
these collars record locations and mortality status several times per 
day. Pack size and movements are monitored throughout the summer and 
fall via telemetry. Potential dens and rendezvous sites are identified 
through telemetry flights (2+ locations in the same area) during summer 
months (May-September) or ground telemetry and ground searches. Once 
identified, biologists investigate on the ground to confirm 
reproduction and count pups.
    In winter (December-January), the Idaho Department of Fish and Game 
and the Nez Perce Tribe increase flight frequencies to twice monthly to 
obtain pack counts and document breeding pairs. If four or more wolves 
are counted and reproduction was confirmed in summer, the pack is 
confirmed as a successful breeding pair unless additional information 
suggests otherwise (e.g., documented mortality that reduced pack size 
below two adults and two pups). To estimate state-wide minimum 
population numbers, the number of wolves detected in documented packs 
with complete counts is added to an estimate of wolves in documented 
packs without complete

[[Page 55545]]

counts, plus the number of wolves documented in wolf groups that do not 
qualify as a pack, and adjusted for lone wolves. We conclude that the 
monitoring methods employed in Idaho and resulting minimum population 
estimates are more than adequate to inform wolf management decisions 
and are a reliable indicator of the population's recovered status.
    In Wyoming, the WGFD will continue to implement existing protocols 
and techniques employed by the Service and YNP, which have provided 
adequate documentation of wolf population status, to determine whether 
the recovery criteria have been met (WGFC 2011, p. 19). These 
methodologies are further described in the ``Post-Delisting 
Monitoring'' section of the rule below and the ``Population 
Monitoring'' section of the Wyoming Wolf Management Plan (WGFC 2011, 
pp. 17-21).
    The above techniques have proven a reliable indicator of 
distribution, abundance, and trends, are more than adequate to inform 
wolf management decisions, and are a reliable indicator of the 
population's recovered status. That said, we fully recognize and 
anticipate that monitoring techniques may change through time as new 
knowledge becomes available and as the parties responsible for 
monitoring gain additional experience at wolf management and 
conservation. For example, we anticipate parties responsible for 
monitoring may use other survey methods and data that are biologically 
equivalent to the breeding pair definition. Similarly, new techniques 
may allow for incorporation of a detection probability as part of the 
abundance estimation protocol.

The Delisting Process and Compliance With Applicable Laws, Regulations, 
and Policy

    Issue 3: A few comments requested that we provide additional 
opportunities for public comment by holding additional public hearings 
or extending the public comment period. Some comments objected to the 
proposed delisting rule's reliance on Wyoming's wolf management plan 
when Wyoming laws and regulations, which trump the management plan, had 
not yet been revised. These comments suggested we must reopen the 
comment period on the proposal once these revised documents were 
finalized.
    Response 3: We provided ample opportunity for public comment on our 
proposed rule. This included an initial 100-day public comment period, 
an informational meeting and public hearing, and an additional 15-day 
public comment period starting May 1, 2012 (76 FR 61782, October 5, 
2011; 77 FR 25664, May 1, 2012). All opportunities to comment were 
announced in the Federal Register, posted on our Web site and in our 
monthly wolf reports, and publicized in local and national press 
releases. An informational meeting and a public hearing were both held 
in Riverton, Wyoming, on November 15, 2011 (76 FR 61782, October 5, 
2011). Riverton was selected because of its central location and 
proximity to the portions of Wyoming most affected by decisions on wolf 
management. Given the fact that we satisfied section 4(b)(5)(E)'s 
statutory requirement for public hearings on this rule, the limited 
interest the Riverton hearing garnered (only 10 individuals offered 
formal testimony at the hearing), and the substantial expense related 
to conducting public hearings, we declined requests for additional 
public hearings (Thabault 2011). Furthermore, we reopened the comment 
period to ensure the public had an opportunity to review and comment on 
the proposal in light of Wyoming's final regulatory documents, 
including revised State statutes, revised gray wolf management 
regulations (chapter 21), new gray wolf hunting season regulations 
(chapter 47), and an Addendum to the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan 
(77 FR 25664, May 1, 2012). Collectively, the opportunities provided 
for public comment ensured all members of the public, including peer 
reviewers, had sufficient time to review and comment on the proposal in 
light of all relevant materials. All comments, whether presented at a 
public hearing or provided in another manner, received the same review 
and consideration. Approximately 250,000 comments were received during 
the public comment periods. This significant effort satisfies our 
statutory responsibility.
    Issue 4: Several commenters observed that Wyoming was not a DPS, 
and suggested that it was a violation of the Act to attempt to delist 
the Wyoming wolf population alone because the Act precludes listing and 
delisting entities smaller than DPSs. Specifically, these comments 
suggested that our analysis of threats improperly focused on the 
Wyoming wolf population, when we should have considered threats to the 
entire NRM DPS. Some comments further specified that Congress's recent 
directive to reissue our 2009 delisting rule, which delisted the NRM 
DPS except Wyoming, did not grant us the authority to address Wyoming 
separately. These comments went on to suggest that it would be unlawful 
to delist wolves in Wyoming if wolves were endangered by any of the 
five factors in any portion of the NRM DPS at the time of this final 
rule. These comments went on to assert that wolves in Montana and Idaho 
were endangered by a variety of factors, most notably inadequate 
regulation of human-caused mortality affecting both population size and 
genetic exchange. Idaho's suspension of its 2008-2012 step-down wolf 
management plan and Montana's and Idaho's hunting seasons were most 
often mentioned as changes in management threatening the NRM DPS. These 
comments suggested that all States in the NRM DPS needed to develop 
enforceable mechanisms to maintain the population's recovered status 
before delisting in Wyoming could move forward.
    Response 4: The approach taken in this final rule is appropriate 
given the Congressional directive to reissue our 2009 delisting, which 
created a remnant piece of the NRM DPS. This approach is also 
consistent with our 2009 delisting determination which stated that ``if 
Wyoming were to develop a Service-approved regulatory framework it 
would be delisted in a separate rule'' (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009, p. 
15155). While this rulemaking focuses on Wyoming because it is the only 
portion of the NRM DPS that remains listed, we consider other portions 
of the NRM DPS as appropriate. Thus, the conclusions of the previous 
delisting and the information supporting this determination are 
incorporated by reference. This information is updated, where 
necessary, to consider new developments (e.g., Idaho's suspension of 
its 2008-2012 step-down wolf management plan and Montana's and Idaho's 
hunting seasons).
    Overall, the best scientific and commercial information available 
overwhelmingly indicates wolves are recovered in Wyoming, the GYA, and 
throughout the NRM DPS. We strongly disagree with the assertion that 
wolves in Montana and Idaho are endangered or threatened by inadequate 
regulation of human-caused mortality or any other factor (singularly or 
in combination). Similarly, we reject that threats in these areas 
endanger wolves in Wyoming, the GYA or the NRM DPS. Despite changes in 
guiding management documents, both Idaho and Montana remain committed 
to maintaining a healthy wolf population well above minimum recovery 
levels (also see response on the adequacy of the recovery goals below) 
(Idaho Legislative Wolf Oversight Committee 2002, pp. 4-5, 18-19; Idaho 
Fish and Game Commission 2011, pp. 1, 7; Idaho Fish and Game Commission

[[Page 55546]]

2012, pp. 8-9; Montana Wolf Management Advisory Council 2003, pp. i,1; 
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks 2012b, pp. 2-3, 8-9, 13-15, 22). State 
management of this recovered population in Montana and Idaho since 
delisting has been consistent with our expectations and does not place 
the population at a meaningful risk of extinction now or within the 
foreseeable future (Cooley 2011; Jimenez 2012b). In fact, the minimum 
population estimate for the NRM DPS was greater at the end of 2011 than 
at the end of 2010 (Service 2012, Tables 4a and 4b). This information 
validates our determination that State-regulated hunting and trapping 
has been and will continue to be conducted in a responsible manner (74 
FR 15123, April 2, 2009). While we expect population decreases will 
occur, these reductions will be carefully managed to maintain a 
recovered gray wolf population throughout the northern Rocky Mountains. 
In consideration of all threats including those evaluated in our 2009 
delisting rule and all new information available since this rule was 
published, we conclude that the NRM DPS continues to face an extremely 
low risk of extinction within the foreseeable future, does not meet the 
definition of threatened or endangered, and therefore, does not warrant 
listing under the Act.
    Nevertheless, this rulemaking is separate and independent from, but 
additive to, the previous action delisting wolves in the NRM DPS. 
Wolves in the NRM DPS outside of Wyoming are not protected under the 
Act; therefore, there is no regulatory need to determine whether the 
Act's protections should be removed for these wolves. Thus, this rule 
in no way reopens the status of wolves within the NRM DPS and outside 
of Wyoming. While we continue to monitor the status of wolves in 
accordance with the post-delisting monitoring plans discussed in the 
delisting rule, such a reopening of the wider NRM DPSs status also 
would be inconsistent with the Congressional direction to proceed with 
that delisting action. This rule does not affect the status of gray 
wolves in other states within the NRM DPS or the legal protections 
provided under state laws.
    Since our previous delisting action, the State of Wyoming has 
addressed the only reason that wolves in Wyoming warranted continued 
listing under the Act--the adequacy of the State's regulatory measures. 
By delisting the Wyoming wolf population after wolves in the larger NRM 
DPS were delisted, we are doing exactly what we said we would do in our 
previous delisting rule. In our 2009 rule publication, the Service said 
that ``if Wyoming were to develop a Service-approved regulatory 
framework it would be delisted in a separate rule'' (74 FR 15123, April 
2, 2009, p. 15155). This was also referenced in our proposed rule (76 
FR 61782, Oct. 5, 2011, p. 61783). The Service is now doing just that--
delisting Wyoming wolves in a separate rule following its approval of 
Wyoming's management framework.
    Issue 5: Several comments suggested that we should prepare an 
Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant 
to the National Environmental Policy Act.
    Response 5: As a regulation adopted under section 4(a) of the Act, 
this delisting rule is exempt from National Environmental Policy Act 
procedures. The Service's decision that the National Environmental 
Policy Act does not apply in making 4(a) determinations is based on the 
reasoning in Pacific Legal Foundation v. Andrus, 657 F.2d 829 (6th Cir. 
1981). In this case, the court determined that a National Environmental 
Policy Act document cannot serve the purposes of the Act, because the 
Secretary must make listing decisions based only on the five factors 
set forth in section 4(a) of the Act. The Secretary lacks the 
discretion to consider environmental impacts beyond those encompassed 
by the five factors and may use only the best scientific and commercial 
data in assessing the five factors. Following the Pacific Legal 
Foundation ruling and upon the recommendation of the Council on 
Environmental Quality, the Service officially determined that National 
Environmental Policy Act documents are not required for regulations 
adopted pursuant to section 4(a) of the Act. A notice outlining the 
Service's reasons for this determination was published in the Federal 
Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244). Here, the delisting 
decision is based on the same five factors used in making listing 
determinations under section 4(a).
    Issue 6: A few comments indicated we must consider the direct and 
indirect impacts of this decision on other threatened and endangered 
species. One comment indicated that delisting could result in wolf 
trapping (as is occurring in Idaho and now being planned in Montana), 
which could affect Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) or wolverine (Gulo 
gulo). Another comment suggested an unchecked ungulate population would 
graze on and decimate the Colorado butterfly plant (Gaura neomexicana 
var. coloradensis). Similarly, one comment suggested cascading 
ecological effects would be hindered by State efforts to reduce the 
wolf population, which in turn would affect water quality for the 
downstream Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius) and the Razorback 
sucker (Xyrauchen texanus).
    Response 6: The Act requires that we base listing and delisting 
decisions solely on the best available information concerning the 
status of and threats to the subject species and does not give us 
discretion to alter listing and delisting decisions because of possible 
impacts to other species. Moreover, other distinct statutory provisions 
address the potential effects of the States' management actions on 
listed species, such as the Act's prohibitions against ``take'' of 
listed wildlife species or the requirement of Federal agencies to 
ensure their actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of listed species or destroy or adversely modify a listed 
species' critical habitat.
    Nevertheless, we conclude that this decision will not negatively 
affect other threatened or endangered species. While one comment 
mentioned trapping and its potential to affect other regional 
carnivores like Canada lynx (listed as threatened) and wolverine (a 
candidate for listing), Wyoming has not proposed a trapping season and 
has no plans to pursue a trapping season within the Trophy Area 
(Bruscino 2011b). If such a season is considered in the future, it 
would be regulated by the WGFD and the WGFC and would be limited as 
such mortality would further limit Wyoming's hunt quotas, which are 
already expected to be modest once desired population reductions are 
achieved. Moreover, the State must comply with applicable laws in 
performing any trapping actions: if any potential incidental take of 
listed species were to occur in connection with trapping, the State 
must comply with the Act's prohibition against ``take'' or obtain an 
incidental take permit through the permitting provisions of section 10.
    Furthermore, the other listed species mentioned by the commenter 
(Colorado butterfly plant, Colorado pikeminnow, and razorback sucker) 
occur far from occupied wolf range. For example, Colorado butterfly 
plant occurs in southeastern Wyoming and north-central Colorado. 
Similarly, neither the Colorado pikeminnow nor the razorback sucker 
occurs above Flaming Gorge in Wyoming's share of the Green River. Thus, 
any theoretical cascading ecological effects caused by the wolf 
delisting (e.g., increased herbivory and impacts to water quality) 
would be extremely unlikely to affect these species.

[[Page 55547]]

Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) Gray Wolf Recovery Goals

    Issue 7: Some comments expressed confusion about our minimum 
recovery criteria and the minimum management targets.
    Response 7: The Service's current recovery goal for the NRM gray 
wolf population is 30 or more breeding pairs (an adult male and an 
adult female that raise at least two pups until December 31) comprising 
300+ wolves in a metapopulation (a population that exists as partially 
isolated sets of subpopulations) with genetic exchange between 
subpopulations (Service 1994; Fritts and Carbyn 1995). Within this 
overall goal, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming are each responsible for 
maintaining at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves in mid-
winter. To provide that these minimums are not compromised, we required 
Montana and Idaho to each manage for a safety margin of at least 15 
breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves in mid-winter. In Wyoming, we 
agreed that the State could manage for a population floor of at least 
10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves outside YNP and the Wind 
River Indian Reservation in mid-winter, and allow YNP and the Wind 
River Indian Reservation to provide the remainder of the buffer above 
the minimum recovery goal. In order to meet these goals and allow for 
continued management flexibility, all three States intend to manage for 
a population comfortably above their minimum management targets.
    Issue 8: Numerous comments questioned the adequacy of the NRM DPS's 
recovery goals referring to them in such terms as ``outdated'' and 
``unscientific.'' These comments further suggested that delisting based 
on these goals violated the Act's requirement to rely on the best 
available science. Some of these comments offered their own assessment 
of what constitutes an acceptable recovery goal (ranges from around 
current population levels to 6,000 wolves were most frequently 
mentioned). Others suggested smaller localized population levels were 
acceptable within a larger, connected metapopulation structure. Some 
comments questioned the adequacy of the NRM DPS's recovery goals by 
noting that these goals are lower than the Western Great Lakes 
population when it was listed, lower than the Western Great Lakes 
recovery goals, and lower than Western Great Lakes potential status 
review triggers. Some comments opined that the population meets the 
International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) standard 
for a ``vulnerable'' species and, therefore, concluded our recovery 
criteria are inadequate and that the population is still endangered.
    Response 8: Our recovery and post-delisting management goals were 
designed to provide for the long term conservation of the NRM gray wolf 
population by ensuring sufficient representation, resilience, and 
redundancy. As we described earlier in this final rule, we have 
expended considerable effort to develop, repeatedly reevaluate, and, 
when necessary, modify, these recovery goals (Service 1980; Service 
1987; Service 1994, appendix 8 and 9; Fritts and Carbyn 1995; Bangs 
2002, entire).
    The Service contracted for an independent peer review of our 
proposed delisting and four of the five reviewers concurred with our 
determination that the Wyoming wolf population, whose management is to 
be driven by the recovery goals, would continue to be a viable 
population after delisting (Atkins 2011, pp. 6, 10; Atkins 2012, p. 3). 
The dissenting reviewer's primary issue was not with the recovery 
criteria, but rather with Wyoming's management structure and whether 
the recovery criteria would be met (an issue discussed elsewhere in 
this rule). Those reviewers who specifically addressed the recovery 
criteria were unanimously supportive of the criteria (Atkins 2011, 
appendix B). For example, Dr. Scott Mills stated that the thresholds 
for delisting are consistent with current state-of-the-art viability 
analysis science and are an appropriate standard for delisting (Atkins 
2011, p. 60). Similarly, Dr. David Mech concluded the recovery criteria 
still seem adequate (Atkins 2011, p. 73). None of the reviews provided 
by the independent peer reviewers challenged the adequacy of the 
recovery criteria (Atkins 2011, appendix B).
    Although numerous comments offered alternative recovery goals, we 
do not find the information presented to be persuasive, and do not feel 
revision to the recovery goals is warranted at this time. Most of these 
comments indicated a need for an effective population of at least 500 
breeding individuals long term and a total population of ~1,500 to 
6,000 individuals long term either within the NRM DPS or the western 
United States. However, these comments were based upon minimum viable 
population theories and models that assume an isolated population. This 
underlying premise is inappropriate within the NRM region, because NRM 
wolves are not isolated and are instead genetically connected to vast 
wolf populations north of the United States-Canadian border.
    Specifically, the NRM DPS represents a 650-km (400-mi) southern 
range extension of a vast contiguous wolf population that numbers over 
12,000 wolves in western Canada and about 65,000 wolves across all of 
Canada and Alaska (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in 
Canada 2001, pp. iii, v-vi, 13, 21-22, 30-32, 38, 42, 44-46; Boitani 
2003, p. 322). This connectivity is demonstrated by the fact that 
recovery in the NRM DPS began when wolves from Canada naturally 
dispersed into the northwestern Montana recovery area and recolonized 
this area (Ream et al. 1989; Boyd et al. 1995; Pletscher et al. 1997; 
Boyd and Pletscher 1999). Routine dispersal of wolves has been 
documented among NRM wolves and adjacent Canadian populations since 
then demonstrating that wolves in these areas are demographically and 
genetically linked (Pletscher et al. 1991, pp. 547-548; Boyd and 
Pletscher 1999, pp. 1105-1106; Sime 2007; vonHoldt et al. 2010, p. 
4412; Jimenez et al. In review, entire). Connectivity to the GYA is 
discussed in more detail below, but is also sufficient to demonstrate 
and maintain the region's metapopulation structure.
    Taking into account connectivity to adjoining Canadian populations, 
the effective population targets mentioned above have been greatly 
exceeded. While some contend that these effective population targets 
should be achieved strictly within the NRM DPS or the western United 
States, we conclude that it is biologically appropriate to consider the 
contribution of these connected wolf populations to the NRM DPS's long 
term viability. Connectivity to Canadian wolf populations has long been 
a central consideration in developing, revising, and validating our 
recovery goals (Service 1994, pp. 41-42 of appendix 9; Bangs 2002, p. 
3).
    Furthermore, model predictions should be used cautiously due to the 
poor quality of data used in most models, inaccuracies in estimating 
changes in demographic rates, and insufficient dispersal data 
(Beissinger and Westphal 1998, p. 821). To estimate a minimum viable 
population accurately, a population viability analysis must be able to 
overcome the likelihood that measures of potential threats to 
persistence are likely to be imprecise (Soule 1987, pp. 1-10; Boyce 
1992, 1993). Reed et al. (2002, p. 7) also cautioned that model 
structure and data quality can affect the validity of population 
viability analysis models, and that population viability analysis 
should not be used to determine

[[Page 55548]]

minimum viable population or to estimate specific probability of 
extinction. Population viability analysis could more appropriately be 
used to analyze relative rates of extinction (Beissinger and Westphal 
1998, p. 821) or how population growth and persistence may be affected 
by management actions (Reed et al. 2002, p. 7). Therefore, the 
available modeling data do not persuade us that the recovery criteria 
we are using are incorrect.
    Some comments asserted that the NRM gray wolf recovery goals are 
inadequate because they are lower than population levels in the Western 
Great Lakes when that population was listed (32 FR 4001, March 11, 
1967; 43 FR 9607, March 9, 1978). We do not find such arguments 
persuasive because listing decisions are not based on abundance and are 
instead based on extinction risk informed by threats and population 
trajectory. For example, although whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) 
likely numbers in the millions, the Service recently found this species 
to be warranted for listing due to the severe threats it faces and its 
resulting population trajectory (76 FR 42631, July 19, 2011). 
Similarly, the decisions in 1978 to list wolves in the Great Lakes as 
endangered and to reclassify the Minnesota population as threatened 
were based on ongoing threats, population trends, and the desire for 
additional population redundancy (Service 1978, pp. 7, 8, 10; 43 FR 
9607, March 9, 1978). Neither decision cited the overall population 
level as an important factor to justify the threatened or endangered 
determination. Therefore, we do not agree with the assertion that 
Western Great Lakes wolf population levels at the time of listing as 
endangered or threatened provide any evidence that our recovery 
criteria for wolves within the NRM are too low.
    Similarly, some comments opined the NRM gray wolf recovery goals 
are inadequate because they are lower than the Western Great Lakes 
population's recovery goals. Again, we do not find this argument 
compelling. The Western Great Lakes recovery plan indicated recovery 
would be achieved when: (1) The survival of the wolf in Minnesota is 
assured, and (2) at least one viable population (as defined below) of 
eastern timber wolves outside Minnesota and Isle Royale in the 
contiguous 48 States is reestablished. The recovery plan did not 
establish a specific numerical criterion for the Minnesota wolf 
population. While the plan did identify a goal ``for planning purposes 
only'' of 1,251-1,400 wolves for the Minnesota population (Service 
1992, p. 28), the plan explicitly states that the region's total goals 
``exceed what is required for recovery and delisting of the eastern 
timber wolf'' (Service 1992, p. 27). This planning goal was driven not 
by minimum estimates of viability, but instead by: Existing populations 
of 1,550 to 1,750 wolves in Minnesota (Service 1992, p. 4); the plan's 
objective to maintain existing populations (Service 1992, p. 24); and 
existing planning goals by other land managers within Minnesota 
(Service 1992, p. 27). However, population viability and sustainability 
are explicitly discussed in the plan. The plan states a ``viable 
population'' includes either: (1) An isolated, self-sustaining 
population of 200 wolves for 5 successive years; or (2) a self-
sustaining population of 100 wolves within 100 miles of [the other] 
Western Great Lakes population (Service 1992, pp. 4, 25-26). 
Furthermore, the plan stated that ``a healthy, self-sustaining wolf 
population should include at least 100 interbreeding wolves * * * 
[which would] maintain an acceptable level of genetic diversity'' 
(Service 1992, p. 26). Based on the above, we find there is no basis 
for concluding that the NRM and Western Great Lakes recovery goals are 
somehow contradictory. Instead, we find that the recovery criteria for 
the NRM and Western Great Lakes populations are similar in regards to 
the minimum number of wolves needed to maintain a viable population, 
their reliance on multiple, adjoining connected populations, and the 
relative proximity between subpopulations.
    Furthermore, some comments asserted that our recovery goals and our 
relisting criteria are inadequate because they are lower than the 
status review triggers for Western Great Lakes wolves. However, the 
Western Great Lakes status review triggers were selected, not because 
they are indicative of population viability (again, the plan's 
conclusion regarding viability is discussed above), but rather because 
they would represent significant declines, which could be evidence of a 
serious problem (Service 2008, pp. 10-11; Ragan 2012). Given the above, 
we do not find persuasive the assertion that our recovery goals or our 
status review triggers are too low because they are lower than other 
wolf population's triggers for relisting consideration. To the extent 
that these comments advocate for a more responsive status review 
trigger in the NRMs, we offer our strongest assurance that we will 
consider relisting if we ever obtain sufficient evidence that the 
species may meet the definition of threatened or endangered and, as 
required by section 4(g)(2) of the Act, we will make prompt use of the 
Act's emergency listing provisions if necessary to prevent a 
significant risk to the well-being of the population.
    Finally, we find unfounded the assertions that the standards of the 
IUCN indicate that the NRM population currently meets the IUCN's 
``vulnerable'' standard or that IUCN standards indicate our recovery 
criteria are inadequate. First, the IUCN assessed the gray wolf's 
status in 2010 and determined the species fell into the ``species of 
least concern'' category (Mech & Boitani 2010, p. 1). While such 
assessments routinely provide localized status determinations, no such 
determination was bestowed upon wolves in the NRM region. Furthermore, 
following receipt of this comment, we contacted Dr. Mech, who led the 
team that performed IUCN's 2010 North American gray wolf assessment. 
Dr. Mech disagreed with the assertion that the NRM population satisfies 
IUCN's ``vulnerable'' standard (Mech 2012). Dr. Mech went on to 
indicate that any application of the IUCN's standards to the NRM DPS 
was inappropriate without considering the large, adjoining, and 
connected Canadian wolf populations, and that if such populations were 
included in the assessment, the NRM region's wolf population would fall 
into the ``species of least concern'' category (Mech 2012). Given the 
available information, we conclude that the IUCN standards do not 
indicate that our recovery criteria warrant revision.
    After evaluating all available information, we conclude that the 
best scientific and commercial information available continues to 
support the ability of these recovery goals to provide that the 
population does not again become in danger of extinction.

The Geographic Scope of Recovery and the Impact of This Decision on 
Range

    Issue 9: Some comments suggested we should have pursued a single 
lower-48-State recovery plan instead of regional recovery plans in the 
NRMs, the Western Great Lakes, and the Southwest. These comments 
suggested our approach to recovery planning focused only on easy to 
recover areas and improperly wrote off more difficult to recover 
regions. A few comments suggested our recovery plans were inadequate 
because they did not cover or include specific criteria for 
``significant wolf habitat'' (e.g., Colorado). Some comments suggested 
we should reintroduce wolves across

[[Page 55549]]

numerous regions of the country to reestablish them across their 
historical range. Suggested areas for reintroduction included 
potentially suitable habitat like the southern Rockies, the Pacific 
Northwest, the Sierra Nevadas, and New England, as well as unsuitable 
habitat like Central Park in New York City. Other comments supported 
the national delisting of wolves. A number of comments suggested wolves 
should not have been listed or recovered anywhere in the lower 48 
States, because the species (Canis lupus) is abundant in Canada, 
Alaska, and across Eurasia and the reintroduced population's subspecies 
(Canis lupus occidentalis) is abundant across western Canada and into 
Alaska.
    Response 9: Possible future wolf recovery efforts, particularly any 
additional efforts outside of the NRM DPS, are beyond the scope of this 
rulemaking because such actions are not part of this listing (NRM DPS) 
and not necessary to provide for a NRM DPS that is neither endangered 
nor threatened throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
    Nevertheless, we will clarify our position on these issues. Gray 
wolves were originally listed as subspecies or as regional populations 
of subspecies in the coterminous United States and Mexico, including 
populations in the Western Great Lakes region, the NRM region, and the 
Southwest (32 FR 4001, March 11, 1967; 38 FR 14678, June 4, 1973; 39 FR 
1171, January 4, 1974; 41 FR 17740, April 28, 1976; 41 FR 24064, June 
14, 1976). When the science began to cast doubt on the validity of the 
subspecific taxonomy, we reclassified these listings into a single unit 
of the species (43 FR 9607, March 9, 1978). This approach was 
undertaken to ``most conveniently'' handle this listing, and was not 
intended to signal an intention to pursue recovery across the entire 
lower 48 States (43 FR 9607, March 9, 1978). In fact, the 1978 
reclassification stated that ``biological subspecies would continue to 
be maintained and dealt with as separate entities'' (43 FR 9607, March 
9, 1978). Accordingly, regional recovery plans were developed and 
implemented in the Western Great Lakes in 1978 (revised in 1992) 
(Service 1978, entire; Service 1992, entire), the NRM region in 1980 
(revised in 1987) (Service 1980, entire; Service 1987, entire), and the 
Southwest in 1982 (this plan is currently being revised) (Service 
1982a, entire). This approach was an appropriate use of our discretion 
to determine how best to proceed with recovery actions. These recovery 
efforts covered all gray wolf populations confirmed in the lower 48 
States since passage of the Act, and either have worked, or are 
working, to conserve all of the genetic diversity remaining in wolves 
south of Canada after their widespread extirpation (Leonard et al. 
2004, entire). Although we have satisfied our recovery planning and 
implementation responsibilities, and any additional recovery planning 
and implementation (beyond that already underway) would be 
discretionary, this issue is being evaluated further by the Service on 
a larger, national scale and will likely be addressed in a separate 
action in the future.
    Similarly, the Act does not require us to restore wolves to a 
majority of their U.S. historical range or to a majority of the 
available suitable habitat. Instead, the Act requires that we work to 
recover species to levels that no longer meet the definition of 
threatened or endangered. For some species, this level may require 
range expansion, but the amount of expansion is driven by a species' 
biological needs affecting viability and sustainability, and not by an 
arbitrary percent of a species' historical range or suitable habitat. 
Many other species may be recovered in portions of their historical 
range by removing or addressing the threats to their continued 
existence. Other species may be recovered by a combination of range 
expansion and threats reduction. There is no set formula on how 
recovery must be achieved. Within the NRM DPS, each of the States and 
each of the recovery areas meaningfully contributes to the population's 
viability by providing resiliency, redundancy, and representation 
(these terms are described further later in this rule; see also Shaffer 
and Stein 2000, entire). Across the lower 48 States, 2 other wolf 
populations (Western Great Lakes DPS and Mexican wolf) provide 
additional resiliency, redundancy, and representation (Shaffer and 
Stein 2000, entire). To the extent that additional restoration beyond 
that required by the Act is desired by some members of the public, we 
recommend working with State or Tribal wildlife agencies and other land 
managers to achieve these objectives.
    Conversely, we do not agree with comments that the gray wolf should 
not have been listed because of its abundance outside of the lower 48 
States. When Congress created the Act, it sought to provide for ``the 
possibility of declaring a species endangered within the United States 
where its principal range is in another country, such as Canada or 
Mexico, and members of that species are only found in this country 
insofar as they exist on the periphery of their range'' (H.R. Rep. No. 
93-412, at 10 (1973)). Moreover, in authorizing the listing of DPSs 
under the Act, Congress recognized ``that there may be instances in 
which the Service should provide for different levels of protection for 
populations of the same species. For instance, the U.S. population of 
an animal should not necessarily be permitted to become extinct simply 
because the animal is more abundant elsewhere in the world'' (S. Rep. 
No. 96-151, 96th Cong., 1st Sess. (1979), reprinted in A Legislative 
History of the Endangered Species Act, 97th Cong., 2d Sess. 1397 
(1982)). Recovering gray wolves in multiple populations within the 
lower 48 States satisfies this Congressional intent.
    Issue 10: A number of comments provided other reasons why our 
approach to designating and delisting in the NRM DPS was erroneous, 
having accomplished recovery over only a small portion of the species' 
historical range. Some comments suggested the NRM DPS was too expansive 
and should not have included unrecovered habitat (e.g., eastern Montana 
and southern or eastern Wyoming). These comments expressed the concern 
that our decision to delist this expansive DPS would preclude wolf 
recovery in these areas. Others thought the NRM DPS should include 
additional surrounding areas and that recovery and recolonization 
should occur across the entire DPS before delisting is allowed to move 
forward (e.g., northern Colorado should be included in the DPS, but 
delisting anywhere should be precluded until Colorado is also 
recovered). Other comments suggested areas like southern and eastern 
Wyoming once supported viable wolf populations and represented ``a 
significant portion of range.'' A number of comments disputed our 
designation of most of these areas as unsuitable habitat, stated that 
we have failed to show that these areas could not biologically support 
wolves, and suggested that our definition of suitable habitat 
improperly focused on regulatory, sociological, economic, and political 
factors, instead of purely biological factors. A few comments noted 
that wolves and wolf packs can and do occasionally occupy these areas. 
Some comments asserted that recovery in these historically occupied 
areas was important to preserve unique localized adaptations that 
contribute to the species' long term persistence. These comments opined 
that wolves are endangered in this ``significant portion of range'' 
and, therefore, must continue to be listed as endangered statewide.
    Response 10: As described in our 2009 final rule, we determined the 
NRM DPS was biologically based,

[[Page 55550]]

appropriate, and developed in accordance with the Act and the Distinct 
Vertebrate Population Segment Policy (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009). In 
essence, the boundaries included all gray wolves that were reasonably 
assumed to be part of the NRM population at the time of its designation 
(74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009). No animals that have dispersed within the 
United States beyond the boundaries of the DPS have ever returned, 
meaning those animals are, essentially, lost to and no longer part of 
the population. The DPS boundaries are also further supported by the 
fact that they are consistent with over 30 years of recovery efforts in 
the NRMs in that: (1) The DPS approximates the U.S. historical range of 
the originally listed NRM gray wolf subspecies (39 FR 1171, January 4, 
1974; Service 1980, p. 3; Service 1987, p. 2); (2) the DPS boundaries 
are inclusive of the areas focused on by both NRM recovery plans 
(Service 1980, pp. 7-8; Service 1987, p. 23) and the 1994 Environmental 
Impact Statement (Service 1994, Ch. 1 p. 3); and (3) the DPS is 
inclusive of the entire Central-Idaho and Yellowstone Nonessential 
Experimental Population areas (59 FR 60252, November 22, 1994; 59 FR 
60266, November 22, 1994; 50 CFR 17.84 (i) & (n)).
    We based our definition of suitable habitat on the best scientific 
and commercial information available regarding pack persistence (this 
issue is discussed in more detail in Factor A below). Although wolves 
historically occupied the entire area of the DPS, these distant 
peripheral areas (e.g., eastern Montana and southern or eastern 
Wyoming) have been modified for human use and are no longer suitable 
habitat to support wolf packs and wolf breeding pairs. These distant 
peripheral areas do not support extant wolf populations and do not play 
a meaningful role in achieving or sustaining recovery. Although some 
short term occupancy and use of some peripheral areas does occur, it is 
minimal and, consistent with our assessment of suitability, wolves have 
not persisted in these areas even under the Act's protective regime. 
The purpose of the Act is to conserve endangered species and the 
ecosystems on which they depend. We have recovered NRM wolf populations 
in areas where portions of the ecosystem on which they depend still 
exist or could be restored. Large portions of the historical range 
(e.g., eastern Montana and southern or eastern Wyoming) where the 
ecosystem historically supported wolves have been removed and replaced 
by human uses including agriculture, livestock, and urbanization. Wolf 
recovery in these portions of the species' historical range is 
unnecessary, because there is more than enough suitable habitat (e.g., 
mainly public lands containing abundant wild ungulates) to support many 
times over the minimum requirements of a recovered and viable wolf 
population. Therefore, additional recovery efforts in these areas are 
beyond what the Act requires.
    Issue 11: Numerous comments expressed concern that this action, if 
finalized, would reduce wolf dispersal into surrounding areas. Many of 
these comments specifically objected to the impact Wyoming's large 
predator area would have on dispersal across southern Wyoming to 
Colorado and Utah. One comment opined that Colorado represented a 
significant portion of the NRM gray wolf range. Some comments stated 
that Mexican wolf recovery was on the brink of failure, in part due to 
inbreeding depression, and that Wyoming's predator designation would 
exacerbate the genetic isolation of the Mexican wolf population. While 
most of these comments focused on the impact of the predator area, some 
comments expressed concern related to State management intending to 
reduce population levels, which would in turn reduce the number of 
dispersing wolves and further inhibit recolonization of nearby 
unoccupied areas (e.g., Washington and Oregon).
    Response 11: First, additional wolf restoration from NRM gray wolf 
stock is not necessary in any of the surrounding areas to achieve or 
maintain recovery of the NRM DPS because the NRM DPS is of more than 
adequate size and includes more than adequate habitat to achieve and 
maintain a recovered wolf population. This conclusion makes restoration 
in these areas irrelevant to this final decision. Because Colorado and 
Utah are both beyond the range of the NRM gray wolf population and 
unnecessary for viability or recovery of the NRM gray wolf population, 
areas like Colorado and Utah do not represent a significant portion of 
the NRM gray wolf's range. Additionally, listing and delisting 
decisions are based solely on the status of the subject species, and, 
because the NRM DPS is a separate listing from other U.S. wolves (a 
separate ``species'' as defined in section 3(16) of the Act), impacts 
to surrounding areas are beyond the scope of this rulemaking. 
Furthermore, as discussed above, the Act does not require that we 
recover the wolf everywhere it existed historically or even every place 
that currently can support wolves. Instead, the Act requires that we 
achieve sufficient recovery to provide for the viability of the subject 
species. This goal has been achieved in the NRM DPS and the Western 
Great Lakes DPS. This goal is still a work in progress in the 
Southwest. To the extent that additional restoration beyond that 
required by the Act is desired by some members of the public, we 
recommend working with State or Tribal wildlife agencies and other land 
managers to achieve these objectives.
    In fact, State leadership is facilitating wolf restoration in 
Oregon and Washington. Despite not being identified as a focus for wolf 
recovery in any one of the Service's existing recovery plans, both 
States are allowing and facilitating wolf restoration (Oregon 
Department of Fish and Wildlife 2010, entire; Wiles et al. 2011, 
entire). As of this writing, Washington now has seven confirmed packs 
and four additional suspected packs including five confirmed and three 
suspected packs within the delisted NRM DPS and two confirmed and one 
suspected packs west of the DPS (Cooley 2012). Similar trends are also 
occurring in Oregon, which has four confirmed packs within the delisted 
NRM DPS and a few dispersers outside of the DPS (Cooley 2012). State 
protections are the primary mechanism contributing to wolf recovery in 
eastern Oregon and eastern Washington because Federal protections have 
been removed in these areas. Wolf restoration in the delisted eastern 
portions of these States will likely contribute to recovery in the 
remainder of these States. We expect dispersal into Oregon and 
Washington to continue unimpeded by this decision.
    Wolf restoration into Colorado and Utah has been slower with only a 
few confirmed dispersers and no confirmed packs forming or reproducing 
to date. In order for dispersal into surrounding unoccupied habitat to 
be biologically meaningful, both a male and a female disperser must 
cross expansive areas of suitable and unsuitable habitat, enter the 
same area and find each other before continuing on to other areas, and 
survive long enough to reproduce and successfully raise young. Unlike 
dispersal into Oregon and Washington, wolves must cross greater 
distances to get to Colorado and Utah, and dispersing wolves traversing 
unsuitable habitat, even under the Act's protections, tend to have 
lower survival rates (Smith et al. 2010, p. 627; Jimenez et al. In 
review, entire). These obstacles precluded natural recolonization even 
when Federal protections were in place. After delisting, we expect 
existing

[[Page 55551]]

trends to continue (i.e., occasional dispersers with the odds being 
against pack formation and reproduction).
    Regarding Mexican wolf conservation, at this point in time, we are 
managing the Mexican wolf population without infusion of genes from 
other sources and do not see isolation from other wolves as a negative 
(Brown 2012). If infusion of genes from northern wolves is determined 
to be beneficial in the future, we would want to carefully evaluate 
both the process and the effect (Brown 2012).

General Comments on Whether To Delist

    Issue 12: We received comments from many people expressing either 
support for, or opposition to, delisting. Many of these comments 
(including people on both sides of the issue) stated a belief that 
their opinion was the majority and that we should do a better job of 
listening to the wants and desires of the American people. Some 
suggested that their comment should count more or less than other 
similar comments.
    Response 12: The decision whether to finalize this action is not a 
vote. Listing and delisting decisions must be made based solely on the 
best scientific and commercial data available. In this case, the best 
scientific and commercial data available demonstrate that the Wyoming 
wolf population and the greater NRM gray wolf DPS is recovered, is 
likely to remain recovered, and is unlikely to again become threatened 
with extinction within the foreseeable future. Therefore, we are 
finalizing our proposal.
    Issue 13: Some comments objecting to the delisting noted that the 
results of an independent scientific peer review, contracted by the 
Service to review the proposed delisting and the supporting documents, 
found issues with the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan. This report 
stated, ``The Plan, as written, does not do an adequate job of 
explaining how wolf populations will be maintained, and how recovery 
will be maintained'' (Atkins 2011, p. iii). A few comments questioned 
the objectivity of the peer review suggesting we selected reviewers 
that we knew would support our proposal.
    Response 13: Following the release of the first peer review report 
(Atkins 2011, entire), Wyoming developed a series of documents to 
clarify its management authorities, responsibilities, and intentions. 
Wyoming specifically considered and responded to concerns expressed by 
peer reviewers when developing these documents (Atkins 2012, p. 4; WGFC 
2012, p. 1). In this regard, Wyoming's management intentions and 
processes are more clearly defined and laid out today because of this 
review (Atkins 2012, p. 4; WGFC 2012, entire). Thus, we conclude that 
management of wolves after delisting has been improved and has a 
greater likelihood of always meeting minimum management targets as a 
result of this review. Additionally, the final rule was improved 
through careful consideration of all comments and information provided. 
We appreciate the work of the peer reviewers on this issue.
    Although not unanimous, most of the reviewers ultimately supported 
our conclusion that the Wyoming wolf population is likely to be 
maintained above recovery levels (Atkins 2012, Table 1). While our 
rulemaking process does not depend on the ``vote'' of the peer 
reviewers, and instead reflects our determination of what the best 
scientific and commercial information available indicates, on the 
whole, we view the final peer review report (Atkins 2012, entire) as an 
endorsement of our conclusions (caveats noted).
    Regarding the selection of the peer reviewers, a third-party 
contractor, Atkins Global, selected the reviewers based on 
qualifications and experience related to gray wolf life history and 
biology, predator/wildlife management, population viability, genetics, 
and subpopulation integration within metapopulations (Atkins 2011, pp. 
9-10). Reviewers selected were also free from any conflict of interest 
and independent of the Service; the Idaho Department of Fish and Game; 
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks; and all Wyoming State agencies. 
These peer reviewers were not selected to achieve a certain position, 
nor did they reach a consensus. Instead, the diversity of perspectives, 
experience, and qualifications achieved the desired outcome of ensuring 
a comprehensive and critical evaluation of the available information, 
our proposal, and our conclusions. This process and the report it 
generated benefitted the rulemaking process, improved this final rule, 
and more than satisfied applicable peer review standards.
    Issue 14: A number of comments accused us of accepting a Wyoming 
management plan that was nearly identical to the previously rejected 
plan. A few comments noted that we previously determined the old 
regulatory framework would meaningfully affect the NRM DPS's 
resiliency, redundancy, and representation, and decrease the ability to 
conserve the species. Other comments maintained that previous Wyoming 
post-delisting regulatory frameworks were adequate and rejected on 
political, rather than, scientific grounds. Some of these comments 
pointed to the November 18, 2010, Wyoming District Court ruling as 
evidence that the previous wolf management plan was sound (Wyoming et 
al., v. U.S. Department of the Interior, et al., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 
122829). A few comments accused us of changing the requirements for 
Wyoming after an agreement was reached and expressed frustration with 
our unwillingness to defend the 2008 NRM DPS delisting, which included 
Wyoming (73 FR 10514, February 27, 2008). Others suggested that 
previous issues with the State's post-delisting regulatory framework 
have been resolved and delisting must again proceed. More specific 
criticisms related to this issue are discussed in more detail in 
subsequent comments below.
    Response 14: While Wyoming's approach to wolf management may seem 
similar to previously rejected Wyoming wolf plans, Wyoming's revised 
approach to wolf management provides substantially more protection for 
wolves over previous versions. The April 2009 rule noted three primary 
areas of concern with Wyoming's previous management plan including: (1) 
The size and permanency of Wyoming's Trophy Area; (2) conflicting 
language within the State statutes concerning whether Wyoming would 
manage for at least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves, exactly 
15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves, or only 7 breeding pairs and 70 
wolves; and (3) liberal depredation control authorizations and 
legislative mandates to aggressively manage the population down to 
minimum levels (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009). Our conclusions on several 
of these issues were challenged in the Wyoming District Court. Although 
the Wyoming District Court disagreed with our determinations on several 
of these issues, it did not determine the previous Wyoming wolf 
management framework was adequate and did not order us to accept the 
plan. Instead, it ordered us to reconsider our position on Wyoming's 
approach to wolf management in light of several conflicts within the 
record (including our position that a statewide Trophy Area should be 
pursued in Wyoming). Subsequent to this order, the Service and the 
State reinitiated discussions on revisions to Wyoming's wolf management 
framework that would satisfy the standards of the Act and allow 
delisting to again move forward. The results of this process led to 
development of a revised wolf

[[Page 55552]]

management plan, and are incorporated in this rule. Through this 
process, Wyoming improved its management plan in each of the major 
areas of concern outlined above.
    In 2008, we determined Wyoming's Trophy Area was adequate (73 FR 
10514, February 27, 2008). However, a 2009 Montana District Court 
decision correctly noted that Wyoming had retained the ability to 
diminish the size of this unit and to revise its boundaries in a manner 
the Service had previously determined to be unacceptable (71 FR 43410, 
August 1, 2006; Defenders of Wildlife, et al., v. Hall, et al., 565 
F.Supp.2d 1160 (D. Mont. 2008)). In response, the State statute was 
revised, and the existing Trophy Area was made permanent in 2012. As 
discussed in more detail in subsequent sections of this rule, the 
permanent Trophy Area is of sufficient size to support a recovered wolf 
population in Wyoming, under the management regime developed for this 
area. Furthermore, in response to concerns about gene flow and genetic 
connectivity, the Wyoming statute was revised to expand the trophy game 
portion of the State approximately 80 kilometers (km) (50 miles (mi)) 
south for 4 and a half months during peak wolf dispersal periods. This 
additional protected area will benefit natural dispersal. The adequacy 
of this area to meet the wolf population's biological needs is 
discussed in more detail in subsequent comments.
    Another major difference between the previous management plan and 
the current one is Wyoming's firm commitment to the minimum recovery 
goals. Wyoming's previous wolf management framework contained 
conflicting language within the State statutes concerning whether 
Wyoming would manage for at least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 
wolves, exactly 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves, or only 7 breeding 
pairs and 70 wolves outside of YNP. The revised approach commits 
Wyoming to maintaining a population satisfying the entire minimum 
recovery goal outside of YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation, and 
to maintain a buffer above these minimum levels, in order to provide 
that the minimum targets are not compromised (WGFC 2011, p. 24; WGFC 
2012, pp. 3-5). These statewide totals will be further buffered by 
wolves in YNP, which have ranged from 96 to 174 wolves and from 6 to 16 
breeding pairs from 2000 to the end of 2011 (the most recent official 
wolf population estimates available). In the future, YNP wolf 
populations are predicted to settle between 50 to 100 wolves and 5 to 
10 packs with 4 to 6 of these packs meeting the breeding pair 
definition annually (Service et al. 2000-2010, Table b; Smith 2012). 
This wolf management strategy is a vast improvement over the previous 
agreement and provides adequate assurances that the minimum recovery 
goal will not be compromised. Wyoming's numeric minimum management 
targets are discussed in more detail in subsequent comments.
    Additionally, Wyoming's management framework has corrected what we 
had concluded was an overly aggressive management regime. After our 
2008 delisting became effective, the State issued regulations that 
treated the entire Trophy Area as a chronic depredation area and 
allowed significant take across the entire region until the population 
outside YNP was reduced to 6 breeding pairs. This, and related 
concerns, have been addressed. The State statute now mandates that 
limits on human-caused mortality be put in place to ensure that minimum 
agreed-upon management targets and minimum recovery levels are not 
compromised.
    Other significant improvements include a commitment to monitor and 
manage to provide adequate levels of genetic exchange; defense-of-
property regulations that are similar to our nonessential experimental 
population rules; and a change in the State statute that ensures wolves 
in the permanent trophy game portions of Wyoming will not be treated as 
predatory animals.
    Given the above changes, we conclude that Wyoming's revised wolf 
management framework is adequate and will maintain the population's 
recovered status.
    Issue 15: Many commenters expressed their opinion that NRM and 
Wyoming wolves remained endangered, were teetering on the edge of 
extinction, or would again become endangered if the Act's protections 
were removed. One comment indicated this decision would jeopardize the 
wolf population and, thus, violated section 7 of the Act. Many comments 
objected to removing protections regardless of extinction risk. Other 
commenters suggested delisting was in order and that they supported 
compromise, but that this did not represent an acceptable compromise. A 
number of commenters noted a desire to continue to be able to hear 
wolves in the wild and for their grandchildren to be able to have the 
same experience. Several comments opined that delisting could cause 
irreversible harm. Many comments asserted we had abandoned sound 
science in our decision-making process, and had instead taken anti-
wildlife policies by yielding to political and stakeholder pressure. A 
few comments asserted that political pressure was responsible for our 
agreement with Wyoming's plan. Other comments noted our support for 
hunting as evidence of our anti-wolf bias. A few comments suggested 
allowing us to make this decision was a conflict of interest, and 
asserted that we get a major portion of our budget from hunting-related 
revenue. Some of these comments offered specific legal or policy 
arguments supporting their position (these comments are discussed in 
more detail below), while others were based on moral or ethical 
positions or general distrust for our agency. Many comments suggested 
we should reengage Wyoming to negotiate a better deal for wolves. Many 
other comments viewed Wyoming's approach to managing the wolf 
population as a good compromise balancing the needs of ranchers, 
hunters, wolves, and other wildlife. Many comments supported delisting, 
suggesting wolf populations are well above recovered levels, that 
delisting is long overdue, and that State management will maintain the 
wolf population's recovered status.
    Response 15: By nearly any measure, the NRM gray wolf population 
and all of its subpopulations are recovered and will remain recovered 
under the management frameworks now in place in Wyoming, Idaho, and 
Montana. Wolves are no longer in danger of extinction either now or in 
the foreseeable future and will not meet the definitions of a 
threatened or an endangered species if delisting occurs. We are proud 
to say that successful recovery efforts and State, Tribal, and Federal 
management after delisting ensures that the public will continue to be 
able to hear NRM wolves howl in the wild for countless future 
generations to come. In short, the regulatory frameworks now in place 
give us great confidence that this success story for American 
conservation and the Act will be maintained.
    The most recent official minimum population estimate shows that the 
NRM wolf population contains more than 1,774 adult wolves and more than 
109 breeding pairs. Most of the suitable habitat is now occupied and 
likely at, or above, long term carrying capacity (excluding Oregon and 
Washington, which are only beginning to be reoccupied). This population 
has exceeded recovery goals for 10 consecutive years. Although 
population decreases are expected in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, we 
expect that these reductions will be carefully managed so that 
populations are maintained well above recovery levels (perhaps around 
1,000 wolves will be

[[Page 55553]]

maintained across the NRM DPS long term). Our expectation for gradual 
reductions was verified in 2009 and 2011 (the first 2 years of State 
management including a hunting season) where the population remained 
relatively stable (technically, slight increases were documented each 
year) even in the face of substantial mortality levels. Measurable 
declines across the region are expected to begin to occur in 2012. In 
Wyoming, we expect the total statewide population will be reduced 
between 10 to 20 percent in 2012 with continued gradual reductions 
thereafter, if appropriate. Given the species' reproductive capacity, 
such declines are not irreversible; instead, populations would rebound 
rapidly if human-caused mortality is reduced.
    The basis for our determination, as required by the Act, is the 
best scientific and commercial information available, which indicates 
that the Wyoming, GYA, and NRM gray wolf populations are recovered and 
do not meet the definition of threatened or endangered. This decision 
is not based on political and stakeholder pressure, nor has our support 
for hunting biased our decision. Furthermore, very little of the 
Service's budget and none of the Endangered Species program's budget 
comes from hunting revenue. While we respect the moral and ethical 
reasons some members of the public may have for disapproving of this 
decision, delisting is the appropriate decision based on the statutory 
requirements of the Act. Additionally, delisting a recovered species is 
a non-discretionary duty and not subject to the provisions of section 
7(a)(2) of the Act.
    Issue 16: Some comments expressed concern that if the Service 
accepted the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan, as written, it would 
set a precedent allowing Idaho and Montana to change their management 
plans.
    Response 16: We have no indication that Idaho or Montana have a 
desire to change their management plans to mirror Wyoming's. Both 
States appreciate the sovereignty they now enjoy to manage wolves as a 
recovered species under State jurisdiction and are unlikely to reopen 
this issue. Furthermore, both States recognize that a change as 
significant as, for example, designating wolves as predators in large 
portions of the States could trigger a status review under our post-
delisting monitoring criteria because such an action could be perceived 
as significantly increasing the threat to the wolf population 
(depending on the specifics). Idaho and Montana have expressed a strong 
interest in avoiding a Service status review and any relisting 
consideration.

Human-Caused Mortality

    Issue 17: Many comments expressed concern about the amount of 
human-caused mortality and possible direct and indirect impacts. Some 
questioned the amount of human-caused mortality that the population can 
withstand in the short term (as populations are being reduced from 
current levels) and in the longer term once minimum management targets 
are achieved. Many comments took issue with statements taken from the 
Wyoming wolf management plan that indicated Wyoming wolves could 
tolerate up to 36 percent annual mortality. One commenter expressed 
concern that Wyoming has only a narrow margin for error because the 
number of wolves in the Trophy Area are only a little above minimum 
management targets. This comment asserted that our data from the last 5 
years indicated that the population had stabilized with less than 20 
percent mortality associated with livestock depredation control 
efforts, but that Wyoming may exceed these and other human-caused 
mortality rates after delisting. Some comments suggested that we must 
set firm standards for acceptable levels of human-caused mortality in 
different circumstances. Numerous comments indicated that the many 
sources of human-caused mortality allowed by the Wyoming regulatory 
framework could easily and routinely exceed tolerable levels of 
mortality. Several comments suggested management assumptions were 
incorrect in that hunting-related mortality was not compensatory for 
other human-caused mortality, was more likely additive or ``super-
additive,'' and that overall population impacts would exceed direct 
reported mortality levels because of impacts to pack structure and 
reproduction. Some of these comments asserted hunting would cause 
psychological trauma or other indirect effects to surviving wolves. 
Other comments indicated that wolves have proven resilient to human-
caused mortality, that our description of wolf susceptibility to human-
caused mortality was exaggerated, and that such mortality would be 
limited and adequately regulated. Some comments asserted wolves will 
become less susceptible to human-caused mortality as they ``relearn 
their fear of man.'' Many of these comments emphasized the ability of 
wolves to respond quickly to population reductions noting, for example, 
reports of wolf packs with more than one female with pups.
    Response 17: Human-caused mortality is the most significant factor 
affecting the long term conservation status of the wolf population in 
Wyoming, the GYA, and the entire NRM DPS. Therefore, managing this 
source of mortality remains the primary factor for maintaining a 
recovered wolf population into the foreseeable future. The best 
available information indicates that wolf populations have an ample 
natural resiliency to high levels of human-caused mortality, if 
population levels and controllable sources of mortality are adequately 
regulated as they will be in Wyoming. For example, from 1995 to 2008, 
the NRM wolf population grew by an average of about 20 percent 
annually, even in the face of an average annual human-caused mortality 
rate of 23 percent (Service et al. 2012, Table 4; Smith et al. 2010, p. 
620; also see Figure 3 above). Similarly, in 2009 and in 2011, more 
than 600 NRM wolves died each year from all sources of mortality 
(agency control including defense of property, regulated harvest, 
illegal and accidental killing, and natural causes), and the population 
showed little change (technically, slight increases in minimum 
population levels were documented each year) (Service et al. 2012, 
tables 4a, 4b).
    While some authors have suggested human-caused mortality is 
additive or ``super-additive,'' and have predicted significant impacts 
to wolf populations from modest levels of human-caused mortality (Creel 
and Rotella 2010; Atkins 2011, p. 81; Vucetich and Carroll In review), 
other researchers disagree (Gude et al. 2011). Overall, the literature 
indicates wolf populations can maintain themselves despite human-caused 
mortality rates of 17 to 48 percent (Fuller et al. 2003, pp. 182-184 
[22 percent]; Adams et al. 2008 [29 percent]; Creel and Rotella 2010 
[22 percent]; Sparkman et al. 2011 [25 percent]; Gude et al. 2011 [48 
percent]; Vucetich and Carroll In review [17 percent]). Furthermore, 
wolf populations have been shown to increase rapidly if mortality is 
reduced after severe declines (Fuller et al. 2003, pp. 181-183; Service 
et al. 2012, Table 4).
    After delisting, Wyoming will gradually reduce the wolf population, 
manage for a buffer above the State's minimum management targets, and 
adaptively manage human-caused mortality. Regarding the adaptive 
management strategy, Wyoming will limit mortality as necessary in the 
following order: first, Wyoming will limit control actions for 
unacceptable impacts to ungulates; next the State will limit harvest 
levels; then it will limit control for damage to private property;

[[Page 55554]]

and, finally, it will limit lethal take permits (WGFC 2012, p. 7). We 
believe that the third and fourth sources of mortality noted above will 
rarely need to be limited because all other sources of mortality will 
not likely exceed what the population can withstand, leaving some 
modest level of surplus wolves for harvest. However, all of these 
sources of human-caused mortality can be limited, if necessary. Harvest 
will be limited with an adaptive approach determining what the 
population can withstand in a given year and across years. While we 
expect Wyoming to reduce the wolf population in the Trophy Area and 
remove most resident wolves within the predator portion of the State, 
we conclude that the wolf population can tolerate the level of 
mortality expected in the short term before leveling off at a longer 
term equilibrium. Given the biological resilience of wolves to 
controlled and managed human-caused mortality, these strategies provide 
that Wyoming's minimum management targets will not be compromised. When 
combined with wolves occurring in adjoining jurisdictions and across 
the NRM DPS, we have high confidence that recovery will not be 
compromised in Wyoming, the GYA, or across the NRM DPS.
    Issue 18: Numerous commenters asserted that Wyoming's wolf 
management framework remains flawed, in that it fails to clearly commit 
to managing for at least 15 breeding pairs in the State. A few comments 
noted that we previously stated this was a requirement, rejected 
Wyoming's 2003 regulatory frameworks for failing to commit to this 
minimum management target, and that the courts took issue with past 
Wyoming plans and our approval of Wyoming's 2007 regulatory framework 
for not clearly committing to this standard. Several comments noted 
that Wyoming's ``commitment'' to maintain at least 15 breeding pairs 
and at least 150 wolves statewide, in cooperation with YNP and the Wind 
River Indian Reservation, was nothing more than a non-enforceable 
promise. A few comments questioned whether YNP can adequately buffer 
the Wyoming wolf population, citing predictions that the YNP wolf 
population was declining into a lower long term equilibrium. One peer 
reviewer expressed concern that, by removing the statewide goal for 
Wyoming, the State's incentive to conserve wolves in protected areas is 
removed, and that such wolves would be vulnerable to killing when they 
left these areas.
    Response 18: After careful consideration, we decided differences in 
State management authority warranted a different approach to wolf 
management in Wyoming versus Montana and Idaho. Nearly all wolf 
populations in Montana and Idaho occur in areas under State 
jurisdiction. Therefore, it makes sense for these States to manage for 
a statewide total. In Wyoming, a substantial portion of the wolf 
habitat and wolf population occurs in YNP, where the State has no 
jurisdiction (Oakleaf 2011). Thus, it would be more difficult to manage 
for a statewide total. In essence, the decision to split numeric 
targets by management authority is similar to the decision to split the 
overall NRM goal by State, just at a more localized level. Given this 
difference, we decided that a different solution was appropriate.
    The recovery goal requires at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 
100 wolves per State. The new approach and agreement provides that this 
goal is met in Wyoming outside YNP and the Wind River Indian 
Reservation (large areas outside of State jurisdiction). Wyoming is 
firmly committed to a population at least at these levels as reflected 
in State statute, regulations, and its management plan. In order to 
meet these goals and allow for continued management flexibility, 
Wyoming intends to manage for a population above its minimum management 
targets. Furthermore, the wolf populations in YNP and on the tribal 
lands of sovereign nations will provide an additional buffer above the 
minimum recovery goal intended by the previous management objective of 
at least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves statewide. From 2000 
to the end of 2011 (the most recent official wolf population estimates 
available), the wolf population in YNP has ranged from 96 to 174 
wolves, and between 6 to 16 breeding pairs. While a lower future 
population level in YNP is predicted (between 50 to 100 wolves and 5 to 
10 packs with 4 to 6 of these packs meeting the breeding pair 
definition annually) (Smith 2012), YNP will always provide a secure 
wolf population providing a safety margin above the minimum recovery 
goal.
    We conclude that the YNP wolf population can effectively buffer the 
rest of the Wyoming wolf population because of the significant amount 
of available habitat in the park, the sizable wolf population the park 
does now and will continue to support, and the relative security of the 
park population. YNP is the most protected population in the NRM DPS 
and least likely to be meaningfully affected by human-caused mortality. 
This security from human-caused mortality, the most significant threat 
factor facing wolves in the NRM DPS, was critical in accepting the YNP 
population as a buffer even though it may occasionally fall below 5 
breeding pairs (although it will likely not fall below 50 wolves). In 
our opinion, this sizable and secure park population is a superior 
buffer to the simple 50 percent buffer used in the other States, and is 
more appropriate to the Wyoming situation given differences in 
management authority. Overall, while this approach represents a new 
strategy to maintain this recovered population, it is consistent with 
our overarching goal because it will maintain the statewide Wyoming 
wolf population well above minimum recovery levels. Furthermore, based 
on Wyoming's management approach (i.e., the State's commitment to 
maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves, which the 
State intends to satisfy by managing for a buffer above these minimums) 
and our understanding of the YNP wolf population's likely future 
abundance (50 to 100 wolves and 5 to 10 packs and 4 to 6 breeding 
pairs), the original 15-breeding-pair and 150-wolf-minimum management 
targets will rarely, if ever, be compromised.
    While some have asserted that this new approach removes Wyoming's 
incentive to conserve wolves resident to protected areas and that many 
of these wolves could be killed when they ventured from these protected 
areas, we conclude that this concern is unwarranted. The peer reviewer 
who raised this point expressly noted concern for Grand Teton National 
Park wolves. However, these wolves occur within the Trophy Area and are 
counted in the State's totals, so Wyoming still has an incentive to 
consider impacts to these wolves when making management decisions. The 
same applies for wolves in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial 
Parkway and the National Elk Refuge. While this criticism could 
theoretically be relevant to YNP wolves, most YNP packs rarely leave 
the park and most of those packs that routinely leave the park occur on 
the northern part of YNP, where they occasionally enter adjoining 
portions of southern Montana. Montana has already taken steps to limit 
impacts to YNP wolves in these adjoining areas. Most other YNP wolf 
packs are not expected to be as vulnerable to human-caused mortality in 
adjoining areas most years, because they generally spend less time in 
these adjoining areas. Furthermore, as discussed in Factor B below, all 
three States have an incentive to maintain a healthy YNP wolf 
population. For example, a healthy wolf population in YNP brings 
economic benefits to all three States through increased tourism. 
Furthermore, there is

[[Page 55555]]

a regulatory incentive to maintain the YNP population, since we will 
initiate a status review if the Wyoming statewide population, including 
YNP, falls below 15 breeding pairs or below 150 wolves routinely or for 
3 consecutive years. Wyoming's wolf management plan confirms Wyoming's 
intention to coordinate with YNP to maintain a statewide total of at 
least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves (WGFC 2011, p. 1).
    Furthermore, we have previously noted potential pitfalls with 
applying a simple requirement to maintain at least 15 breeding pairs 
and at least 150 wolves statewide in Wyoming, and conclude that the new 
approach is more likely to maintain the population's recovered status 
in Wyoming than the statewide approach employed in Montana and Idaho. 
Under the 15 breeding pair statewide approach, if the YNP wolf 
population increased to, for example, 12 breeding pairs after 
delisting, Wyoming could have reduced the wolf population outside the 
park to 3 breeding pairs. However, such a robust population in YNP 
would have an increased likelihood of intraspecific strife and disease, 
likely resulting in a population decline similar to those observed in 
YNP in 2005 and 2008. This park population decline (i.e., falling from 
12 breeding pairs to, say, 5 breeding pairs), in combination with an 
allowable population reduction outside the park (to as low as 3 in the 
above example), could compromise the minimum recovery goal of at least 
10 breeding pairs statewide. Recent analysis of this information 
contributed to our conclusion that a different approach was warranted 
in Wyoming.
    The new strategy precludes this possibility by maintaining the 
population at least at the minimum recovery goals outside YNP and the 
Wind River Indian Reservation, and allows the wolf population in YNP 
and on the Wind River Indian Reservation to provide the additional 
buffer above the minimum recovery goal. In addition to preventing an 
unacceptable population decline, this approach is also desirable to the 
extent that it increases the public's understanding and expectation 
that some modest wolf population and wolf distribution will, and must, 
be maintained outside of the National Parks in order to maintain 
delisting and State management authority. We conclude that this public 
understanding of Wyoming's responsibility will result in increased 
public tolerance for wolves outside of National Parks. Such public 
tolerance will benefit wolf conservation. Finally, this approach is 
desirable for the WGFD, because it gives the State a consistent minimum 
goal that will not fluctuate across years. Such a steady goal will be 
easier to consistently satisfy.
    Issue 19: Many comments criticized Wyoming's commitment to maintain 
at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves outside YNP and the 
Wind River Indian Reservation. Some indicated this commitment was too 
low and that the area can support more wolves. Many comments expressed 
general concern that State management would result in significant wolf 
population reductions (a 40 to 60 percent reduction was most often 
cited). Several peer reviewers thought these goals should be met within 
the Trophy Area instead of across all of Wyoming given the insecurity 
of wolves in the predator area. Some comments complained that at the 
time of the draft proposal, Wyoming's commitment to these targets was 
not reflected in binding statutes or regulations. A few comments 
expressed concern that reporting mortality could occur 24 hours to 10 
days after the event, during which significant mortality could occur, 
compromising management objectives. Numerous comments, including the 
peer reviewers, recommended that the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan 
clearly commit to maintain a ``sizable'' buffer above minimum 
population targets. Other commenters recommended that Wyoming develop a 
specific numeric buffer and that this buffer needed to be enshrined in 
statute or regulation before delisting could occur. The peer reviewers 
also expressed concern over the potential rate of wolf population 
reduction, and recommended that the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan 
provide a better explanation of the adaptive processes (including use 
of monitoring data) that will guide wolf population reductions. Many 
comments indicated a gradual population reduction was unlikely since 
Wyoming's regulatory framework authorizes numerous, competing sources 
of human-caused mortality. Other comments suggested State commitments 
to maintain numeric management objectives must be binding and 
enforceable. Some noted that when we accepted commitments short of this 
standard in the past, the States failed to meet the commitments.
    Response 19: Consistent with our agreement with the State, both 
Wyoming statutes and regulations now require Wyoming to maintain at 
least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves outside YNP and the 
Wind River Indian Reservation at the end of the year. Wolves in the 
predator area will count towards these goals (i.e., they will be 
reported at the end of the year should they persist through that 
period), but will not be relied upon by the WGFD when making wolf 
management decisions (e.g., when setting hunting quotas) necessary to 
ensure the State maintains at least minimum management targets (WGFC 
2012, p. 3). This approach was demonstrated this year when the WGFD and 
the WGFC developed hunting quotas that provide Wyoming with a 
substantial cushion above the minimum management targets solely within 
the Trophy Area and allow any resident wolves that persist in the 
predator area to further buffer these minimum requirements.
    While Wyoming can support more wolves than the agreement requires, 
the Act does not require managing the species at carrying capacity. 
Instead, it requires achieving and maintaining recovery and providing 
reasonable assurance of long term viability so that the population does 
not again become threatened or endangered. We have determined that 
Wyoming's approach to wolf management after delisting will achieve 
these goals and, when considered in the region's larger management 
scheme, will maintain recovery in Wyoming, the GYA, and across the NRM 
DPS.
    Wyoming intends to meet its statutory and regulatory standards by 
managing for a buffer above minimum management targets (WGFC 2012, pp. 
3-5). The population will be routinely and continuously monitored to 
detect changes in population abundance, distribution, and demographic 
makeup. All mortality within the Trophy Area will be reported within 72 
hours (W.S. 23-1-304(d)(iv); W.S. 23-3-115(c)) including: Take 
authorized by lethal take permits, which must be reported within 24 
hours (chapter 21, section 7(b)(v)); harvest, which must be reported 
within 24 hours (chapter 47, section 4(f)(i)); and defense of property 
take, which must be reported within 72 hours (W.S. 23-1-304(d)(iv); 
W.S. 23-3-115(c); chapter 21, section 6(a)). Mortality in the predator 
area (which after the first year will likely be limited) must be 
reported within 10 days (W.S. 23-1-304(d)(iii); WGFC 2011, p. 29).
    Should Wyoming's wolf population approach minimum management 
objectives, the State will sequentially limit: control actions for 
unacceptable impacts to ungulates; harvest levels; control for damage 
to private property; and lethal take permits (WGFC 2012, p. 7). 
Regarding hunting specifically, the addendum notes that Wyoming would 
employ an iterative, adaptive, and public process whereby season 
structures, hunt areas, and quotas are

[[Page 55556]]

evaluated and adjusted based on the response of the wolf population to 
prior management actions (WGFC 2012, pp. 4-7). Furthermore, the 
addendum notes Wyoming's authority to revise, reduce, or close hunting 
seasons if necessary (WGFC 2012, pp. 6-7). Such flexibility allows the 
State to adaptively respond to population problems should its 
assumptions on susceptibility to human-caused mortality prove overly 
optimistic. Overall, we conclude that this approach of managing, 
monitoring, and regulating and limiting human-caused mortality, 
including adjustments throughout the year as necessary, so that minimum 
management targets will be achieved, the population's recovered status 
will not be compromised, and the population will not again become 
endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range.
    We decided against requiring Wyoming to provide a specific numeric 
buffer above these minimum management targets. While Wyoming will, and 
must, maintain a buffer to consistently meet its minimum management 
targets, the buffer necessary to achieve this goal will change over 
time. For example, current information indicates approximately 140 
wolves have a 95 percent chance of producing at least 10 breeding pairs 
(Bruscino 2012, p. 5). Similarly, Wyoming anticipates hunting and other 
sources of mortality will reduce the Trophy Area's wolf population to 
around 170 wolves and around 15 breeding pairs at the end of 2012 (well 
above Wyoming's management goals) (Mills 2012, pers. comm.). While 
these models are a reasonable short term predictor of population 
response, they are based on population data while the Act's protections 
were in place. After delisting, management differences will likely 
alter population dynamics and change the usefulness of the currently 
available data to predict the number of wolves needed to meet or exceed 
the State's breeding pair target. For example, higher mortality rates 
may result in fewer packs successfully raising pups through the end of 
the year and qualifying as breeding pairs.
    The exact difference between current minimum estimates and likely 
future outcomes are not known and probably will not be known with any 
certainty until after the new management regime is implemented (likely 
for several years). Given this fact, we concluded that a firm 
commitment to the underlying minimum management target was sufficient, 
recognizing the State would monitor the population after delisting and 
adjust management over time based on this new data, including learning 
what the population can withstand (in terms of the amount, timing, and 
intensity of human-caused mortality) and how to consistently meet or 
exceed the State's minimum management targets long term. This approach 
is more appropriate biologically than us developing an arbitrary, 
mandatory buffer based on current data that is unlikely to be an 
accurate predictor of long term population response after delisting.
    Regarding the rate of reduction, Wyoming has consistently indicated 
it intends to pursue a gradual population reduction during this 
learning phase. To this end, Wyoming's 2012 hunting quota (52 wolves) 
is anticipated to reduce the Trophy Area wolf population by about 11.5 
percent and result in a Trophy Area wolf population of around 170 
wolves and 15 breeding pairs at the end of 2012 (Mills 2012, pers. 
comm.). This initial goal is comfortably above the minimum agreed-upon 
population targets and is consistent with the stated intention of a 
gradual population reduction. In future years, hunting quotas will be 
set later in the year to allow full consideration of recruitment and 
mortality events that occurred during spring and summer. In the long 
term, the State has sufficient discretion to allow continued gradual 
population reductions as necessary and appropriate, before stabilizing 
the population comfortably above the minimum recovery goals.
    Overall, given the biological resilience of wolves to controlled 
and managed human-caused mortality, these strategies will provide that 
Wyoming's minimum management targets are not compromised. When combined 
with wolves occurring in adjoining jurisdictions and across the NRM 
DPS, we have high confidence recovery will not be compromised in 
Wyoming, the GYA, or across the NRM DPS.
    Issue 20: One peer reviewer expressed concern that the State's 
reliance on minimum population numbers, instead of estimates that 
incorporate detection probabilities, could result in improper 
assumptions about trends. This reviewer went on to indicate that if the 
State increased monitoring intensity as the population gets closer and 
closer to the minimum management targets, this increasing monitoring 
intensity could result in the appearance of a population increase when 
actual populations are declining. For example, if a raw count of 105 
wolves one year detected only 80 percent of the population and a raw 
count of 115 wolves the next year detected 95 percent of the 
population, raw counts would imply an increasing population (from 105 
to 115 wolves) when the actual population would have declined (from 131 
wolves to 121 wolves). Such data could lead State officials to increase 
quotas and other take allowances even as populations are declining. 
Issues associated with such errors would be increasingly risky the 
closer the State is to its minimum population target.
    Response 20: We concluded that risk associated with such potential 
population counting errors will be minimal because detection in Wyoming 
will be high under State management, year in and year out. Several 
factors contribute to this likely high detection rate including: WGFD's 
survey effort will be greater than what has been occurring under 
Service management because WGFD has substantially more human power 
dedicated to wildlife management in northwestern Wyoming than we do; 
and the geography and use of the area is conducive to wolf detection. 
These factors will result in a high detection rate, likely higher than 
we achieved in the past. Therefore, while estimates of abundance and 
trends will not be perfect, we conclude that they are likely to always 
be sufficiently reliable assuming maintenance of an adequate buffer 
above minimum recovery levels.
    That said, the importance of this issue and any possible erroneous 
conclusions about abundance and trends is dependent on how close 
Wyoming manages to its minimum population targets. In 2012, Wyoming's 
take allowances are expected to maintain around 170 wolves and 15 
breeding pairs outside of YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation at 
the end of the year (Mills 2012, pers. comm.). As discussed in Issue 
and Response 19 above, in subsequent years the population will likely 
be gradually reduced, but always maintained with a sufficient buffer to 
allow management flexibility and preclude the possibility that 
relisting could occur. In most years, the wolf population within the 
Trophy Area will be well above the minimum management targets of at 
least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves. Minimum counts will 
verify that the State has achieved these goals (as discussed in Issue 
and Response 2 above). Wolves in YNP and the Wind River Indian 
Reservation provide an additional buffer so that the statewide minimum 
recovery level is not compromised. Within the larger GYA, wolves in the 
Montana and Idaho portion of the GYA provide additional representation, 
resiliency, and redundancy across the overall GYA population. Such a 
conservative approach sufficiently minimizes the risk

[[Page 55557]]

associated with erroneous conclusions about trends resulting from 
fluctuating detection probabilities. While we would support the 
development of a monitoring technique that incorporates detection 
probabilities, and Wyoming has indicated that it is open to such an 
approach if subsequent data indicate that there is a need (State law 
requires Wyoming to employ techniques that accurately determine the 
population (W.S. 23-1-304(d)(i))) (Mills 2012, pers. comm.), we 
conclude that current techniques are adequate, given the overall 
management approach that will be employed in the Trophy Area, the GYA, 
and the NRM region.
    Issue 21: A few commenters thought it problematic that the agreed-
upon strategy places the burden of meeting the minimum recovery goal 
(at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves) on areas outside 
of YNP. These comments pointed out that the proposed rule appeared to 
view YNP as merely playing ``a supporting role'' in maintaining 
recovery, rather than the central role the park is likely to play, 
given its abundance of high-quality suitable habitat. These comments 
note this approach is a complete reversal from previous Wyoming wolf 
management plans, which relied primarily on YNP to meet the minimum 
recovery levels, with Wyoming providing the buffer above the minimum 
levels. Some comments maintained YNP should bear a greater burden for 
wolf recovery and commit to maintain specific numbers of wolves. Others 
wanted clarification that the agreement with Wyoming in no way 
obligates the State of Wyoming to manage for more than 10 breeding 
pairs and more than 100 wolves at any time.
    Response 21: Our discussion of YNP was not intended to downplay or 
undermine the importance of YNP for the conservation of the GYA or NRM 
gray wolf population. YNP represents a secure block of suitable 
habitat, which has supported between 96 and 174 wolves and from 6 to 16 
breeding pairs since 2000. While a lower long term future population 
level in YNP is predicted (Smith 2012), YNP will continue to be 
important to the regional wolf population and will play an important 
role in maintaining the regional wolf population's recovered status. We 
agree that this approach is a modification from that used in previous 
Wyoming wolf management plans, but it is an approach that we requested 
as a remedy to our previous determination that the Wyoming management 
plan was inadequate. In fact, recovery in Wyoming depends both on 
having healthy populations within YNP as well as the additional 100 
wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside the YNP. The combination of these 
two conservation areas will provide for wolf recovery in Wyoming.
    Issue 22: Numerous comments objected to Wyoming's approach to 
lethal take permits. Some objected to the State's statutory mandate to 
issue lethal take permits as long as population objectives are not 
likely to be compromised. Others objected to the issuance of lethal 
take permits for ``harassing'' livestock or domestic animals. These 
comments indicated that harassment is not defined and could include, 
for example, causing dogs to bark or cattle to move from one grazing 
area to another. These comments went on to indicate that because an 
area would be categorized as a chronic wolf depredation area if there 
are two harassment episodes within a 2-month period, this could allow 
large portions of Wyoming to be designated as a chronic wolf 
depredation area, which, in turn, would authorize liberal mortality 
over most of the Trophy Area. One comment suggested that this ``flimsy 
standard'' could result in the issuance of hundreds of permits (perhaps 
more permits than wolves exist in the Trophy Area). Some commenters 
wondered how long it would take the WGFD to figure out whether there 
was a need to suspend or cancel permits and whether this could endanger 
the ability of the State to maintain the population above agreed-upon 
targets. A few comments noted there was not a quantitative limit on the 
size of a chronic depredation area or the number of permits in such 
areas indicating resulting take could be significant. Other comments 
noted safeguards and limits on lethal take permit issuance designed to 
minimize population-level impacts and prevent this source of mortality 
from compromising management objectives.
    Response 22: Wyoming law (W.S. 23-1-304(n)) states that permits 
``shall be issued'' to landowners or livestock owners in cases where 
wolves are harassing, injuring, maiming, or killing livestock or other 
domesticated animals, and where wolves occupy geographic areas where 
chronic wolf predation occurs. Numerous safeguards limit the potential 
of these permits to detrimentally affect the population. For example, 
State statute requires that permits be issued, and renewed as 
necessary, in 45-day increments (W.S. 23-1-304(n)), and State 
regulations limit the take allowance for each permit to a maximum of 2 
gray wolves, and specify that each permit can only apply to a specified 
limited geographic or legally described area (chapter 21, section 
7(b)(ii)). These requirements provide that application of this source 
of take is limited in time and geography. Similarly, State regulations 
indicate that purported cases of wolf harassment, injury, maiming, or 
killing must be verified by the WGFD (chapter 21, section 6(b)). We 
conclude that this requirement for WGFD verification would limit 
potential abuse for this source of mortality. Regarding the issuance of 
lethal take permits for wolves ``harassing'' livestock or domestic 
animals, Wyoming will require that WGFD staff verify that wolves were 
present and involved in activities that would directly indicate an 
actual attack was likely (Mead 2012b). Such activity must be an 
activity, such as chasing or molesting, that is an immediate precursor 
to actual biting, wounding, grasping, or killing (Mead 2012b). Similar 
allowances are incorporated in our experimental population rules (50 
CFR 17.84(n)(3)).
    Finally, and most importantly, State law (W.S. 23-1-304(n)) and the 
implementing regulations (chapter 21, section 7(b)(iii)) clarify that 
existing permits would be cancelled, and issuance of new permits would 
be suspended, if the WGFD determines further lethal control could 
compromise the State's ability to maintain a population of at least 10 
breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves in Wyoming outside of YNP and 
the Wind River Indian Reservation at the end of the calendar year. 
Importantly, the word ``could'' (as opposed to would or will) provides 
authority for the WGFD to manage for a buffer above the minimum target 
and limit control from lethal take permits, if necessary, to maintain 
an adequate minimum buffer. However, the Addendum to the Wyoming Gray 
Wolf Management Plan explains that the State law's mandatory approach 
to issuance of lethal take permits requires that Wyoming's adaptive 
management framework limit other discretionary sources of mortality 
before it limits this source of mortality (WGFC 2012, p. 7).
    On the whole, the available information indicates that Wyoming's 
approach to lethal take permits may affect population abundance 
(particularly at a localized level where wolf-livestock conflict is 
high), but that Wyoming has instituted sufficient safeguards so that 
this source of mortality would not compromise the State's ability to 
maintain a population of at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 
wolves in Wyoming outside of YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation 
at the end of the calendar year.

[[Page 55558]]

    Issue 23: We received many comments on the permanent Trophy Area 
and the predator area. Many of these comments asserted this line was 
arbitrary and not scientifically derived. A few comments ridiculed an 
approach that assumed wolves would adhere to human-made boundaries. 
Most of these comments thought that the WGFD should be given management 
authority statewide (note that the WGFD does not have management 
authority over wolves in the predator area). Some comments noted that 
Wyoming treats other predators (e.g., mountain lions and black bears) 
as trophy game animals statewide, while others noted that wolves are 
not managed as predators in any other State in the country. Many 
suggested a predator designation was unnecessary because State 
management provides plenty of management flexibility to address wolf 
problems as evidenced by the Wyoming gray wolf plan's long list of 
lethal options.
    Some comments asserted that Wyoming's new strategy including the 
Trophy Area and the flex zone was almost the same or only marginally 
better than previously rejected State regulatory frameworks and accused 
the Service of reversing itself on this issue. These comments noted 
that our 2009 delisting determination had stated support for a state-
wide trophy game status and provided numerous reasons why we felt such 
an approach was ``advisable'' and ``the best way for Wyoming to provide 
adequate regulatory mechanisms.'' Some noted that we previously found 
statewide trophy game status would provide WGFD more flexibility to 
devise an adaptive management strategy that allows the State to respond 
to population declines and still maintain its numeric objectives. 
Others thought areas like the Big Horn Mountains, Wind River Range, 
Wyoming Range, and Salt Range could support wolves and should be 
protected (not designated as a predator area) so recovery can 
eventually take hold in these areas. Still other comments supported 
State management and indicated the State's Trophy Area was adequate 
because it includes most of the suitable habitat.
    One peer reviewer noted that there was no functional difference 
between Wyoming's predator status across largely unsuitable habitat and 
management in eastern Montana and southern Idaho (today or while 
listed) that precluded wolf pack establishment in these areas. A number 
of comments indicated that we must approve Wyoming's dual status 
approach, because we had previously concluded such an approach was 
acceptable (Hall 2007; 73 FR 10514, February 27, 2008), noting only 
minor issues that needed to be remedied (Gould 2009; 74 FR 15123, April 
2, 2009). A few comments advocated for a smaller Trophy Area, asserting 
that all wolves outside of National Parks should be considered 
predators.
    Response 23: We recognize our position on this issue may have led 
people to view our perspective as changing over time without reasoned 
justification. We clarify our position here. A statewide Trophy Area 
has long been our preferred approach to sustain wolf conservation, but 
that something less than a statewide trophy game designation (i.e., the 
current Trophy Area) can satisfy the species' biological needs and 
maintain Wyoming's share of a recovered wolf population assuming 
adequate management within this area.
    This issue is important because designation of an area as a 
predator area or a Trophy Area strongly influences the likelihood of 
wolf and wolf pack persistence within the area. ``Trophy game'' status 
allows the WGFC and WGFD to regulate methods of take, hunting seasons, 
types of allowed take, and numbers of wolves that can be killed. All 
other States within the NRM DPS manage wolves as a game species 
statewide. ``Predatory animals'' in Wyoming are regulated by the 
State's Department of Agriculture under title 11, chapter 6 of the 
Wyoming Statutes. Under these regulations, wolves in predator areas can 
be killed by anyone with very few restrictions. Coyotes are managed in 
Wyoming in this manner. The nature of this taking means it is unlikely 
that wolf packs or breeding pairs will persist in the predator area of 
Wyoming. While some lone wolves and dispersing wolves from both within 
the GYA and from other metapopulations will be killed, lone wolves and 
dispersers will likely be less prone to take than resident packs, whose 
locations are easily detected and ranges are easily determined.
    Given these impacts, our assessment of adequacy analyzed whether 
the Trophy Area is of sufficient size to support and maintain a 
recovered wolf population in Wyoming over the long term, assuming 
adequate management within this area. This assessment compared 
Wyoming's Trophy Area to past assessments of where we thought wolf 
recovery would occur, subsequent modeling exercises showing where 
wolves are most likely to occur and persist, and actual wolf 
distributional data of where wolves persisted under the Act's 
protections. In total, Wyoming wolves will be managed as game animals 
year-round or protected in about 38,500 km\2\ (15,000 mi\2\) in the 
northwestern portion of the State (15.2 percent of Wyoming (Lickfett 
2012)), including YNP, Grand Teton National Park, John D. Rockefeller, 
Jr. Memorial Parkway, adjacent U.S. Forest Service, designated 
Wilderness Areas, adjacent public and private lands, the National Elk 
Refuge, and most of the Wind River Indian Reservation. Wolves will be 
designated as predatory animals in the remainder of the State (predator 
area).
    The above protected and permanent game areas (see Figure 1) 
include: 100 percent of the portion of the GYA recovery area within 
Wyoming (Service 1987, Figure 2); approximately 79 percent of the 
Wyoming portion of the primary analysis area used in the 1994 
Environmental Impact Statement (areas analyzed as potentially being 
impacted by wolf recovery in the GYA) (Service 1994, Figure 1.1); the 
entire home range for 24 of 27 breeding pairs (88 percent), 40 of 48 
packs (83 percent), and 282 of 328 individual wolves (86 percent) in 
the State at the end of 2011 (Service et al. 2012, Tables 2, 4, Figure 
3; Jimenez 2012a; Jimenez 2012, pers. comm.); and approximately 81 
percent of the State's suitable habitat (including over 81 percent of 
the high-quality habitat (greater than 80 percent chance of supporting 
wolves) and over 62 percent of the medium-high-quality habitat (50 to 
79 percent chance of supporting wolves) (Oakleaf 2011; Mead 2012a)). 
Based on the above analysis, it is clear that this is the portion of 
Wyoming where wolf recovery was always envisioned to occur, that wolves 
have failed to persist in large numbers outside of this area, that the 
vast majority of the State's suitable habitat is contained within this 
portion of Wyoming, and that this portion of Wyoming has a demonstrated 
history of being able to support a wolf population that exceeds agreed-
upon minimum management targets. While a statewide trophy game 
designation would allow for more management flexibility, Wyoming's 
current Trophy Area is of sufficient size to support and maintain a 
recovered wolf population in Wyoming over the long term, assuming 
adequate management within this area.
    To understand our position on the Trophy Area, it is useful to 
review our past positions on this issue. Prior to 2003, the gray wolf 
was designated by W.S. 23-1-101(a)(viii) as a predatory animal 
statewide in Wyoming. In 2003, Wyoming passed a State law that 
designated wolves as ``trophy Game'' in YNP, Grand Teton National Park, 
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, and the adjacent USFS-
designated Wilderness areas (Wyoming House Bill

[[Page 55559]]

0229) once the wolf is delisted from the Act. This State law also 
allowed the WGFC to increase the Trophy Area if certain population 
targets were not achieved. The 2003 permanent Trophy Area totaled about 
7 percent of Wyoming (Lickfett 2011). Wyoming's 2003 post-delisting 
regulatory framework was rejected because of several flaws including 
(but not solely because of) an insufficiently small Trophy Area 
(Williams 2004c). Our 2006 petition finding clarified that ``a large 
portion of the area permanently designated as `trophy game' actually 
has little to no value to wolf packs because it is not suitable habitat 
for wolves and, thus, is [seasonally] used * * * because of their high 
elevation, deep snow, and low ungulate productivity'' (71 FR 43410, 
August 1, 2006). Overall, we concluded that a larger Trophy Area was 
necessary because maintenance of wolf populations above recovery levels 
would likely depend on wolves living outside the National Parks and 
wilderness portions of Wyoming (71 FR 43410, August 1, 2006). In 2007, 
Wyoming adopted new legislation that increased the Trophy Area. This 
new Trophy Area, comparable to the current protected and trophy areas, 
was deemed sufficient to provide for the conservation of Wyoming's 
share of a recovered wolf population (Hall 2007; 73 FR 10514, February 
27, 2008). However, this approval was later retracted, in part, because 
Wyoming's 2007 legislation allowed the WGFC to diminish the Trophy Area 
to the 2003 line if it determines the diminution would not impede the 
delisting of gray wolves (Defenders of Wildlife, et al., v. Hall, et 
al., 565 F.Supp.2d 1160 (D. Mont. 2008); Gould 2009; 74 FR 15123, April 
2, 2009).
    The current Trophy Area improves upon the 2003 Trophy Area as it is 
significantly larger and not subject to WGFC expansion or reduction. 
The current Trophy Area improves upon the 2007 Trophy Area in that: (1) 
It is permanent and cannot be diminished; and (2) it will be seasonally 
expanded approximately 80 km (50 mi) south (see Figure 3) (an 
additional 3,300 km\2\ (1,300 mi\2\) or 1.3 percent of Wyoming) from 
October 15 to the last day of February (28th or 29th) to facilitate 
natural dispersal of wolves between Wyoming and Idaho. While many 
commenters asserted that these changes were minor tweaks that do not 
justify a departure from past Service positions, we conclude that these 
changes are biologically substantive and important. These and other 
changes were sufficient for us to determine that the current plan 
rectifies the inadequacies of the previous plan.
    Many comments note the Service's prior preference for statewide 
trophy game designation. We acknowledge that many official statements 
on this issue (i.e., letters from the Director or Federal Register 
notices) demonstrate that we consistently questioned past Wyoming 
Trophy Area designations and concluded a revision was necessary or 
required. However, a careful inspection of the record will show that 
most statements regarding a statewide trophy game designation describe 
this approach as advisable or recommended, rather than required. While 
there are exceptions to this generalized summary of our position in the 
record, an overall reading of the record confirms this account of our 
position over time.
    Issue 24: Some comments expressed the opinion that predator status 
across most of the State would subject wolves to unsustainable levels 
of mortality and compromise the population's recovered status. A few 
comments asserted that the vast majority of wolves in Wyoming would be 
subjected to unlimited and unregulated taking. Some comments supported 
the ``very strict'' requirements for reporting wolf mortality in the 
predator area, while other comments questioned whether the monitoring 
and collection of genetic samples would be mandatory. Several comments 
expressed concern that wolves from YNP, Grand Teton National Park, John 
D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, and the National Elk Refuge would 
be killed when they venture outside those protected areas. These 
comments indicated this outcome would be exacerbated when wolves follow 
elk to neighboring elk feeding grounds. One comment suggested State and 
Federal officials develop a protocol for collaboration and coordination 
before wolf removal occurs on feed grounds in the Jackson area, in 
light of potential impacts to Grand Teton National Park and National 
Elk Refuge wolves. Use of nonlethal take was particularly recommended 
on elk feedgrounds. A few comments recommended a 20-mile buffer around 
the Trophy Area to protect wolf parents during the denning and pup 
rearing season. Other comments objected to the Trophy Area being set in 
statute, to the extent it prevents an expansion of the Trophy Area, 
even if it becomes necessary to protect wolf populations.
    A few comments noted occupancy rarely persisted in the predator 
areas even when wolves were listed, so all the predator status does is 
change the form of mortality these wolves endure from agency control 
when they kill livestock to preemptive landowner control. Still other 
comments disputed our assertion that wolves in the predator area would 
likely not persist. These comments asserted take in this area, once the 
initial novelty wears off, would likely be ``opportunistic'' rather 
than a ``wholesale extirpation.'' Some of these comments expressed the 
opinion that individual wolves, packs and breeding pairs could or would 
occasionally occur in less densely populated portions of eastern 
Wyoming. Others suggested control in the predator area is nothing new 
because most wolves in this area are already killed because they tend 
to become problem wolves. Still others expressed the view that wolves 
should be ``controlled by any means'' if they move outside ``their 
designated range.''
    Response 24: Although a large predator area will result in forms of 
mortality that many members of the public view as inhumane or unethical 
(see Issue and Response 31 below), this portion of Wyoming's regulatory 
framework will not subject wolves to unsustainable levels of mortality 
or compromise the population's recovered status. In fact, few wolves 
currently occur in the predator area where such unlimited taking will 
be allowed (at the end of 2011, this included: 3 of 27 breeding pairs; 
8 of 48 packs; and 46 of 328 wolves). As in eastern Montana and 
southern Idaho, wolf restoration will not occur in largely unsuitable 
habitat regardless of its management designation.
    Wolf packs in the predator portions of Wyoming are easy to detect 
and locate and will generally not persist following delisting. However, 
some individuals from these packs could survive as lone animals. 
Because none of the packs resident to YNP or the Trophy Area are known 
to spend a significant portion of their time in the predator portions 
of Wyoming (Jimenez 2012 a; Jimenez 2012, pers. comm.), the predator 
designation is not expected to meaningfully affect wolves in YNP or in 
the Trophy Area (Jimenez 2012, pers. comm.). While a larger Trophy Area 
may benefit wolves and wolf conservation, protected and game portions 
of Wyoming are of sufficient size to support a recovered wolf 
population in Wyoming, under the management regime developed for this 
area.
    Finally, State law requires that any human-caused mortality 
occurring in the predator area must be reported to WGFD within 10 days 
(W.S. 23-1-304(d)(iii)). This will assist the WGFD with monitoring 
mortality in the predator area and allow the State to adjust mortality 
within the Trophy

[[Page 55560]]

Area, if necessary. The State will also collect genetic samples from 
these animals when possible (chapter 21, section 5(a)).
    Issue 25: Many comments expressed concern about the potential for 
the hunting of wolves on Federal land and that this delisting rule 
represented a new management arrangement between the Department of the 
Interior and the State of Wyoming for particular areas (e.g., National 
Parks or Wildlife Refuges) that would supersede existing law, 
regulations, or policy. The most frequently mentioned land ownership 
categories included the National Elk Refuge, Grand Teton National Park, 
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, Wilderness Areas and 
Wilderness Study Areas, and Forest Service lands. Many comments 
expressed concern that inclusion of an area in Wyoming's Trophy Area 
implied an intention by the State of Wyoming to hunt wolves in these 
areas. Specifically, some were confused by YNP's exclusion from the 
Trophy Area, contrasted with Grand Teton National Park's inclusion when 
management in these areas should be comparable, if not identical. Other 
comments expressed concern that Wyoming claimed jurisdiction over 
private lands within Grand Teton National Park and might authorize 
hunting within the park's boundaries. Many expressed concern for 
hunting in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, noting such 
hunting would sever a critical connectivity corridor between Grand 
Teton National Park and YNP. Other comments expressed concern that 
National Park system wolves would be killed when they left the park and 
suggested that buffers with no hunting or subunits immediately 
adjoining these units be established with very limited quotas to 
protect these wolves. Finally, a few comments expressed concern that 
Wyoming claimed jurisdiction for non-Indian fee title lands within the 
Wind River Indian Reservation, meaning any wolves on these lands would 
be treated as a predator.
    Response 25: Nothing in this rule would alter, or in any way 
affect, the jurisdiction or authority of the State of Wyoming, Tribal 
governments, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, or any other entity with respect to the regulation of hunting. 
Whatever jurisdiction or authority to authorize, prohibit, or regulate 
hunting existed in such areas prior to this final rule is unchanged by 
the promulgation of this rule (except, of course, that this rule 
removes the protections of the Act for wolves in Wyoming). More 
specifically, inclusion of an area in the Trophy Area does not imply a 
delegation of management authority to the State or in any way alter 
existing management arrangements. Inclusion in the Trophy Area does not 
necessarily mean hunting or other State control actions will be 
allowed. Grand Teton National Park was included in the Trophy Area and 
YNP was not because wolves occurring in Grand Teton National Park are 
likely to spend significant amounts of their time in areas under State 
jurisdiction (including possibly denning in the Trophy Area) whereas 
most YNP wolf packs spend most of their time in YNP. Thus, it makes 
sense to count Grand Teton National Park wolves in the State's 
management totals, and it makes sense to exclude YNP wolves from the 
State's management objectives. For utmost clarity, below we summarize 
management authority for the most often mentioned areas within the 
Trophy Area.
    Within the National Elk Refuge (included in the Trophy Area), the 
refuge retains all authority and responsibility to manage all wolves on 
the Refuge including, but not limited to, monitoring, research, 
harvest, and wolf control for depredations on domestic animals and 
negative impacts on wildlife. Recreational wolf hunting and trapping is 
not currently authorized on the refuge and is not anticipated, but 
could be considered in the future (Kallin 2012, pers. comm.). Regarding 
predator management, regional Service guidance clarifies that 
management decisions are the purview of the refuge manager, but that 
generally: Agency-directed population management activities (i.e., 
those intended solely to reduce or control predator populations) would 
not be allowed on refuge lands; ground-based control activities (but 
not aerial gunning) could be allowed for specific animals or family 
groups likely responsible for documented livestock depredations on 
neighboring or adjoining lands (subject to National Environmental 
Policy Act compliance); and requests to conduct nonlethal activities 
such as surveillance, live-trapping, marking, or radio-collaring by 
partners could be granted (Coleman 2011). The Service will continue to 
monitor and report on wolves located on the National Elk Refuge (Kallin 
2012a). These wolves will count toward the State's objective of at 
least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves outside YNP and the 
Wind River Indian Reservation (Kallin 2012a).
    Within National Park System units, hunting is not allowed unless 
the authorizing legislation specifically provides for it. Thus, hunting 
will not occur within YNP or Grand Teton National Park (Frost and 
Wessels 2012; Joss 2012; Mead 2012b). Although the Addendum to 
Wyoming's Wolf Management Plan asserts the state's authority to manage 
wolves on inholdings within Grand Teton National Park, hunting of 
wolves on those inholdings would not be allowed because hunting within 
Grand Teton National Park is not authorized by federal law, and is 
therefore prohibited. Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations makes 
clear that the hunting prohibition is applicable on all lands within 
the park boundary, regardless of ownership. Therefore, taking of wolves 
would not be allowed on any of the inholdings within the park. The 
exception to the hunting prohibition within the park is the elk 
reduction program, which is a management tool specifically included in 
the park's enabling legislation.
    Although hunting is currently allowed for many other game species 
in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway under the Parkway's 
enabling legislation and Wyoming law, the National Park Service has 
indicated a ``strong preference that wolves not be hunted in the John 
D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway'' (Frost and Wessels 2012). 
Wyoming's hunting regulations are clear that gray wolf hunting would 
not occur in the Parkway during the 2012 season, although nothing in 
Wyoming's regulations or Wyoming's wolf management plan would preclude 
wolves from being hunted in the Parkway in subsequent years. Should 
hunting ever occur in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, it 
would likely be very limited, would be unlikely to noticeably affect 
wolf gene flow or connectivity, and it would be closely coordinated 
with the National Park Service.
    Some wolves in protected areas, such as Grand Teton National Park 
or the National Elk Refuge, will be vulnerable to hunting and other 
forms of human-caused mortality when they leave these Federal land 
management units. These wolves were included in the Trophy Area for 
exactly this reason. Because Wyoming counts these wolves in its totals, 
it has an incentive to minimize impacts to these wolves (e.g., more 
wolves, packs, and breeding pairs in these protected Federal lands 
means fewer wolves are needed for recovery in the remainder of the 
Trophy Area). Such information influenced Wyoming's intended harvest in 
2012. Specifically, in 2012, Wyoming authorized a harvest of 15 wolves 
in all of the units adjoining Grand Teton National Park (more than 60 
wolves occur in Grand Teton

[[Page 55561]]

National Park and the surrounding area). We expect that harvest will 
have a minimal impact on Grand Teton National Park wolves because: The 
surrounding units are fairly large; we have no reason to assume harvest 
in these units will be concentrated along park boundaries; and some 
reproduction will occur. Similar considerations will also occur in 
future years. Furthermore, should such mortality result in higher than 
expected impacts in 2012 or future years, we expect Wyoming to work 
with the Service and National Park Service to address the issue (Mills 
2012, pers. comm.). Should it ever become necessary, Wyoming could 
consider smaller hunting units for areas adjoining these protected 
areas. Similar strategies have been successfully implemented in Montana 
in areas adjoining YNP.
    Within Forest Service lands, including Wilderness Areas and 
Wilderness Study Areas (which are generally Forest Service lands), the 
Forest Service typically defers to States on hunting decisions (16 
U.S.C. 480, 528, 551, 1133; 43 U.S.C. 1732(b)). The primary exception 
to this deference is the Forest Service's authority to identify areas 
and periods when hunting is not permitted (43 U.S.C. 1732(b)). However, 
even these decisions are to be developed in consultation with the 
States. Thus, most State-authorized hunting occurs on State and Federal 
public lands like National Forests, Wilderness Areas, and Wilderness 
Study Areas. Bureau of Land Management lands are managed similarly. 
This rule does not change or in any way alter this arrangement.
    Regarding the Wind River Indian Reservation, we understand that 
Wyoming claims management authority of non-Indian fee title lands and 
on Bureau of Reclamation lands within the Wind River Indian 
Reservation's boundaries. Thus, wolves will be classified as game 
animals (Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Department 2007, pp. 
2-3, 9) within about 80 percent of the reservation and will be treated 
as predators on the remaining 20 percent (Hnilicka 2012). Predator 
status would have minimal impact on wolf management and abundance, 
because these inholdings tend to be concentrated on the eastern side of 
the reservation outside of reported areas of wolf activity (Shoshone 
and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Department 2007, Figure 1). We note 
that, while the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes do not agree that Wyoming 
has authority over these lands, to date the Tribes have not challenged 
this management authority for other wildlife species. Therefore, we 
assume that if any wolves occur in these areas they will be treated as 
predators.
    Issue 26: Some comments expressed concern that State management and 
the resulting increased human-caused mortality would negatively affect 
surviving wolves and packs across the region. Some comments focused on 
the impact to pack social structure. Others focused on psychological 
trauma and increased stress to survivors which in turn could affect 
their own likelihood of survival. A few comments noted that even in a 
relatively large protected area, human harvesting outside park 
boundaries can affect evolutionarily important social patterns within 
protected areas.
    Response 26: Wolf packs frequently have high rates of natural 
turnover (Mech 2007, p. 1482) and quickly adapt to changes in pack 
social structure (Brainerd et al. 2008, p. 89). Higher rates of human-
caused mortality outside protected areas will result in different wolf 
pack size and structure than in protected areas. However, wolf 
populations in many parts of the world, including most of North 
America, experience various levels of human-caused mortality and the 
associated disruption in natural processes and wolf social structure, 
without ever being threatened (Boitani 2003, pp. 322-323). Therefore, 
while human-caused mortality may alter pack structure, we have no 
evidence that indicates this issue, if adequately regulated (as will 
occur in the NRM region), is a significant concern for wolf 
conservation.
    Issue 27: A few comments opined that Wyoming State law would allow 
abuse of the State's defense of property allowance. Specifically, some 
opined that Wyoming's chapter 21 and State statutes (W.S. 23-3-115) 
could allow the use of dogs or livestock as bait to encourage wolves to 
attack, which would in turn allow the killing of the offending wolf 
``doing damage to private property.'' These comments noted this is 
different than our experimental population rule's allowances for 
defense of property, where such baiting was specifically prohibited.
    Response 27: A representative from the Wyoming Attorney General's 
Office indicated the baiting scenario laid out above could be 
prosecuted under State law (Nesvik 2012). Regardless, we conclude that 
such a scenario is unlikely to occur and exceedingly unlikely to become 
a meaningful source of mortality. Should a member of the public desire 
to pursue wolf removal, rather than risk violating State laws and 
regulations, most would pursue either a hunting tag or a lethal take 
permit. Such permitted take would be regulated and limited as 
necessary. Furthermore, from a practical standpoint, such baiting is 
likely to be very time consuming given the difficulty of trying to 
actually catch a wolf ``doing damage to private property.'' In the 
unlikely event that this theoretical issue becomes a regular source of 
uncontrollable mortality, similar to legitimate defense of property 
allowances, it would result in a smaller harvest quota or other limits 
on controllable human-caused mortality as a means of compensating and 
ensuring the population's recovered status is not compromised. This 
approach is adequate to address this improbable, theoretical issue.
    Issue 28: Many comments objected to killing wolves for eating their 
natural prey. These comments dispute the conclusion that wolves were 
causing unacceptable impacts to ungulate herds and instead suggested 
prey abundance was primarily shaped by other factors (e.g., habitat and 
climate). Many of these comments suggested that we should let nature 
achieve a natural balance over time instead of reducing wolf 
populations. Other comments suggested Wyoming might use its allowance 
to address ``unacceptable impacts to ungulate populations'' to quickly 
reduce wolf populations to minimum levels. These comments asserted that 
the vague and flexible definition of ``unacceptable impacts'' (``any 
decline in a wild ungulate population or herd that results in the 
population or herd not meeting the state population management goal or 
recruitment levels established for the population or herd'') could 
result in abuse of this provision if the State established absurd 
objectives for the primary purpose of justifying large-scale wolf 
removals.
    Response 28: To date, Wyoming has not proposed any wolf control 
projects specifically to address unacceptable impacts to ungulate 
herds. At present, nearly all of Wyoming's elk herds are at levels 
above State objectives. While half of Wyoming's moose populations are 
not meeting State objectives, the science does not indicate wolves are 
the primary culprit for this outcome. This information indicates no 
immediate need for such an approach. After delisting, other management 
tools will reduce wolf populations from current levels, further 
limiting the need for control specifically to address unacceptable 
impacts to ungulate herds. Therefore, we expect wolf control 
specifically to address unacceptable impacts to ungulate herds will be 
rare, will be regulated should it occur, and will not compromise 
recovery. Instead of using this tool, we expect that

[[Page 55562]]

Wyoming will consider ungulate herd health when designing hunting units 
and quotas. This approach will allow them to use hunting (which is a 
far cheaper management tool) to address any perceived issues. Both 
hunting and projects specifically to address unacceptable impacts to 
ungulate herds (should any occur) will be carefully regulated so that 
population objectives are not compromised and recovery is maintained in 
Wyoming, the GYA, and across the NRM DPS.
    Issue 29: Some comments expressed concern that illegal human-caused 
mortality might be greater once Federal protections are removed due to 
lower and undefined consequences of illegal wolf killing in the Trophy 
Area. A few comments suggested unlimited and unregulated taking in the 
predator area will encourage people to illegally shoot wolves in 
regulated portions of Wyoming. A few comments noted our previous 
statements that a statewide trophy game status would be easier for the 
public to understand and easier to regulate and enforce. Some comments 
noted the need for strict enforcement with strong fines and penalties.
    Response 29: Upon delisting, wolves will become protected by State, 
Tribal, and Federal laws and regulations. In most cases, when wildlife 
managers have sufficient evidence to recommend prosecution, prosecution 
is pursued (Bruscino 2012, pers. comm.). Enforcement will keep illegal 
activity to a minimal level. While listed, illegal killing was 
estimated to be responsible for approximately 10 percent of annual 
mortality. This level of mortality was not a threat to the population 
because of the species' prolific reproductive capacity. There was no 
indication that illegal mortality levels increased following previous 
delistings. In the Midwest, it appeared that fewer wolves were 
illegally killed during the deer hunting season when wolves were 
delisted than when they were listed (Wydeven et al. 2008). Furthermore, 
we do not share the opinion that the take allowances authorized in the 
predator area will encourage others within the Trophy Area to break the 
law. To the contrary, slightly greater defense of property allowances 
and legal hunting opportunities may shift some illegal killing into 
legal mortality categories.
    Finally, while enforcement of the law would have been easier under 
statewide trophy animal status, we conclude that human-caused mortality 
can be adequately regulated by Wyoming under the current regulatory 
framework. Under Wyoming's regulatory framework it will be incumbent 
upon members of the public to know their rights and responsibilities 
towards wolves in different parts of the State. Similar requirements 
would be placed upon the public even if Wyoming adopted a single 
statewide trophy animal designation when wolves cross into areas like 
National Parks, wildlife refuges, sovereign Indian land, or other 
States, or when hunters move from one hunting unit into another. Such 
differential standards governing take allowance currently exist for 
other State-regulated species and rarely cause confusion for the 
public. Furthermore, the potential for confusion is lessened because 
Trophy Area boundaries are set in statute. Thus, the same agency will 
consistently make management decisions for a set location; while 
management may seasonally shift between agencies in the seasonal Trophy 
Area, the timing and geography of this shift is set in statute and will 
not change across years, providing some reasonable level of 
predictability here, too. This contrasts with and substantially 
improves upon previous regulatory frameworks in Wyoming where the WGFC 
had authority to move the line whenever it saw fit if the State's 
objectives could be met in a smaller area. Thus, overall, we conclude 
that, while some confusion is possible, the available evidence 
indicates that most stakeholders will obey the law as it applies to 
wolves in different geographical areas.
    Therefore, we conclude that while some level of illegal mortality 
goes on now and is likely to continue, we have high confidence that 
this issue, singularly or in combination with other factors, will not 
compromise the Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf population's 
recovered status.
    Issue 30: Many other comments suggested Wyoming should employ 
nonlethal deterrents, birth control or sterilization, or relocation 
before resorting to lethal control. Some comments accepted lethal 
control when there was a current or imminent threat to personal 
property. Many comments suggested increased spending for rancher 
education including nonlethal approaches to deterring wolf depredation. 
One comment asserted that limiting lethal control methods was the best 
way to spur innovation in developing and increasing application of 
effective nonlethal options. This commenter asserted that, by limiting 
the amount of lethal control and who can implement it, incidents of 
residents killing the wrong wolf would be minimized. A few comments 
indicated that State compensation programs (which pay at 7 times market 
value) create a perverse incentive to encourage poor animal husbandry 
practices (things like putting livestock in known wolf-occupied areas).
    Response 30: While not required by the Act, State, Tribal, and 
Federal managers will continue to use a combination of management 
options in order to reduce wolf-human conflicts, including nonlethal 
forms (Bangs et al. 2006). However, these methods are only effective in 
some circumstances, and no single tool is a cure for every problem. 
Lethal control will still be required in many circumstances. In areas 
with year-round high livestock density, it is almost impossible to 
prevent chronic livestock depredation if wolf packs form in those 
areas. Lethal control used in combination with nonlethal methods can 
improve the overall effectiveness of both management options (Bangs et 
al. 2006, p. 8; Brietenmoser et al. 2005, p. 70).
    Issue 31: Many comments objected to various types of mortality that 
will be allowed in Wyoming, particularly in the predator area, as well 
as activities currently ongoing in Montana and Idaho, which they viewed 
as inhumane, unethical, or unfair. For example, some people objected to 
poisoning, gassing, hunting, trapping or snaring (as well as not 
checking traps often enough), torturing, and various other methods of 
killing wolves. A few suggested humane euthanasia instead of other 
less-humane methods of control. Others objected to any wolf killing. 
Many viewed wolves as intelligent, sentient beings that warrant 
protection. A few comments expressed the opinion that the sudden shift 
of wolves being protected as endangered one day to being considered 
vermin the next day was unprecedented, contrary to the intent of the 
Act, and violated the duty imposed by the Act to recover and protect 
at-risk species. Others opined that this approach violated the stated 
purpose of the Act ``to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon 
which endangered species and threatened species depend may be 
conserved.'' A few comments suggested Wyoming's decision to designate 
wolves as predators across most of the State violated six principles of 
the North American Wildlife Model of Conservation including: Wildlife 
as public trust resources; allocation of wildlife by law; wildlife 
should only be killed for a legitimate purpose; wildlife are considered 
an international resource; science is the proper tool for discharge of 
wildlife policy; and democracy of hunting (the 7th principle is 
``elimination of markets for game'').
    Response 31: We recognize and respect that many find some or all 
forms of human-caused wolf mortality as

[[Page 55563]]

morally or ethically objectionable. Some forms of wolf mortality that 
may occur in the predator area were not implemented while the Service 
was responsible for wolf management. However, the Act requires that we 
make our determination based on the status of the subject species (is 
it recovered and will State management retain that recovered status if 
the Act's protections are removed) and does not allow us to consider 
the manner in which individuals will be killed after delisting unless 
it would affect this overarching viability determination. The manner of 
take is subject to State control once wolves are delisted. Based on the 
available information, we do not find any persuasive information to 
indicate that the manner of killing will affect the viability of the 
Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf populations. Regarding 
viability, few wolves occur in the predator portion of Wyoming (now and 
likely far fewer after delisting); therefore, few wolves will be 
subjected to such taking. Furthermore, we cannot find any evidence that 
a shift from being Federally protected under the Act one day to being 
considered vermin the next day conflicts with Congressional intent or 
violates the Act. Finally, designation of large portions of Wyoming as 
a predator area is not inconsistent with the purposes of the Act--wolf 
restoration in nearly all of the predator area is unrealistic 
regardless of its designation; as in eastern Montana and southern 
Idaho, wolf restoration will not occur in largely unsuitable habitat 
regardless of its management designation. In other words, protection of 
the wolf population and maintenance of the ecosystems on which wolves 
depend have been, and will continue to be, protected to the extent 
necessary.

Gene Flow and Genetic Diversity

    Issue 32: A few comments suggested that lack of genetic diversity 
was an issue for NRM gray wolves, that almost all wolves in Yellowstone 
and Idaho descended from a small reintroduced population, and that the 
genetic diversity of the extirpated North American gray wolf was twice 
that of the current population. Many comments discussed genetic 
connectivity and potential future genetic issues that could result from 
genetic isolation (e.g., inbreeding depression or reduced genetic 
fitness). Many comments indicated that gene flow was limited under the 
Act's strict regulatory framework, and would be even more limited after 
delisting. Specifically, these comments indicated State management 
would reduce the wolf population resulting in fewer dispersers, and 
reduce occupied range, increasing the distance a dispersal event would 
need to cover, which in turn would reduce both the numbers of dispersal 
events and increase mortality among dispersers. Various types of 
allowable mortality (hunting and killing in the predator area were most 
frequently mentioned) would result in reduced survival for wolves 
traveling between subpopulations (including dispersal during peak 
dispersal periods), and high mortality rates in unprotected areas would 
kill wolves that successfully traverse between subpopulations.
    Some comments noted our previous conclusion that dispersal would 
likely ``noticeably decrease'' if populations were maintained near 150 
wolves per State. Several comments apparently viewed this as an 
admission that management at these levels are not genetically 
sustainable. A few comments suggested that we should analyze this 
threat at minimum population levels. Some comments challenged our 
assertion that the population was recovered as long as human-caused 
mortality, the primary threat faced by the species, could impede gene 
flow. While the peer review report concluded that ``gene flow is likely 
to be adequate in the short and medium term,'' some comments expressed 
concern about genetic health in the long term. Still other comments 
indicated gene flow was unlikely to become a conservation issue for NRM 
and GYA wolves, given the proximity of neighboring wolf populations and 
the dispersal capabilities of wolves. Numerous documented long 
distance-dispersal events were given as examples of the species' 
dispersal ability (i.e., dispersal into Oregon, Washington, California, 
South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, and Utah). A few comments noted that 
most of the peer reviewers viewed genetic connectivity and potential 
genetic issues as a ``non-issue.''
    Response 32: NRM wolves are as genetically diverse as their vast, 
secure, healthy, contiguous, and connected populations in Canada 
(Forbes and Boyd 1997, p. 1089; vonHoldt et al. 2007, p. 19; vonHoldt 
et al. 2010, pp. 4412, 4416-4421), and, thus, genetic diversity is not 
a wolf conservation issue in the NRM DPS at this time (Hebblewhite et 
al. 2010, p. 4383; vonHoldt et al. 2010, pp. 4412, 4416, 4421). Wolves 
have an unusual ability to rapidly disperse long distances across 
virtually any habitat and select mates to maximize genetic diversity. 
Wolves are among the least likely species to be affected by inbreeding 
when compared to nearly any other species of land mammal (Fuller et al. 
2003, pp. 189-190; Paquet et al. 2006, p. 3; Liberg 2008). Genetic and 
dispersal data demonstrate that minimal acceptable levels of genetic 
exchange between all NRM subpopulations were met or exceeded while the 
species was listed (including from 1995 to 2004 when the population was 
between 101 and 846 individuals and likely a higher rate of effective 
dispersal since then). While State management will almost certainly 
reduce genetic exchange rates from recent levels (which exceed minimal 
acceptable levels of genetic exchange), we find it extremely unlikely 
that it will be reduced to the point that the GYA wolf population will 
be threatened by lower genetic diversity in the foreseeable future. 
Similarly, the peer review report concluded ``genetic concerns 
(inbreeding, maintenance of gene flow) are minor'' and that ``gene flow 
is likely to be adequate in the short- and medium-term'' (Atkins 2012, 
p. iii). Overall, the best scientific and commercial information 
available indicates this issue is unlikely to undermine the Wyoming, 
the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf population's recovered status and that 
this issue, singularly or in combination with other factors, is 
unlikely to cause the population to become an endangered species within 
the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range. This issue is discussed further in subsequent Issues and 
Responses and in Factor E below.
    Issue 33: Many comments expressed the opinion that the seasonal 
Trophy Area expansion would not be effective in maintaining a genetic 
connection between wolves in Wyoming and wolves in Idaho. A few 
comments noted that we previously recommended a statewide Trophy Area 
reasoning that dispersal is more likely to lead to genetic exchange if 
dispersers have safe passage through the predator area. Numerous 
comments asserted that the seasonal Trophy Area's boundary was based on 
political compromise and not science. Many comments noted that we 
failed to present any data explaining why this geographic area and this 
time period are adequate to maintain genetic connectivity. Some of 
these comments noted that seasonal protection was inadequate because 
wolf dispersal takes many months and occurs at all times of the year. 
Other comments noted that more than half of the time the area was 
protected as a game area, hunting would occur, further limiting its 
effectiveness as a protective corridor.
    A few comments suggested the effectiveness of this area would be 
further hindered by management in

[[Page 55564]]

Idaho. Specifically, during the fall 2011 to spring 2012 hunting 
season, Idaho's Southern Wolf Hunting Zone (adjacent to the seasonal 
Trophy Area) had a 7-month hunting season (August 30 to March 31) with 
unlimited total quotas. This comment indicated that these combined 
management schemes do little or nothing to prevent genetic isolation 
because they do not provide a single day of the year when wolves can 
move between this portion of Idaho and Wyoming and not face unlimited 
kill prospects. A few comments recommended the seasonal Trophy Area 
should be added to the permanent Trophy Area. Some comments suggested 
the southern boundary should be placed further south than the Teton 
County line for both scientific and economic reasons (predator status 
in Teton County could hurt its image as a place that honors and 
protects wildlife). Others suggested the entire State should be 
categorized as a Trophy Area (instead of the seasonal Trophy Area 
expansion) in order to maximize the likelihood of maintaining genetic 
connectivity.
    Response 33: Dispersing wolves will likely use multiple routes to 
enter the GYA in the years to come. For example, a simple evaluation of 
Figure 2 in this rule would suggest the shortest and most direct path 
to entering the GYA is from the central Idaho region into eastern 
Idaho's portion of the GYA. In recognition of this likelihood, Idaho 
has limited hunting in this region. Similarly, some wolves could move 
from western Montana into south-central Montana and enter the GYA 
subpopulation. The distance between these areas is currently very small 
(a fact demonstrated by the relative difficulty in determining which 
subpopulation some intervening packs should be assigned to based on 
visual inspection alone; i.e., pack 99 or 242 in Figure 2) and is 
expected to remain an easily travelable distance long term. Effective 
migration into the GYA via these routes could be done without moving 
through Wyoming and would accomplish the desired connectivity goal.
    Similarly, while YNP's recent high density and reproductive output 
appears to have limited gene flow from other subpopulations into the 
park (but not necessarily through the park), the lack of dispersal into 
YNP may change as the park's wolf population continues its decline into 
a lower long term equilibrium (Smith 2012). Furthermore, regardless of 
whether they establish in the park, future wolf population densities in 
YNP will not preclude dispersing wolves from traveling through the 
park. Given the above, dispersal around the southern end of the 
permanent Trophy Area is likely to be a small portion of the total 
number of dispersers.
    Additionally, the predator area designation will not preclude 
dispersal. While resident packs with established home ranges and known 
denning sites in the predator area are expected to be removed, 
dispersers will be more difficult to find, resulting in some successful 
dispersal. Hunting data from Idaho's Southern Wolf Hunting Zone 
demonstrates this conclusion. During the 2009-2010 hunting season, 
Idaho allowed hunting from August 30th to March 31st in this zone, but 
only one wolf was harvested. During the 2011-2012 hunting season, Idaho 
allowed hunting from August 30th to March 31st with an unlimited quota 
in this zone, but only harvested two wolves. Much like the Wyoming 
predator area, few resident wolves occupy this area, so most take that 
occurs is opportunistic. Such take has proven minimal to date. We 
conclude that this trend will continue in Idaho's Southern Wolf Hunting 
Zone. Similarly, take of dispersers in the predator area will occur, 
but will be limited, and dispersal will likely continue through this 
area, despite the predator area's legal status and liberal take 
opportunities.
    The seasonal expansion of the Trophy Area was designed to 
facilitate additional dispersal around the southern edge of the GYA 
population. Specifically, the permanent Trophy Area will expand 
approximately 80 km (50 mi) south along the western border of Wyoming 
from October 15 to the end of February (see Figure 1 above). This 
seasonal expansion covers approximately 3,300 km\2\ (1,300 mi\2\) 
(i.e., an additional 1.3 percent of Wyoming). This area was selected to 
provide a southern route around the Teton Range in winter when high 
elevation and high snow packs would limit wolf passage. The timing of 
this expansion was also selected to provide additional protection for 
wolves during peak dispersal periods in winter. Human-caused mortality 
will be limited during this important time period. For example, in 
2012, Wyoming established a quota of 2 wolves for the seasonal Trophy 
Area with a season from October 15 through December 31; no hunter 
harvest will be allowed from January 1 through the end of February. The 
seasonal expansion of the Trophy Area, together with other reforms to 
the State's regulatory framework, will benefit dispersal and will 
provide that the Wyoming, the GYA, and the NRM gray wolf population's 
recovered status will not be compromised.
    Most of the peer reviewers concurred with our assessment, noting 
that the Trophy Area was sufficient to maintain genetic connectivity 
and gene flow between subpopulations. Additionally, most peer reviewers 
indicated that the designation of a large predator area would not 
undermine this connectivity and the desired levels of gene flow.
    Issue 34: Some comments questioned the basis for the goal of at 
least one effective migrant per generation moving into the GYA to 
address potential genetic issues. A few comments noted that documented 
effective natural migration into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem was 
less than half of the one effective migrant per generation standard 
(0.43 natural effective migrants per generation); one comment noted 
that this estimate was a minimum estimate and a rate around the minimum 
standard probably occurred. Some comments cited literature recommending 
up to 10 migrants per generation. One comment even indicated that some 
populations require greater than 20 migrants per generation. One of the 
peer reviewers noted gene flow should also occur from the GYA into the 
other subunits.
    Response 34: As a general rule, genetic exchange of at least one 
effective migrant (i.e., a breeding migrant that passes on its genes) 
per generation is viewed as sufficient to prevent the loss of alleles 
and minimize loss of heterozygosity within subpopulations (Mills and 
Allendorf 1996, entire; Wang 2004, entire; Mills 2007, p. 193). This 
level of gene flow allows for local evolutionary adaptation while 
minimizing negative effects of genetic drift and inbreeding depression. 
While higher levels of genetic exchange may be beneficial (note the 
``at least'' in the above standard), we conclude that a minimum of one 
effective migrant per generation is a reasonable and acceptable goal to 
avoid any degradation in the NRM DPS's current levels of genetic 
diversity. Even the most cautious peer reviewer, Dr. Vucetich, agreed 
``existing literature suggests that this objective for immigration is 
appropriate'' (Atkins 2011, p. 87). As discussed further in Factor E 
below, this level of genetic exchange likely occurred when the 
population was between 101 and 846 wolves and has likely been exceeded 
at higher population levels (as discussed in more detail in Factor E 
below).
    Management attention to date has focused on gene flow into the GYA 
from other subpopulations because this is the most isolated population, 
and the population where a lack of gene flow has a theoretical 
potential to affect the

[[Page 55565]]

population. The other two subpopulations are well connected to each 
other and Canadian wolf populations, indicating that genetic issues are 
not likely to be a conservation issue for the central Idaho or 
northwestern Montana subpopulations. While gene flow from the GYA into 
other subpopulations has likely occurred and will likely continue after 
delisting, such movement is not necessary for the preservation of GYA, 
central Idaho, or northwestern Montana wolf subpopulations. While such 
gene flow is desirable, it is not necessary to prevent the NRM DPS or 
any of its subpopulations from becoming threatened or endangered.
    Issue 35: A few comments noted that no genetic exchange could occur 
for up to 20 years before remedial action would be considered. Some of 
these comments saw this as problematic because some modeling indicates 
a small, isolated population of around 170 wolves could see decreased 
juvenile survival within 60 years.
    Response 35: As discussed elsewhere in this rule, genetic diversity 
is not a short term issue and will not constitute a threat to the 
viability of the wolf population at any time in the foreseeable future. 
Even for small and isolated populations (neither of which will be the 
case for the GYA wolf population), changes in genetic diversity take 
time. For example, a vonHoldt et al. (2007, pp. 16, 19) model suggested 
that even if the GYA population is maintained at about 170 animals and 
no effective migration occurs, the heterozygosity and inbreeding 
coefficients will not change for the next 10 years, would change 
minimally over the next 20 to 30 years (not enough to result in a 
phenotypic change), and that it would take 60 years before a 15 percent 
reduction in reproductive rates could occur (which would not likely 
threaten or endanger the population). However, we believe even these 
outcomes are overly pessimistic, because the vonHoldt et al. (2007) 
model assumes a population level about half the GYA's likely long term 
average (as discussed elsewhere in this rule) and, even in a worst case 
scenario, natural effective migration and gene flow will exceed zero 
(the model assumes zero effective migration).
    Given the above, we conclude that it is appropriate to monitor this 
issue for multiple wolf generations before deciding whether to take 
action and what type of action to take. However, this approach does not 
mean this issue will be neglected as this comment seems to imply. In 
fact, Wyoming has agreed to pursue an extensive long term genetic 
monitoring program, which will be more intensive than what is 
undertaken for any other species in Wyoming (Mead 2012a). Should data 
warrant a need, the States will then implement remedial actions, as 
appropriate, including options like limiting the amount and timing of 
human-caused mortality to increase survival of dispersing wolves. 
Overall, this comprehensive and rigorous approach to this issue gives 
us confidence that genetic diversity will not become a threat to the 
population's recovered status.
    Issue 36: Many comments objected to human-assisted migration as a 
strategy to address potential genetic threats associated with reduced 
or lost connectivity when feasible methods for ensuring natural 
dispersal and population connectivity exist (e.g., reducing human-
caused mortality). Others thought human-assisted migration should be a 
last resort and that it was an inappropriate tool to overcome 
anthropogenic barriers to dispersal (primarily human-caused mortality). 
Others noted that this management approach risks unnecessarily creating 
a conservation-reliant species. Some suggested allowance for human-
assisted migration meant the population was not recovered, because the 
Act requires self-sustaining wild populations to achieve recovery. 
Other comments argued any species that requires translocation is not 
recovered because section 3 of the Act defines ``recovery'' 
(technically ``conservation'') as ``the point at which the measures 
provided pursuant to this Act are no longer necessary'' and the list of 
measures includes relocation. Some comments expressed the view that we 
had no real assurance Wyoming would use translocation only as an option 
of last resort, and more likely, it would become ``standard 
procedure.''
    A few comments viewed our allowance for human-assisted migration as 
removing State incentive to achieve the criterion via natural 
dispersal. Others requested clarification on when it would be used, 
what it would look like, and how it would be financed. These comments 
concluded it was counter to the Act for us to rely on the unenforceable 
intentions of Wyoming as grounds to dismiss this potential threat. One 
comment suggested the proposed rule oversimplified the feasibility of 
artificial translocation noting few transplanted wolves would become 
breeders, that artificial insemination would be technically difficult, 
and that such a program would be costly to the States. Still other 
comments suggested relocating problem wolves instead of killing them, 
noting the ancillary benefit of providing gene flow. Other comments 
insisted delisting should not occur until the population can be shown 
to be genetically viable under State management without translocation.
    Response 36: Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming all agree that natural 
connectivity is the preferred approach to maintaining genetic 
diversity, and have indicated an intention to jointly collaborate to 
provide continued opportunities for natural connectivity between all 
three recovery areas (Groen et al. 2008, p. 2; WGFC 2012, pp. 6-7). 
Given the dispersal capabilities of wolves and the proximity of 
suitable habitat, we conclude that the States can, and will, achieve 
adequate levels of genetic exchange. Such levels likely occurred when 
the population was between 101 and 846 wolves and have likely been 
exceeded at higher population levels (as discussed in more detail in 
Factor E below). Although future dispersal will differ from past 
levels, the available data support a conclusion that human-assisted 
migration is unlikely to be a regular activity. Instead, translocation 
of wolves or other management techniques to move genes between 
subpopulations would only be used as a stop-gap measure, if necessary 
to increase genetic interchange (WGFC 2012, p. 7). In short, NRM wolves 
and wolves in the GYA are not expected to need or rely on human-
assisted migration often, if ever, and these populations will not 
become ``conservation reliant'' as defined by Scott et al. (2005, 
entire). That said, should it ever become necessary, human-assisted 
migration is an acceptable management technique (especially when relied 
upon only as a measure of last resort). This conclusion is consistent 
with the position we took in our 1994 Environmental Impact Statement, 
which noted that other wildlife management programs rely upon such 
agency-managed genetic exchange and concluded that the approach should 
not be viewed negatively (Service 1994, pp. 6-75).
    We recognize that the logistics of human-assisted migration, should 
it ever become necessary, would present a number of challenges, but we 
are confident that those challenges can be overcome. Source wolves 
could be obtained from any of the other subpopulations or adjoining 
populations in Canada. Wolf capturing and transporting was used for the 
initial reintroductions, have proven to be a feasible and successful 
technique, and could be used again (Fritts et al. 2001, p. 129). Such 
assisted migration efforts would take into account the fact that only a 
fraction of relocated wolves

[[Page 55566]]

would likely become breeders (35 percent of naturally dispersing wolves 
reproduce (Jimenez et al. In review, pp. 9-12); similarly, two of ten 
pups moved from northwestern Montana to YNP in 1997 became breeding 
adults (vonHoldt et al. 2010, p. 4421). Other unorthodox approaches to 
genetic migration such as artificial insemination of wild animals could 
also be considered, but are less likely to be used because they would 
present their own logistical challenges (Thomassen and Farstad 2008, 
entire; Payan-Carreira et al. 2011, entire). All such efforts would be 
a cooperative effort between the three States, Federal agencies and 
other partners as appropriate. Funding such wolf management would also 
be a cooperative effort with multiple parties contributing various 
portions as necessary and appropriate; funding wolf management is 
discussed further in Issue and Response 46 below.
    Finally, the idea that delisting should not occur until the 
population can be shown to be genetically viable under State management 
without translocation is inconsistent with the purposes of the Act. 
Because delisting is a precursor to full State management (i.e., State 
management unrestricted by the Act and including hunting), it is 
impossible to require demonstrated successful State management as a 
precondition to delisting. This issue is true for management of 
genetics or any other issue.
    Issue 37: We received a number of suggestions to improve the 
adequacy of Wyoming's commitment to maintaining natural connectivity 
including: That we develop objective and measurable recovery criteria 
or relisting triggers for natural dispersal; that we develop specific 
management actions to ensure the criteria remain met; that the States 
commit to genetic monitoring in State law or a binding management plan; 
and that we commit to relisting within a specific time period if the 
natural dispersal criteria are not met.
    Response 37: Although we seriously considered developing a status 
review trigger related to genetic connectivity, we ultimately decided 
this was not appropriate because we concluded that it is extremely 
unlikely that declines in genetic diversity would threaten or endanger 
the Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf populations. Thus, we 
concluded that a status review trigger would create an issue where 
there was not one and, therefore, was inappropriate. Similarly, we 
concluded that it was not appropriate to commit to relisting if certain 
levels of gene flow are not achieved. Such a specific commitment would 
require us to demonstrate that the population would necessarily be 
threatened or endangered if the goals were not met. Given the available 
information, we did not feel we could satisfy this standard. For 
example, we do not believe the available information would support a 
conclusion that the population would be threatened or endangered if we 
achieved an average of 0.75 effective dispersers per generation over 
the next century instead of the goal of at least one effective migrant 
per generation. In fact, we find it very unlikely this would be the 
case. Therefore, we decided it would be inappropriate to commit to a 
specific status review or relisting trigger related to this issue. 
However, we will continue to work with the States on this issue so that 
genetic issues do not threaten the NRM gray wolf. We will also work 
with the States over the long term to carefully monitor any changes in 
genetic diversity and fitness. In the unlikely event that this issue 
does ever pose a significant risk to the well-being of NRM gray wolves, 
as required by section 4(g)(2) of the Act, we will make prompt use of 
the Act's emergency listing provisions.

Adequacy of Regulatory Mechanisms

    Issue 38: A few comments questioned the competency of the State to 
manage wolves. Some comments asserted that giving Wyoming management 
authority was inappropriate given the State's history with this issue 
and public attitudes towards wolves in the State. Others expressed 
faith that Wyoming's wildlife professionals would do an exceptional job 
managing this species, as they have done with other wildlife like 
mountain lions, black bears, bobcats, and coyotes. Numerous comments 
expressed confidence the State would do a far better job than we have 
done.
    Response 38: WGFD has a relatively large and well-distributed 
professional game and fish staff that have demonstrated skill and 
experience in successfully managing a diversity of resident species, 
including many large, high-profile, and controversial carnivores. WGFD 
staff is fully qualified to manage a recovered wolf population. State 
management of wolves in the Trophy Area (where most wolves reside) will 
be in alignment with the classic State-led North American model for 
wildlife management, which has been extremely successful at restoring, 
maintaining, and expanding the distribution of numerous populations of 
other wildlife species, including other large predators, throughout 
North America (Geist 2006, p. 1; Bangs 2008).
    WGFD provided evidence of this competency when it had management 
authority within the Trophy Area for a few months in 2008. During 2008, 
the documented minimum wolf population outside YNP saw modest changes, 
including a total population decrease from 188 to 178 individuals, an 
increase in the number of packs from 25 to 30, and an increase in the 
number of breeding pairs from 14 to 16 (Service et al. 2007-2008, 
Wyoming chapter, p. 4). Wyoming also experienced a comparable number of 
livestock depredations in recent years (67 in 2008, while the area has 
averaged 98 since 2003) (Service et al. 2007-2008, Wyoming chapter). 
Meanwhile, agency control including defense of property take was also 
comparable to the long term average (46 in 2008, while the area has 
averaged 39 since 2003) (Service et al. 2007-2008, Wyoming chapter). 
Although Wyoming only had management authority for a few months in 
2008, most agency control and defense of property mortality occurs 
during spring and summer, which makes these numbers informative of the 
WGFD's approach to management and its capacity to meet objectives. 
Wyoming also planned a modest hunt with a quota of 25 wolves in 2008 
before this hunt was enjoined from occurring. Collectively, this 
information corroborates our belief that Wyoming can, and likely will, 
follow through on its stated management intentions.
    Issue 39: We received a few comments on what constitutes an 
adequate regulatory mechanism and what was appropriate to consider in 
our analysis. Some comments pointed out that we relied on unenforceable 
State intentions in our 2009 delisting, which were promptly disavowed 
or violated. For example, some comments asserted that we relied upon 
Idaho's stated intention to manage for 520 wolves, but that this 
commitment was set aside when the State suspended their 2008-2012 step-
down wolf management plan. Some comments suggested the Wyoming Gray 
Wolf Management Plan was not regulatory in nature and should not be 
considered or relied upon. Some comments suggested that State statute 
and regulations should not be considered adequate because they can be 
modified after the delisting become effective. For example, while the 
size and permanency of the Trophy Area is set in statute, this could be 
repealed or amended by the Wyoming state legislature.
    Numerous comments objected to our ``unrealistically high prediction 
of future wolf numbers'' (``perhaps around 1,000 wolves across the NRM 
DPS''). A few comments questioned the basis for our statement that it 
was ``extremely

[[Page 55567]]

unlikely'' that Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming would manage their wolf 
populations near the minimum management targets. These comments 
indicated that the States' only commitment was to targets between 100 
and 150 wolves per State, that it was illegal for our analysis to 
assume any numbers other than those that we had firm commitments to 
maintain, and that the States were clearly demonstrating a strong 
commitment to quickly reduce the wolf population. One peer reviewer 
expressed concern whether Wyoming had authority to manage for a buffer 
above minimum management targets and whether State management would 
push Wyoming's population closer and closer to the razor edge of 10 
breeding pair and 100 wolves. This reviewer seemed concerned over 
numerous sources of take allowed under Wyoming's wolf management plan 
and repeated reference to the 10 breeding pair and 100 wolf thresholds 
in State statutes and regulations, rather than referring to a buffer 
above these minimums. Other comments indicated Wyoming's agreed-upon 
population targets would not be compromised because no decision-makers, 
managers, or stakeholders would ever want to risk relisting and the 
loss of State control, especially after living with a protected wolf 
population with limited management options for so many years.
    A few comments indicated that we erroneously considered a 
nonbinding genetics Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with 
unenforceable commitments in our 2009 delisting, that the States had 
since failed to deliver on these promises, and that this should serve 
as evidence that reliance on such nonbinding commitments is 
inappropriate. Numerous comments indicated that there was no guarantee 
that the subpopulations would continue to be connected, and thus that 
we lacked adequate regulatory mechanisms. Others suggested the 
commitment to translocate wolves was not guaranteed to occur and should 
not be relied upon. A few comments suggested a species can be 
threatened by the inadequacy of regulatory mechanisms alone, even if no 
other threat factor puts the population at risk. Some comments 
suggested binding and enforceable habitat standards must be in place as 
was done in the Yellowstone grizzly bear delisting. Several comments 
suggested we should have pressed for the development of a single, 
regional management plan (including all relevant State, Federal, and 
private interest groups) instead of separate plans for each State.
    Response 39: Our primary consideration in gauging the adequacy of 
Wyoming's regulatory framework is that binding State statutes and 
implementing regulations mandate maintenance of a population at least 
satisfying agreed-upon minimum management targets. Wyoming's wolf 
management plan further clarifies that the WGFD and WGFC intends to 
satisfy these statutory and regulatory mandates by maintaining a buffer 
above minimum population targets. The approach outlined in the WGFC 
plan will be used, for example, by WGFD and WGFC in setting annual 
hunting quotas and limiting controllable sources of mortality. While it 
would have been desirable for Wyoming to have included reference to a 
buffer above minimum population targets in State statute and 
regulations, inclusion of such a concept or a specific numeric buffer 
is not required for us to consider the buffer described in Wyoming's 
wolf management plan. While some have questioned whether Wyoming has 
the legal authority to maintain a buffer, we conclude that Wyoming has 
the authority because: (1) Both the statute and regulations require 
maintaining ``at least'' these minimum population levels; and (2) 
meeting this statutory and regulatory mandate will require managing 
above this goal so that uncontrollable sources of mortality (e.g., 
disease and defense of property) do not compromise the mandated minimum 
targets.
    While Wyoming statutes, implementing regulations, or its wolf 
management plan could theoretically be changed at any time, just as the 
Act could theoretically be repealed tomorrow, it is reasonable to rely 
on these documents as the basis to understand the State's management 
intentions after delisting. In short, the Act does not require 
documents to be permanent, for nothing is permanent. Furthermore, we 
cannot ignore any of these documents, as it would violate the 
requirement of section 4(b)1(A) to rely upon the best scientific and 
commercial information available and to take into account State 
conservation efforts. As a final safeguard against management being 
meaningfully modified after the delisting becomes effective, we will 
initiate a status review and consider relisting if there is a change in 
State law or management objectives that would significantly increase 
the threat to the wolf population. We will also make prompt use of the 
Act's emergency listing provisions, as required by section 4(g)(2) of 
the Act, if necessary to prevent a significant risk to the well-being 
of the population.
    Our analysis must consider what is most likely to occur in light of 
the practical reality of the situation as informed by minimum State 
commitments and other information. In this case, while all three States 
intend to pursue population reductions, which we anticipate and to 
which we do not object, none of the States have indicated an interest 
in managing their populations at or very close to minimum agreed-upon 
targets (although Wyoming will likely be the closest to its minimum 
management targets). None of the States are likely to manage down to, 
or very near, minimum management targets because doing so would 
severely limit State flexibility to address wolf depredation issues, 
limit wolf harvest opportunities, and increase the risk of relisting. 
None of the States or any major interest group in the States would like 
to see any of these scenarios occur. In fact, State wildlife managers 
have consistently reiterated to us their desire not to come close to 
their floor levels in light of these factors. Such information leads us 
to conclude that Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming will all manage 
comfortably above the minimum management targets.
    While we recognize that both Idaho and Montana are moving toward 
higher harvest and longer seasons, we conclude that these approaches 
are temporary as the States pursue population reductions. We expected 
population reductions in Montana and Idaho at the time of their 
delisting and conclude that such reductions are reasonable given the 
current size of the wolf population (which are likely at or above the 
suitable habitat's long term carrying capacity) and the resulting 
impacts (some real and some perceived; see Issue and Response 50). It 
should also be noted that Idaho's 2011 hunting season, which was 
criticized by some stakeholders for being overly aggressive, only 
resulted in a slight change in minimum estimated population levels in 
Idaho in 2011 (from a minimum Idaho population estimate of 777 wolves 
and 46 breeding pairs to a minimum statewide estimate of 746 wolves and 
40 breeding pairs) (Service et al. 2012, Table 4b). After the States 
achieve an initial population reduction, harvest rates will moderate as 
the population stabilizes and the public's current angst and intense 
interest wanes (see Issue and Response 41). The NRM gray wolf 
population will then likely settle into a reasonable, long term 
equilibrium, well above minimum recovery levels.
    Another factor that we weighed regarding likely long term 
population

[[Page 55568]]

levels is the practical challenges of reducing wolf populations down to 
minimum levels and maintaining such reductions long term. These factors 
include wolves' reproductive capacity, which will require substantial 
mortality to keep populations well below carrying capacity; the rugged, 
remote, and difficult to access landscape in which many wolves occur 
(particularly in central Idaho); the likelihood that wolves will become 
more difficult to find and kill as their numbers are reduced and as 
they become more wary of humans; and the likelihood that hunter and 
trapper interest and dedication will diminish as the wolf population is 
reduced, impacts are less pronounced, and success rates diminish 
(trapping in particular is expensive and time-intensive and would 
likely not be worthwhile with reduced success rates). Overall, we 
expect measurable population reductions over the next few years. During 
this initial reduction phase, populations may even fall below our long 
term predicted levels. However, given the above information, we 
conclude that such reductions would likely be temporary and, in the 
long term, a NRM gray wolf population more than double the minimum 
management targets is likely. Conversely, the scenario of achieving and 
maintaining population minimums across the entire NRM DPS is very 
unlikely.
    Considering the above factors, we continue to conclude that the GYA 
wolf population will likely maintain a long term average of around 300 
wolves and the entire NRM DPS will likely achieve a long term average 
of around 1,000 wolves. These numbers are based on our professional 
opinion after considering all of the above and evaluating various 
regional scenarios. For example, 200 wolves is likely a conservative 
estimate for the Wyoming statewide wolf population including YNP and 
the Wind River Indian Reservation; similarly, it is unlikely Idaho or 
Montana will reduce and maintain their wolf populations below 350 
wolves per State. Even if all three States were to simultaneously 
achieve and maintain the low end of this range, an unlikely outcome, 
the NRM population would still total around 900 wolves, excluding 
dispersers and lone wolves, which typically range from 10 to 12 percent 
of the population (Mech and Boitani 2003, p. 170). Therefore, our 
conclusions regarding long term abundance are likely conservative 
estimates of long term averages.
    Similar to our position on population numbers, our evaluation of 
risk associated with genetic factors must consider what is most likely 
to occur in light of the practical reality of the situation as informed 
by State commitments and other factors. Our consideration of this issue 
involves a number of factors, including the very high levels of genetic 
diversity in the GYA and the NRM DPS at present; the remarkable 
dispersal capabilities of wolves; wolves' ability to outbreed to 
maximize genetic diversity; demonstrated minimum levels of gene flow 
from 1995 through 2004 when the NRM region contained between 101 and 
846 wolves; the high probability that actual effective migration was 
likely significantly higher than demonstrated minimum levels; expected 
population levels and distribution in the GYA and across the NRM DPS 
long term; and consideration of the likely impacts of State management 
in the initial years when populations are being reduced and longer term 
as populations level off. Based on these factors and other information, 
we continue to conclude that the best scientific and commercial 
information available indicates that genetic issues are extremely 
unlikely to threaten the wolf population in Wyoming, the GYA, or the 
NRM DPS within the foreseeable future.
    By definition, a MOU is an agreement between parties indicating an 
intended common line of action. While we did not rely on the genetics 
MOU in reaching the above conclusion on population viability, the MOU 
is indicative of an intention of the States to maintain the NRM 
population's metapopulation structure by encouraging natural dispersal 
and effective migrants and implementing management practices that 
should foster both. Some management practices that would assist in 
achieving this goal include maintaining the wolf population at higher 
rather than minimum levels; maintaining greater rather than more 
restricted pack distribution throughout suitable habitat; reducing 
human-caused wolf mortality during key dispersing and reproductive time 
periods over the long term; and maintaining the integrity of the core 
recovery areas so that they can continue to serve as refugia and source 
populations. One example of where Idaho has acted consistent with the 
MOU was its decision in 2009 and 2011 to end its wolf hunting season on 
December 31st for those areas thought most important for dispersal 
(i.e., the Beaverhead and Island Park units) (Idaho Fish and Game 
Commission 2011, entire). In the 2012-2013 season, hunting ends January 
31st for these units. While State management through the population 
reduction phase will likely reduce gene flow from current levels, we 
conclude that the reduction will not compromise acceptable levels of 
gene flow long term and find it very unlikely State management will 
negatively affect genetics to the point that this issue constitutes a 
threat that could warrant listing in the near, medium, or long term.
    We do not anticipate translocation of wolves will be necessary, 
because we expect that natural connectivity will continue at acceptable 
levels after delisting. Genetic exchange is not a short or medium term 
issue even if no genetic exchange occurs for many generations (a very 
unlikely outcome). The States will monitor for genetic exchange and 
indications of loss of genetic diversity. This monitoring and the 
related results could then affect management (e.g., the timing and 
intensity of human-caused mortality) if the available data indicates 
remedial actions are needed. Translocation will only be used as a 
matter of last resort if adequate genetic diversity does not occur and 
State management is not able to otherwise remedy. While we have high 
confidence the States would complete such translocation and said 
translocation could be effective if it was ever necessary, we conclude 
that it is unlikely that it will ever become necessary.
    Furthermore, we disagree with comments that indicate that the 
existing regulatory mechanisms are inadequate even if no threats put 
the population at risk. Post-delisting regulatory mechanisms are needed 
to regulate remnant threats. If there are no remnant threats, a 
regulatory framework would serve no purpose. In short, if there is 
nothing to threaten the population, nothing needs regulation after 
delisting. With respect to wolves, habitat protections were not 
necessary to achieve delisting, and will not be necessary to maintain 
recovery after delisting. Therefore, strict binding and enforceable 
habitat standards (as established for grizzly bears in the GYA) are not 
needed for wolves. In this case, human-caused mortality is the most 
significant issue to the long term conservation status of the wolf 
population in Wyoming, the GYA, and the entire NRM DPS and the only 
issue that requires regulation after delisting (in the form of binding 
minimum population targets by geographic area). Such protections are in 
place.
    Regarding the shape that the regulatory framework takes, we 
disagree that a single cross-regional framework was necessary. In this 
case, separate post-delisting regulatory frameworks per

[[Page 55569]]

State appear adequate. We also note that Congress directed us to 
republish our April 2009 rule in 2011, which contained separate State 
regulatory approaches rather than a single regional one. To the extent 
cross-regional coordination is desirable, it goes on today as 
appropriate and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
    Issue 40: Other comments expressed the view that while statutory 
changes were necessary to implement the State wolf management plan, 
delisting should not be contingent on adoption of conforming 
regulations. These comments suggested that State statute and 
development of an approved wolf management plan were a sufficient 
commitment to maintain a sustainable recovered wolf population and that 
State regulations should remain flexible and be defined at the sole 
discretion of the State, consistent with the commitments represented by 
State statutes and the Wyoming wolf management plan.
    Response 40: As noted above, State statute, State regulations 
(chapter 21 and 47), and the Wyoming wolf management plan all are 
important pieces of the State's post-delisting management framework. 
All three of these documents guide and clarify the State's approach to 
wolf management after delisting, and ignoring any one of these three 
documents would violate our responsibility to rely upon the best 
scientific and commercial information available. By extension, a 
significant change to any one of these documents would prompt us to 
consider whether to initiate a status review. We took a similar 
approach in Idaho in 2011 following Idaho's suspension of its 2008-2012 
wolf management plan (reverting to its 2002 Service-approved plan) and 
after it set its hunting plan for 2011-2012 (Cooley 2011). In that 
case, we determined these management decisions did not represent a 
significant threat to the Idaho wolf population and did not meet the 
threshold necessary to trigger a status review (Cooley 2011).

Public Attitudes Toward Wolves

    Issue 41: Numerous comments indicated the region's ``frontier'' and 
``wild west'' attitudes, including those of State officials, threatened 
wolves. Some comments pointed toward the Wyoming wolf management plan's 
negative portrayal of wolves, the decision to designate wolves outside 
the Trophy Area as predators, and Wyoming's apparent willingness to do 
only the minimum necessary to prevent relisting as evidence of negative 
public attitudes toward wolves. Many comments suggested the ongoing 
wolf killing across the NRM was evidence that negative attitudes 
towards wolves were a threat that could eliminate wolves from the 
region. Other comments indicated conservation organizations had 
negatively affected public attitudes toward wolves in Wyoming and 
across the NRM with their unrealistic expectations for wolf recovery, 
lack of recognition of property rights, and continued litigation. We 
received conflicting comments and perspectives about whether a return 
to State management and the resulting increased management flexibility 
would lead to greater acceptance of wolves and decreased animosity 
toward wolves. A few comments indicated that the polarizing wolf issue 
had become indicative of a culture clash and that extremist attitudes 
toward wolves (pro and con) had little to do with the realities of wolf 
conservation and more to do with values.
    Response 41: As indicated elsewhere in this rule, human attitudes 
are important to the long term preservation of the gray wolf population 
in Wyoming, the GYA, and the NRM DPS. While there is not universal 
acceptance of wolves in Wyoming or the NRM DPS, we conclude that the 
majority of the region's residents are willing to tolerate wolves as a 
part of the landscape provided impacts to humans are minimized (see 
also Issue 50 below). Although we agree our failure to delist has 
negatively affected public tolerance (see Issues 50 and 53 below), we 
conclude that State management in Wyoming and across the NRM DPS will 
be successful in achieving a reasonable balance between the needs of a 
recovered wolf population and other public needs. We recognize and 
accept that achieving this balance will require reducing the wolf 
population in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming from current levels. This 
reduction will, in turn, reduce the real and perceived impacts of the 
wolf population and will reduce public opposition to the species' 
conservation. The increased ability of members of the public to defend 
their property and the ability of the hunter community to harvest 
wolves will also increase this tolerance for wolves. Once these initial 
population reductions are realized, public pressure will be reduced, 
State harvest rates will moderate, and the species will likely settle 
into a reasonable equilibrium well above minimum recovery levels. As 
noted elsewhere in this rule (see Issue and Response 39 above), we 
conclude that the GYA wolf population will likely maintain a long term 
average of around 300 wolves and the entire NRM DPS will likely achieve 
a long term average of around 1,000 wolves. At these levels, impacts of 
the recovered wolf population will be modest. This will in turn promote 
public tolerance such that this issue does not materialize to the point 
where it might threaten the gray wolf population's long term survival.

Other Potential Threat Factors

    Issue 42: A couple of comments indicated that the Wyoming wolf 
population was threatened by impacts to habitat and range. One comment 
suggested wilderness areas were not secure because Congress can 
undesignate them at any time. This comment also suggested that we had 
no guarantee that private lands will not be developed or otherwise 
altered so that they would no longer support wolves. This comment also 
suggested that wolves were at risk on public lands because livestock 
grazing on public lands would result in wolf mortality; poison on 
public lands could kill wolves; mining, mineral development, oil and 
gas development, and associated human traffic would cause direct 
mortality (increased wolf-truck collision) and cause pollution that 
would kill wolves or impair their reproduction; and hunting and illegal 
take on some public lands would kill still more wolves. This comment 
criticized the proposed rule for not quantifying the amount of 
development expected, quantifying the impact to suitable habitat and 
the impact to unsuitable habitat important as dispersal corridors, and 
the number of wolves that will be killed or otherwise adversely 
affected. This comment also suggested that road repairs and 
reconstruction in YNP was a new threat that would degrade the 
environment in the park, affecting prey and causing wolves to leave the 
protected park boundaries and be subjected to increased likelihood of 
dying. This comment also suggested snowmobile use can kill or injure 
wolves and that associated pollution could kill wolves or reduce their 
reproductive success.
    Response 42: We have thoroughly analyzed the issue of habitat and 
range and conclude that it is not a threat to the population now or in 
the foreseeable future. The vast majority of suitable wolf habitat is 
secure in mountainous forested public land (wilderness and roadless 
areas, National Parks, and some lands managed for multiple uses by the 
U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management) that will not be 
legally available or suitable for intensive levels of human development 
(Service 1993, 1996, 2007; Servheen et al. 2003; U.S. Department of 
Agriculture Forest

[[Page 55570]]

Service 2006). While changes to the protected status of these areas is 
theoretically possible, such an outcome is highly improbable, 
especially at the scale that would be necessary to affect the viability 
of the Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf population. Although some 
human activities in these areas and other surrounding areas could 
increase human-caused mortality, we do not expect noticeable increases 
in such activities in the foreseeable future. Furthermore, human-caused 
mortality will be adequately regulated by the States so that the 
population's recovered status is not compromised. This rule also 
analyzes impacts to habitat and range as they relate to connectivity 
and concludes future connectivity is unlikely to be meaningfully 
affected by changes in habitat and range. To the extent that such 
development does occur, it would not threaten the recovered status of 
the Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf populations in the 
foreseeable future. Finally, we conclude that ongoing activities in YNP 
(e.g., road repair and snowmobile use) are unlikely to increase to the 
point where they would negatively affect wolves. Statutory, regulatory, 
and policy restrictions covering national parks give us great 
confidence that YNP will take proper precautions to ensure all 
activities in the park minimize impacts to wildlife, including wolves.
    Issue 43: Numerous comments indicated nonnative human populations 
are overpopulated and a threat to the wolf population.
    Response 43: Human presence and the activities associated with this 
presence does affect the landscape and a region's use by wolves. For 
example, areas like New York City have been so altered that they are 
unable to support a resident wolf population. Similarly, some prairie 
habitats in Wyoming are also no longer capable of supporting persistent 
wolf packs; however, more than sufficient habitat exists to support a 
recovered wolf population. Human population levels in Wyoming (the 
second least densely populated State in the country) are not a threat 
to the wolf population's recovered status now or in the foreseeable 
future. Secondary impacts related to human presence are discussed in 
more detail in separate sections.
    Issue 44: A few comments noted that wolf numbers would soon begin 
to see significant natural declines if the wolf population is not 
reduced, because wolf overabundance is causing the native prey 
population, on which wolves are dependent, to drastically decline. 
Numerous personal accounts of ungulate population declines were 
offered. One comment suggested that the wolf population could be 
endangered by grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, and other 
wolves as wolves and other predators compete for limited food 
resources.
    Response 44: While there have been documented declines in some 
ungulate populations, overall, prey numbers remain robust and more than 
adequate to provide for the regional wolf population's needs. The 
availability of prey is not a threat factor to wolf persistence now or 
within the foreseeable future. While intraspecific conflict can 
regulate wolf populations, natural predation has not threatened the NRM 
gray wolf population and is not likely to in the foreseeable future; 
future changes in prey abundance are not expected to change this 
conclusion.
    Issue 45: A number of comments noted that climate change is 
expected to have a severe impact on the North American continent during 
the 21st century. A few comments indicated climate change would stress 
wild animal and plant populations and reduce survival rates. A few 
comments asserted it would be a mistake to delist when we do not yet 
know what impacts climate change will have on ungulate and wolf 
populations (e.g., impacts on behavior, distribution, and abundance). 
One comment stated that the Trophy Area might not be adequate to meet 
the population's needs in a climate-altered world. This comment cited a 
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that suggested a need for 
specific management responses tied to specific triggering criteria, not 
a general commitment to adaptive management, in order to address 
threats associated with climate change. Some comments suggested wolf 
densities should be maintained to buffer the impacts of climate change 
on other species. For example, wolf killing of vulnerable elk might 
compensate for reduced winter elk kills, thus bolstering food 
availability for other animals and minimizing the impacts of climate 
change.
    Response 45: This issue is discussed in our Factor E analysis 
below. We continue to conclude that wolves are unlikely to be 
threatened by climate change. Wolves are one of the most adaptable and 
resilient land mammals on earth, once ranged across most of North 
America from central Mexico to the Arctic Ocean and from coast to 
coast, and can prey on every type of ungulate in their worldwide 
northern hemisphere range. Thus, wolves are among the least likely 
species to be threatened by this factor.
    Other comments on this issue are also not persuasive. For example, 
there is no evidence to support the idea that the Trophy Area might not 
be adequate to meet the population's needs in a climate-altered world. 
At present, the Trophy Area supports a robust prey base and a wolf 
population that far exceeds the agreed-upon minimum management targets. 
This topic is discussed in detail below in Factor E. Based on available 
climate change projections, it is unlikely that climate change would 
noticeably hinder the Trophy Area's capacity to support a wolf 
population well above the agreed-upon minimum management targets. 
Because this issue is not a meaningful factor affecting the 
population's viability, a detailed adaptive management framework with 
specific triggers and specific responses is not necessary or 
appropriate. Finally, the Act does not allow us to consider impacts of 
this decision to other species nor does it allow us to require the 
States to maintain wolf populations at high densities to benefit other 
species in the face of climate change.
    Issue 46: Some comments expressed concern that all or parts of the 
State wolf management plan would not be implemented because of hard 
economic times and resulting funding limitations. These comments noted 
that the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan does not identify definite 
funding sources and does not guarantee funding will be available. For 
example, one comment suggested population targets could be compromised 
if inadequate monitoring caused the State to overlook a disease event 
and the State then also allowed a high hunting quota. Other comments 
noted Wyoming's robust economy and healthy State funding for wildlife 
would mean adequate funding for wolf management. Conversely, these 
comments noted that looming Federal budget cuts would harm our ability 
to properly manage the Wyoming wolf population.
    Response 46: It is not possible to predict with certainty future 
governmental appropriations, nor can we commit or require Federal funds 
beyond those appropriated (31 U.S.C. 1341(a)(1)(A)). Even though 
Federal funding is dependent on year-to-year allocations, we have 
consistently and fully funded wolf management. Federal funding will 
continue to be available in the future for State management, but 
certainly not to the extent while wolves were listed. The Service will 
continue to assist the States to secure adequate funding for wolf 
management. The States recognize that implementation of their wolf 
management plans requires funding and have committed to secure

[[Page 55571]]

the necessary funding to manage the wolf populations under the 
guidelines established by their approved State wolf management plans 
(Idaho Legislative Wolf Oversight Committee 2002; p. 23-25; Montana 
Wolf Management Advisory Council 2003, p. xiv; Wyoming 2011, pp. 42-
43). In Wyoming specifically, the State indicates it will fund 
operational costs for the wolf management program through its regular 
budget, but also noted that continued Federal funding will assist in 
some aspects of management, e.g., direct Federal funding to the State, 
Federal management on some Federal lands such as National Wildlife 
Refuges and National Parks, and Wildlife Services assisting in control 
activities (WGFC 2011, pp. 42-43). Wyoming also indicated a willingness 
to pursue outside funding sources such as private donations, grants 
from foundations, assistance from nongovernmental organizations and 
funding partnerships with other interested entities (WGFC 2011, p. 43).
    These combined State and Federal commitments are more than enough 
to provide for adequate management of the population after delisting. 
In the unlikely event that wolf management is inadequately funded to 
carry out the basic commitments of an approved State plan, then the 
promised management of threats by the States and the required 
monitoring of wolf populations might not be addressed. That scenario 
would trigger a status review for possible relisting under the Act, 
including possible use of the emergency listing authorities under 
section 4(b)(7) of the Act.
    Issue 47: One comment mentioned hybridization as a threat. This 
comment did not elaborate on this issue and how it could threaten the 
population.
    Response 47: The NRM wolves' genetic signature does not show signs 
of past or ongoing hybridization with other canid species (VonHoldt et 
al. 2011, p. 4). Unlike some other wolf populations (e.g., red wolves), 
hybridization is not affecting NRM gray wolf populations and is not a 
threat to the NRM DPS's recovered status.

Cumulative Impacts of Threats

    Issue 48: Several comments questioned the validity of our 
conclusions for individual threat factors suggesting they were 
considered in isolation. These comments indicated that we needed to 
analyze threats in a cumulative manner. A number of comments suggested 
some combination of natural mortality, disease events, catastrophic 
events, and high human-caused mortality events could co-occur and 
threaten the wolf population. Some of these noted the likelihood of 
such an event if the population was already close to minimum population 
targets.
    Response 48: Our assessment of threats considered potential risk 
factors individually and cumulatively. Our threats assessment is 
organized sequentially, consistent with how section 4(a) of the Act is 
organized. We then discuss the overall finding, which considers the 
cumulative impacts of all potential threat factors. We considered and 
weighed the cumulative effects of all known and reasonably foreseeable 
threat factors facing the population when reaching the conclusion that 
the gray wolf in Wyoming no longer meets and is unlikely to ever again 
meet the definition of an endangered species.
    When considering the population's recovered status, it is important 
to remember that the minimum recovery criteria require Idaho, Montana, 
and Wyoming to each maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 
100 wolves in mid-winter. After delisting, Wyoming has committed to 
maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves outside of 
YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation at the end of the year, and 
will maintain a buffer above these minimum levels so that the minimum 
targets are not compromised. Thus, Wyoming intends to manage for the 
entire recovery goal outside of YNP. These statewide totals will be 
further buffered by wolves in YNP which experience extremely low rates 
of human-caused mortality allowing the population essentially to be 
naturally regulated at carrying capacity. From 2000 to the end of 2011 
(the most recent official wolf population estimates available), the 
wolf population in YNP ranged from 96 to 174 wolves, and between 6 to 
16 breeding pairs. The YNP wolf population appears to be settling 
around the lower end of this range (Service et al. 2000-2010, Table b; 
Smith 2012). Specifically, YNP biologists expect that the park will 
settle between 50 to 100 wolves and 5 to 10 packs with 4 to 6 of these 
packs meeting the breeding pair definition annually (Smith 2012). Given 
the above, the minimum recovery criteria for Wyoming will always be 
greatly exceeded.
    Additionally, the GYA wolf population will be further buffered by 
wolves in Idaho and Montana's portion of the GYA. Since 2002, Montana's 
GYA wolf population ranged from 55 to 130 wolves since recovery was 
achieved in 2002, and Idaho's ranged from 0 to 40 wolves in its portion 
of the GYA (Service et al. 2003-2012, Tables 1b, 2). While populations 
in these areas are expected to be reduced from current levels, both 
States have maintained, and are expected to continue to maintain, a 
sizable population in their portion of the GYA. Across the entire GYA, 
we expect the population will be managed for a long term average of 
around 300 wolves across portions of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
    Overall, the GYA's expected abundance and geographic distribution 
(occurring in both protected and unprotected portions of the GYA and 
occurring across multiple management jurisdictions) provides the GYA 
wolf population with substantial representation, resiliency, and 
redundancy. Additional representation, redundancy, and resiliency is 
also provided across the three connected recovery areas and three core 
NRM DPS States, as well as connectivity to Canada. These factors 
provide us with confidence the population can withstand the types of 
impacts mentioned in the above comments.
    Wolves are very resilient and can withstand and recover from most 
of the specific events noted in the above comments. Such events are 
likely to cause localized impacts, which would not affect all or even a 
majority of the population in Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM DPS. For 
example, when disease hit the YNP wolf population in 2005 and 2008 
there were substantial, temporary impacts, but they were experienced 
only on a local scale and the YNP population quickly rebounded. No 
similar large-scale events have been documented in other portions of 
Wyoming.
    It should be noted that wolves' natural reproductive capacity and 
dispersal ability, State commitments to monitoring and adaptive 
management, and the regional population's representation, resiliency, 
and redundancy would not provide total protection from catastrophic 
events. For example, as noted in the rule, a cataclysmic eruption 
underneath YNP would devastate the GYA ecosystem. However, events such 
as these are extremely unlikely within the foreseeable future.
    Regarding management, Wyoming does not intend to manage the 
population at minimum agreed-upon targets. Instead, the State intends 
to manage for a buffer, recognizing that some unforeseen events could 
affect the population. Furthermore, Wyoming (like Montana and Idaho) 
intends to carefully monitor the population and will adjust all 
controllable mortality factors, such as mortality resulting from 
harvest and depredation control, in response to measured mortality of 
all causes (WGFC 2012, p. 7). For example,

[[Page 55572]]

Wyoming will monitor for disease and associated impacts (WGFC 2011, p. 
22) and reduce controllable sources of human-caused mortality if the 
available information indicates such factors are causing unacceptable 
population declines (WGFC 2011, pp. 23-25; WGFC 2012, p. 7). These 
management measures provide that impacts related to human-caused 
mortality are appropriately managed and will not singularly, or in 
combination with other factors, compromise the population's recovered 
status.

Post-Delisting Monitoring

    Issue 49: A few comments indicated our status review triggers were 
too low. Other comments expressed frustration with the perceived 
relative lack of oversight once delisting occurs, including failure to 
initiate status reviews in Idaho and Montana following changes to 
management (most often mentioned were decisions to suspend the 2008-
2012 Idaho Wolf Population Management Plan and after decisions to set 
hunting and trapping seasons with high or no quotas).
    Response 49: For Idaho and Montana, three scenarios would lead us 
to initiate a status review and analysis of threats to determine if 
relisting was warranted including: (1) If the wolf population falls 
below the minimum NRM wolf population recovery level of 10 breeding 
pairs of wolves or 100 wolves in either Montana or Idaho at the end of 
the year; (2) If the wolf population segment in Montana or Idaho falls 
below 15 breeding pairs or 150 wolves at the end of the year in any one 
of those States for 3 consecutive years; or (3) If a change in State 
law or management objectives would significantly increase the threat to 
the wolf population. For Wyoming, we will initiate a formal status 
review to determine if relisting is warranted: (1) If the wolf 
population falls below the minimum recovery level of 10 breeding pairs 
or 100 wolves in Wyoming statewide (including YNP and the Wind River 
Indian Reservation) at the end of any 1 year; (2) If the wolf 
population segment in Wyoming excluding YNP and the Wind River Indian 
Reservation falls below 10 breeding pairs or 100 wolves at the end of 
the year for 3 consecutive years; (3) If the wolf population in Wyoming 
falls below 15 breeding pairs or 150 wolves, including YNP and the Wind 
River Indian Reservation, for 3 consecutive years; or (4) If a change 
in State law or management objectives would significantly increase the 
threat to the wolf population. These status review triggers are 
appropriate because: The numeric status review triggers are consistent 
with the minimum recovery criteria and the State's minimum management 
targets, and the final criterion would be triggered if management veers 
from approved post-delisting regulatory frameworks. Some commenters, 
including some peer reviewers, expressed concern that the States may 
face pressure to manage to the ``razor's edge'' (e.g., intentionally 
manage below the above levels 2 out of every 3 years). This could 
result in a population lower than the above standards are designed to 
facilitate without triggering a status review. In response to this 
concern, we will also conduct a status review if the above standards 
are routinely not achieved--an outcome we do not anticipate. We have 
incorporated this commitment into the ``Post-Delisting Monitoring'' 
section of this final rule, discussed below.
    We take our post-delisting monitoring commitments very seriously 
and will fulfill our responsibilities to monitor the population's 
status relative to the above triggers. Our record demonstrates this 
commitment--we published our annual assessments of the population's 
status at the end of 2009 and 2011 (Bangs 2010; Jimenez 2012b); we did 
not publish a similar finding in 2010 because the population was not 
delisted at the end of 2010. We also evaluated Idaho's decision to 
suspend its 2008-2012 wolf management plan at the end of 2010 (prior to 
Congressional action to delist this population) and revert to its 
Service-approved 2002 wolf management plan and its hunting plan for 
2011-2012. We conducted an evaluation of the changes in Idaho and not 
Montana that year because only Idaho decided to authorize no quotas in 
large portions of the State and no overall state-wide quota. This 
assessment determined these management decisions did not represent a 
significant threat to the Idaho wolf population and did not meet the 
threshold necessary to trigger a status review (Cooley 2011). This 
assessment's determination was validated by the minimum end-of-year 
population numbers, which showed little change in 2011 (technically, 
slight increases in minimum population levels were documented; Service 
et al. 2012, tables 4a, 4b). Consistent with this past practice, 
similar assessments of Idaho and Montana's 2012-2013 hunting and 
trapping seasons are ongoing as of this writing.
    Throughout the post-delisting monitoring period we will continue to 
publish annual assessments to determine if the status review triggers 
have been met. We will also conduct on-the-spot assessments (similar to 
our August 2011 assessment (Cooley 2011)) when the available 
information indicates a change in management strategy could represent a 
meaningful threat. Finally, as indicated above, we offer our strongest 
assurance that we will consider relisting if there is ever sufficient 
evidence that the species may meet the definition of threatened or 
endangered and, as required by section 4(g)(2) of the Act, we will make 
prompt use of the Act's emergency listing provisions if necessary to 
prevent a significant risk to the well-being of the population. This 
approach more than satisfies our post-delisting monitoring 
responsibilities so that the population's recovered status will not be 
compromised.

Positives and Negatives of Wolf Restoration

    Issue 50: Some comments expressed the view that failure to delist 
had resulted in unchecked growth of the wolf population in Wyoming and 
throughout the NRM region, and that the resulting wolf abundance had 
caused significant negative impacts to: ungulate populations (elk, 
moose, deer, bison, and bighorn sheep herd declines); State game 
agencies (largely dependent on hunting revenue); guides and outfitters 
(reduced opportunity for ungulate harvest by clients); hunters (reduced 
recreational and sustenance opportunities); ranchers (from livestock 
depredation by wolves; stress to livestock affecting weight and health; 
and declining business opportunities for ranchers who use/lease their 
land for hunting); and the local economy (lost hunting and ranching 
revenue). Some expressed concern for wolves attacking pets and pack 
animals. Other comments expressed concern for habituated wolves 
threatening human safety. Still other comments expressed concern that 
wolves carry and transmit diseases and parasites harmful to both 
wildlife and humans (Echinococcus granuloslls, also known as Hydatid 
Disease, was most frequently mentioned). Many sportsmen noted that 
wolves were significantly hindering the conservation progress for other 
wildlife, which has been funded by sporting revenues. Some comments 
suggested the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement was flawed in that we 
underestimated the impacts wolves would cause. Many of these comments 
described the reintroduction in such terms as ``catastrophic'' and 
``disastrous.'' Some comments asserted that Wyoming residents had been 
promised that the wolf population would be maintained at or below 100 
or 150 animals and that excess wolves should be killed. Many comments 
expressed support for hunting as a

[[Page 55573]]

method to reduce the Wyoming wolf population and restrict its 
distribution.
    Others suggested wolf population impacts were minimal and had been 
exaggerated by anti-wolf interest groups. A few noted wolves kill few 
livestock and that other predators kill more livestock than do wolves. 
Some comments noted impacts to ungulates are complex and not fully 
understood with some herds showing declines, some showing increases, 
and some showing little or no effect from wolves. A few comments 
asserted that hunters were erroneously blaming wolves for decimating 
elk populations. These comments noted that all of Wyoming's elk herds 
are at or above State management objectives. A few indicated ungulate 
herds were overpopulated and destroying native ecosystems. Numerous 
comments noted the positive direct and indirect economic impacts of 
wolf restoration through increased tourism; other comments suggested 
visitation to YNP had not meaningfully changed since reintroduction.
    Response 50: Although we recognize that wolf restoration has 
resulted in both positive and negative economic impacts to the region, 
the Act precludes consideration of such impacts on listing and 
delisting determinations. Instead, listing and delisting decisions are 
based solely on the best scientific and commercial information 
available regarding the status of the subject species. In this case, 
the Wyoming wolf population and the greater NRM gray wolf population is 
recovered, and now that adequate regulatory mechanisms are in place, we 
have sufficient assurances the species' recovered status will be 
maintained. Nevertheless, after delisting, we expect Wyoming will 
reduce the State's wolf population, which should reduce any adverse 
economic impacts of the region's wolf population.
    Regarding human safety, there have been no wolf-caused injuries or 
deaths in the NRM region since recovery efforts first began. Some 
individuals have reported feeling threatened by wolves, and a few 
wolves have been taken in such situations. Such take is allowed by both 
our general regulations for the Act and both experimental populations' 
special regulations (50 CFR 17.21(c)(2); 50 CFR 17.84(i)(3)(v); 50 CFR 
17.84(n)(4)(vi)). After delisting, the States will continue to allow 
for take in defense of an individual's life or the life of another 
person.
    Regarding disease, the public should treat all wildlife, including 
canids, as potential vectors of disease. Although wolves reintroduced 
to Yellowstone and central Idaho were treated with drugs to destroy 
Echinococcus granulosus, wolves in these ecosystems currently have a 
relatively high prevalence of the parasite. E. granulosus is just one 
of many zoonotic diseases (diseases transmissible to humans) in 
wildlife. When handling canids or canid feces we recommend wearing 
gloves, not smoking, eating, or drinking, and washing up afterwards. 
These simple precautions decrease exposure to a negligible level. We 
also recommend not feeding uncooked wild or domestic ungulate organs to 
dogs and maintaining proper veterinary care of dogs and their 
parasites. These types of public health advisories are appropriate for 
those engaged in wolf hunting or other wildlife pursuits that include 
handling of any canine species, tissues, or scat (Boyce and Samuel 
2011, entire).
    Issue 51: Many comments suggested both the Wyoming wolf management 
plan and the proposed delisting rule failed to note the value of 
wolves. Some commenters noted that the return of wolves had restored 
ecological balance to the region and that delisting would upset this 
balance. A number of comments pointed to the ecological role of wolves 
in modifying ungulate behavior, distribution, and movements and the 
resulting ``cascade effect'' they produce for other unrelated species 
and the larger ecosystem. Some contended these cascading effects also 
helped farming and ranching. Many comments also pointed out that wolves 
strengthen ungulate herds by preying on vulnerable ungulates, which 
allows greater numbers of healthier, more robust, and more alert 
animals to survive and pass on genes. Some comments suggested wolves 
reduce the prevalence of disease (particularly chronic wasting disease 
and brucellosis) by removing sick individuals from native ungulate 
populations. Others comments pointed out that maintaining top level 
predators like wolf populations resulted in fewer mesopredators like 
coyotes (Canis latrans), which has been shown to reduce impacts on 
pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana). Some comments suggested 
these positive impacts would be reduced or hindered if Wyoming was 
allowed to implement its wolf management plan. Others suggested 
recovery levels should prevent ``trophic downgrading'' and provide for 
``ecological effectiveness'' (i.e., occupancy with densities that 
maintain critical ecosystem interactions and help ensure against 
ecosystem degradation).
    Response 51: We recognize that wolf recovery appears to have caused 
trophic cascades and ecological effects in some areas that affect 
numerous other animal and plant communities, and their relationships 
with each other. These effects have been most pronounced in pristine 
areas, such as in YNP. While these effects may occur at varying degrees 
elsewhere, they are increasingly modified and subtle the more an area 
is affected by humans (Ripple and Beschta 2004, entire; Smith et al. 
2003, pp. 334-338; Robbins 2004, pp. 80-81; Fortin et al. 2005, entire; 
Garrott et al. 2005, p. 1245; Hebblewhite et al. 2005, p. 2135; 
Campbell et al. 2006, pp. 747-753; Mech 2012, entire). While these 
purported effects are interesting (albeit still controversial; see Mech 
2012, entire), such information is not considered in listing or 
delisting decisions. Similarly, the Act does not require that we 
prevent ``trophic downgrading'' (Estes et al. 2011, entire) or that we 
achieve or maintain ``ecological effectiveness'' (Soule et al. 2003, p. 
1239). Instead, listing and delisting decisions are based upon 
extinction risk of the subject species. When a species no longer meets 
the definition of an endangered or threatened species under the Act, it 
is recovered, and we are to delist it.

Native American Tribal Considerations

    Issue 52: A number of comments noted that many Native American 
tribes honored wolves; viewed wolves as sacred relatives that taught 
them to hunt, live in harmony, and sing to the creator; and learned how 
to build stronger tribes by observing wolf pack loyalty. Only one of 
these comments came from a self-identified Native American (the rest 
were speaking generally about what we could learn from Native Americans 
on this issue). This comment indicated wolves should be protected 
because they are sacred to Native Americans and important for Native 
American religious ceremonies.
    Response 52: We take our relationships with the Tribes very 
seriously and are sensitive to potential conflicts with tribal cultural 
values. The wolf reintroduction has returned what traditional Arapaho 
and Shoshone stories call a helper (Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish 
and Game Department 2007, p. 2) and assisted in restoring what the 
Salish & Pend d'Oreille Tribal Elders call a ``balanced ecosystem'' 
(Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes 2009, p. 3). In preparation 
for a return to Tribal management, we worked with the Tribes to prepare 
wolf management plans that allowed for self-governance. Most of these 
plans discuss the cultural importance of wolves, but also allow control 
of problem wolves and the potential for wolf hunting. Having an

[[Page 55574]]

approved plan allowed the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game 
Department to manage wolves on the Wind River Indian Reservation under 
the more liberal 2005 and 2008 nonessential experimental populations 
regulations (70 FR 1286, January 6, 2005; King 2007; 73 FR 4720, 
January 28, 2008; 50 CFR 17.84(n)). Most recently, we contacted the 
Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes in October 2011, 
requesting government-to-government consultation to discuss any 
concerns the Tribes may have with our proposal (Guertin 2011). The 
Joint Council for these Tribes declined this opportunity (Greenwood 
2011). Neither of these tribes nor any other Tribes formally commented 
on the proposal. We also funded some Tribal wolf monitoring and 
management through the years. Collectively, the above activities 
satisfy our Tribal consultation responsibilities. While some 
individuals may find portions of Wyoming's regulatory framework morally 
objectionable and in conflict with their tribal cultural values, these 
individual objections are not grounds to take a different course. We 
will continue to inform the Tribes regarding the status of wolves and 
to respond to any Tribal requests for government-to-government 
consultation.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and implementing regulations 
(50 CFR part 424) set forth procedures for adding species to, removing 
species from, or reclassifying species on the Federal Lists of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Under section 4(a)(1) of 
the Act, a species may be determined to be endangered or threatened 
based on any of the following five factors: (A) The present or 
threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or 
range; (B) Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) Disease or predation; (D) The inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) Other natural or manmade factors 
affecting its continued existence. We must consider these same five 
factors in delisting decisions (50 CFR 424.11(d)). However, in 
delisting decisions, 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 
following the delisting and the removal or reduction of the Act's 
protections.
    In considering what factors might constitute threats, we must look 
beyond the exposure of the species to a particular factor to evaluate 
whether the species may respond to the factor in a way that causes 
actual impacts to the species. If there is exposure to a factor and the 
species responds negatively, the factor may be a threat, and during the 
status review, we attempt to determine how significant a threat it is. 
The threat is significant if it drives or contributes to the risk of 
extinction of the species such that the species warrants listing as 
endangered or threatened as those terms are defined by the Act. 
However, the identification of factors that could affect a species 
negatively may not be sufficient to justify a finding that the species 
warrants listing. The information must include evidence sufficient to 
suggest that the potential threat is likely to materialize and that it 
has the capacity (i.e., it should be of sufficient magnitude and 
extent) to affect the species' status such that it meets the definition 
of endangered or threatened under the Act.
    The following analysis examines the five factors affecting, or 
likely to affect Wyoming, GYA, and NRM wolves within the foreseeable 
future. We have previously concluded wolves in the remainder of the NRM 
DPS are recovered and warranted delisting (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009; 
76 FR 25590, May 5, 2011). Today's rulemaking is separate and 
independent from, but additive to, the previous action delisting wolves 
in the NRM DPS. While this rulemaking focuses on Wyoming, because this 
is the only portion of the NRM DPS that remains listed, the conclusions 
of the previous delisting and the information supporting this 
determination are incorporated by reference. This information is only 
updated where necessary (e.g., Idaho's suspension of its 2008-2012 
step-down wolf management plan and Montana's and Idaho's hunting 
seasons) to consider new developments affecting the larger NRM DPS. The 
best scientific and commercial information available demonstrates gray 
wolves in Wyoming, the GYA, and the NRM DPS are recovered and are 
unlikely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all 
or a significant portion of their range.

Factor A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or 
Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range

    This section evaluates the entire State of Wyoming, and within 
Wyoming we focus primarily on suitable habitat, currently occupied 
areas, and the Trophy Area. Within Wyoming, we also examine unsuitable 
habitat. Habitat suitability is based on biological features that 
affect the ability of wolf packs to persist. Outside of Wyoming, this 
analysis looks at areas between the three recovery areas to inform our 
understanding of current and future connectivity, with particular focus 
on the central Idaho to GYA dispersal corridor. For an analysis of 
other portions of the NRM DPS relative to this factor, see our 2009 
delisting determination (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009). We analyze a 
number of potential threats to wolf habitat including increased human 
populations and development (including oil and gas), connectivity, 
ungulate populations, and livestock grazing.
    Suitable Habitat--Wolves are habitat generalists (Mech and Boitoni 
2003, p. 163) and once occupied or transited all of Wyoming. However, 
much of the wolf's historical range within this area has been modified 
for human use. While lone wolves can travel through, or temporarily 
live, almost anywhere (Jimenez et al. In review, p. 1), much of Wyoming 
is no longer suitable habitat to support wolf packs and wolf breeding 
pairs (Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 559; Carroll et al. 2006, p. 32). We 
have reviewed the quality, quantity, and distribution of habitat 
relative to the biological requirements of wolves. In doing so, we 
reviewed two models, Oakleaf et al. (2006, pp. 555-558) and Carroll et 
al. (2003, pp. 536-548; 2006, pp. 27-31), to help us gauge the current 
amount and distribution of suitable wolf habitat in Wyoming. Both 
models ranked habitat as ``suitable'' if they had characteristics that 
indicated they might have a 50 percent or greater chance of supporting 
wolf packs. Suitable wolf habitat was typically characterized in both 
models as public land with mountainous, forested habitat that contains 
abundant year-round wild ungulate populations, low road density, low 
numbers of domestic livestock that are only present seasonally, few 
domestic sheep, low agricultural use, and few people. Unsuitable wolf 
habitat was typically just the opposite (i.e., private land, flat open 
prairie or desert, low or seasonal wild ungulate populations, high road 
density, high numbers of year-round domestic livestock including many 
domestic sheep, high levels of agricultural use, and many people). 
Despite their similarities, these two models had differences in the 
area analyzed, layers, inputs, and assumptions. As a result, the 
Oakleaf et al. (2006, p. 559) and Carroll et al. (2006, p. 33) models 
predicted different amounts of theoretically suitable wolf habitat in 
areas examined by both models.
    Oakleaf's model was a more intensive effort that looked at 
potential wolf

[[Page 55575]]

habitat in the NRM region (Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 555). To comprise 
its geographic information system layers, the model used roads 
accessible to two-wheel and four-wheel vehicles, topography (slope and 
elevation), land ownership, relative ungulate density (based on State 
harvest statistics), cattle and sheep density, vegetation 
characteristics (ecoregions and land cover), and human density. Oakleaf 
analyzed the characteristics of areas occupied and not occupied by NRM 
wolf packs through 2000 to predict what other areas in the NRM region 
might be suitable or unsuitable for future wolf pack formation (Oakleaf 
et al. 2006, p. 555). In total, Oakleaf et al. (2006, p. 559) ranked 
28,725 km\2\ (11,091 mi\2\) as suitable wolf habitat in Wyoming.
    Carroll's model analyzed a much larger area (all 12 western States 
and northern Mexico) in a less specific way than Oakleaf's model 
(Carroll et al. 2006, pp. 27-31). Carroll's model used density and type 
of roads, human population density and distribution, slope, and 
vegetative greenness to estimate relative ungulate density to predict 
associated wolf survival and fecundity rates (Carroll et al. 2006, p. 
29). These factors were used to develop estimates of habitat 
theoretically suitable for wolf pack persistence. In addition, Carroll 
predicted the potential effect of increased road development and human 
density expected by 2025 on suitable wolf habitat (Carroll et al. 2006, 
pp. 30-31). In total, Carroll et al. (2006, pp. 27-31) ranked 77,202 
km\2\ (29,808 mi\2\) in Wyoming as suitable habitat. According to the 
Carroll model, approximately 30 percent of Wyoming would be ranked as 
suitable wolf habitat (Carroll et al. 2006, pp. 27-31).
    The Carroll et al. (2006, pp. 31-34) model tended to be more 
generous than the Oakleaf et al. (2006, pp. 558-560) model in 
identifying suitable wolf habitat. Based on empirical wolf data over 
our 17 years of experience in Wyoming, we have determined Oakleaf's 
projections were more realistic. Unlike the Oakleaf model, the Carroll 
model did not incorporate livestock density into its calculations 
(Carroll et al. 2006, pp. 27-29; Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 556). Thus, 
the Carroll model did not consider those conditions where wolf 
mortality is high and habitat unsuitable because of chronic conflict 
with livestock. During the past 17 years, Wyoming wolf packs have been 
unable to persist in areas intensively used for livestock production, 
primarily because of agency control of problem wolves and illegal 
killing. However, due to the large area analyzed, the Carroll model 
provided a valuable relative measure across the western United States 
upon which comparisons could be made.
    Many of the more isolated primary habitat patches that the Carroll 
model predicted as currently suitable were predicted to be unsuitable 
by the year 2025, indicating they were likely on the lower end of what 
ranked as suitable habitat in that model (Carroll et al. 2006, p. 32). 
Because these areas were typically too small to support breeding pairs 
and too isolated from the core population to receive enough dispersing 
wolves to overcome high mortality rates, we conclude that these areas 
are not currently suitable habitat based upon our data on Wyoming wolf 
pack persistence for the past 17 years (Bangs 1991, p. 9; Bangs et al. 
1998, p. 788; Service et al. 1999-2012, Figure 1).
    Despite differences in each model's analysis area, layers, inputs, 
and assumptions, both models predicted that most suitable wolf habitat 
in Wyoming was in the GYA, which is the area currently occupied by 
wolves in Wyoming. These models are useful in understanding the 
relative proportions and distributions of various habitat 
characteristics and their relationships to wolf pack persistence. Both 
models generally support our earlier predictions about wolf habitat 
suitability in the GYA (Service 1980, p. 9; Service 1987, p. 7; Service 
1994, p. vii). Because these two theoretical models only define 
suitable habitat as those areas that have characteristics with a 50 
percent or greater probability of supporting wolf packs, the acreages 
of suitable habitat that they indicate can be successfully occupied are 
only estimates.
    The Carroll et al. (2006, p. 25) model also indicated that the GYA 
and neighboring population centers had habitat suitable for dispersal 
between them, and such habitat would remain relatively intact in the 
future. However, the GYA is the most isolated (Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 
554). This conclusion is supported by dispersal and genetic exchange 
data (vonHoldt et al. 2010, p. 4420; Jimenez et al. In review, p. 1). 
We note that some surrounding habitat that is considered unsuitable for 
pack persistence is still important for maintaining effective migration 
through natural dispersal.
    Overall, we evaluated data from a number of sources on the location 
of suitable wolf habitat in developing our estimate of currently 
suitable wolf habitat. Specifically, we considered the recovery areas 
identified in the 1987 wolf recovery plan (Service 1987, p. 23), the 
primary analysis areas analyzed in the 1994 Environmental Impact 
Statement for the GYA (63,700 km\2\ (24,600 mi\2\) (Service 1994, p. 
iv), information derived from theoretical models by Carroll et al. 
(2006, p. 25) and Oakleaf et al. (2006, p. 554), our 17 years of field 
experience managing wolves in Wyoming, and locations of persistent wolf 
packs and breeding pairs since recovery has been achieved (Service et 
al. 1999-2012, Figure 1). Collectively, this evidence leads us to 
concur with the Oakleaf et al. (2006, p. 559) model's predictions that 
the most important habitat attributes for wolf pack persistence are 
forest cover, public land, high elk density, and low livestock density. 
Therefore, we conclude that Oakleaf's calculations of the amount and 
distribution of suitable wolf habitat available for persistent wolf 
pack formation, in the parts of Wyoming analyzed, represent a 
reasonable prediction of suitable wolf habitat in Wyoming (although 
these calculations somewhat overestimated habitat suitability in some 
areas such as the Big Horn mountains) (Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 559).
    Generally, Wyoming's suitable habitat is located in the 
northwestern portion of the State. A comparison of actual wolf pack 
distribution in 2009 and 2011 (Service et al. 2010; 2012, Figure 1) to 
Oakleaf et al.'s (2006, p. 559) prediction of suitable habitat 
indicates that nearly all suitable habitat in Wyoming is currently 
occupied and areas predicted to be unsuitable remain largely 
unoccupied. Of note, the permanent Trophy Area and protected areas 
contain approximately 81 percent of the State's suitable habitat 
(including over 81 percent of the high-quality habitat (greater than 80 
percent chance of supporting wolves) and over 62 percent of the medium-
high-quality habitat (50 to 79 percent chance of supporting wolves) 
(Oakleaf 2011; Mead 2012a).
    Although Carroll determined there may be some additional suitable 
wolf habitat in Wyoming beyond the area Oakleaf analyzed, we conclude 
that it is marginally suitable at best, and is insignificant to NRM 
DPS, GYA, or Wyoming wolf population recovery, because it occurs in 
small, isolated, and fragmented areas and is unlikely to support many, 
if any, persistent breeding pairs. While some areas in Wyoming 
predicted to be unsuitable habitat by the above models have been 
temporarily occupied and used by wolves or even packs, we still 
consider these areas to be largely unsuitable habitat because wolf 
packs in such areas have failed to persist long enough to be 
categorized as breeding pairs and successfully contribute toward 
recovery. Therefore, we conclude that such areas are unsuitable habitat 
and that dispersing wolves attempting to

[[Page 55576]]

colonize those areas are unlikely to form breeding pairs, persist long 
enough to raise yearlings that can disperse to facilitate demographic 
and genetic exchange within the NRM DPS, or otherwise contribute to 
population recovery.
    Unoccupied Suitable Habitat--Habitat suitability modeling indicates 
that the GYA and central Idaho core recovery areas are atypical of 
other habitats in the western United States because suitable wolf 
habitat in these areas occurs in much larger contiguous blocks (Service 
1987, p. 7; Larson 2004, p. 49; Carroll et al. 2006, p. 35; Oakleaf et 
al. 2006, p. 559). Such core refugia areas provide a steady source of 
dispersing wolves that populate other adjoining potentially suitable 
wolf habitat. Some habitat ranked by models as suitable adjacent to 
this core refugia may be able to support wolf breeding pairs, while 
other habitat farther away from a strong source of dispersing wolves 
may not be able to support persistent packs. This fact is important 
when considering suitable habitat as defined by the Carroll et al. 
(2006, p. 30) and Oakleaf et al. (2006, p. 559) models, because wolf 
populations can persist despite very high rates of mortality only if 
they have high rates of immigration (Fuller et al. 2003, p. 183). 
Therefore, model predictions regarding habitat suitability do not 
always translate into successful wolf occupancy and wolf breeding 
pairs, just as habitat predicted to be unsuitable does not mean such 
areas will not support wolf breeding pairs.
    Strips and smaller (less than 2,600 km\2\ (1,000 mi\2\)) patches of 
theoretically suitable habitat (Carroll et al. 2006, p. 34; Oakleaf et 
al. 2006, p. 559) (typically, isolated mountain ranges) often possess a 
higher mortality risk for wolves because of their enclosure by, and 
proximity to, unsuitable habitat with a high mortality risk (Murray et 
al. 2010, p. 2514; Smith et al. 2010, p. 620). In addition, pack 
territories often form along distinct geological features (Mech and 
Boitani 2003, p. 23), such as the crest of a rugged mountain range, so 
usable space for wolves in isolated, long, narrow mountain ranges may 
be reduced by half or more. This phenomenon, in which the quality and 
quantity of suitable habitat is diminished because of interactions with 
surrounding less-suitable habitat, is known as an edge effect (Mills 
1995, pp. 400-401). Edge effects are exacerbated in small habitat 
patches with high perimeter-to-area ratios (i.e., those that are long 
and narrow, like isolated mountain ranges) and in species with large 
territories, like wolves, because they are more likely to encounter 
surrounding unsuitable habitat (Woodroffe and Ginsberg 1998, p. 2128). 
Implementation of wolf recovery has shown that some theoretically 
suitable habitat described by the available models fails to be 
functional (or suitable) wolf habitat because of non-modeled parameters 
(e.g., edge effect discussed above) that exist in those areas.
    For the above reasons, we conclude that the Wyoming wolf population 
will be centered around YNP and the GYA. This was always the intention, 
as indicated by the GYA recovery area identified in the 1987 Recovery 
Plan and the primary analysis area identified in the 1994 Environmental 
Impact Statement. This core area will support the recovered Wyoming and 
GYA wolf population and continue to contribute to the NRM gray wolf 
populations' recovered status.
    Currently Occupied Habitat--We calculated the currently occupied 
area in the NRM DPS wolf population by drawing a line around the outer 
points of radio-telemetry locations of all known wolf pack territories 
at the end of 2010 (Service et al. 2012, Figure 1). Since 2002, most 
packs have occurred within a consistent area (Service et al. 2003-2012, 
Figure 1), although the outer boundary of the entire NRM wolf 
population has fluctuated somewhat as peripheral packs establish in 
unsuitable or marginally suitable habitat and are subsequently lost 
(Messer 2011). We define occupied wolf habitat as that area confirmed 
as being used by resident wolves to raise pups, or that is consistently 
used by two or more territorial wolves for longer than 1 month (Service 
1994, pp. 6:5-6).
    The overall distribution of most Wyoming wolf packs primarily 
forming in mountainous forest habitat has been similar since 2000, 
despite a wolf population in the State that has more than doubled 
(Service et al. 2001-2012, Figure 1; Bangs et al. 2009, p. 104). The 
wolf population has saturated most suitable habitat in the State. 
Because packs are unlikely to persist in unsuitable habitat, 
significant growth in the population's distribution is unlikely. We 
include unoccupied areas separating areas with resident packs as 
occupied wolf habitat because these intervening unsuitable habitat 
areas contribute to demographic and genetic connectivity (vonHoldt et 
al. 2010, p. 4412). While these areas are not capable of supporting 
persistent wolf packs, dispersing wolves routinely travel through these 
areas, and packs occasionally occupy them (Service 1994, pp. 6:5-6; 
Bangs 2002, p. 3; Jimenez et al. In review, p. 1).
    Occupied habitat in Wyoming occurs only in the northwestern part of 
the State (see Figure 1 above). Specifically, this occupied area 
extends slightly further east than the Trophy Area, includes about the 
western-third of the Wind River Indian Reservation, and extends south 
to about Big Piney, Wyoming. The occupied portion of Wyoming and the 
GYA is illustrated in Figure 1 above.
    The Wyoming wolf population's relatively stable distribution is the 
result of the wolf population approaching biological limits, given 
available suitable habitat and conflict in unsuitable habitat. The 
remaining habitat predicted by Carroll's model is often fragmented, 
occurring in smaller, more isolated patches (Carroll et al. 2006, p. 
35). These areas have only been occupied by a few breeding pairs that 
failed to persist (Service et al. 2012, Figure 1). Given the above, 
there is probably limited ability for the Wyoming wolf population to 
expand significantly beyond its current outer boundaries, even under 
continued protections of the Act. As demonstrated by the wolf 
population's demographic abundance and relatively constant geographic 
occupancy in northwestern Wyoming, it is clear that there is sufficient 
suitable habitat to maintain the Wyoming wolf population well above 
recovery levels.
    Potential Threats Affecting Habitat or Range--Wolves are one of the 
most adaptable large predators in the world and are unlikely to be 
substantially affected by any threat except high levels of human 
persecution (Fuller et al. 2003, p. 163; Boitani 2003, pp. 328-330). 
Even active wolf dens can be quite resilient to nonlethal disturbance 
by humans (Frame et al. 2007, p. 316). Establishing a recovered wolf 
population in the NRM region did not require land-use restrictions or 
curtailment of traditional land uses because there was enough suitable 
habitat and wild ungulates and sufficiently few livestock conflicts to 
recover wolves under existing conditions (Bangs et al. 2004, pp. 95-
96). Traditional land-use practices in Wyoming are not a threat to 
wolves in the State, and thus, do not need to be modified to maintain a 
recovered wolf population into the foreseeable future. We do not 
anticipate that habitat changes in Wyoming will occur at a magnitude 
that will threaten wolf recovery in the foreseeable future, because the 
vast majority of occupied habitat is in public ownership that is 
managed for uses that are complementary with the maintenance of 
suitable wolf habitat and viable wolf

[[Page 55577]]

populations (Carroll et al. 2003, p. 542; Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 560).
    The 63,714 km\2\ (24,600 mi\2\) GYA is primarily composed of public 
lands (Service 1994, p. iv), and represents one of the largest 
contiguous blocks of suitable habitat within the region. Public lands 
in National Parks (YNP, Grand Teton National Park, and John D. 
Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway), wilderness (the Absaroka Beartooth, 
North Absaroka, Washakie, and Teton Wilderness Areas), roadless areas, 
and large blocks of contiguous mountainous forested habitat are largely 
unavailable or unsuitable for intensive development. Within the 
occupied portions of Wyoming, land ownership is mostly Federal (78.6 
percent, 58.1 percent of which is National Park Service or wilderness) 
with some State (2.6 percent), Tribal (8.4 percent), and private lands 
(10.5 percent) (Lickfett 2012).
    The vast majority of suitable wolf habitat and the current wolf 
population are secure in mountainous forested Federal public land 
(wilderness and roadless areas, National Parks, and some lands managed 
for multiple uses by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land 
Management) that will not be legally available or suitable for 
intensive levels of human development (Service 1993, 1996, 2007; 
Servheen et al. 2003; U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service 
2006). Furthermore, the ranges of wolves and grizzly bears overlap in 
many parts of Wyoming and the GYA, and mandatory habitat guidelines for 
grizzly bear conservation on public lands far exceed necessary criteria 
for maintaining suitable habitat for wolves (for an example, see U.S. 
Department of Agriculture Forest Service 2006). Thus, northwestern 
Wyoming will continue to provide optimal suitable habitat for a 
resident wolf population.
    The availability of native ungulate populations is a key factor in 
wolf habitat and range. Wild ungulate prey species are composed mainly 
of elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, and bison. Bighorn sheep, 
mountain goats, and pronghorn antelope also are common, but are not 
important as wolf prey. In total, Wyoming supports about 50,000 elk and 
about 90,000 mule deer in northwestern Wyoming (Bruscino 2011a). All 
but two of Wyoming's 35 elk management units are at or above the WGFD 
numeric objectives for those herds; however, calf/cow ratios in several 
herd units are below desired levels (WGFD 2010, p. 1; Mead 2012a). The 
State of Wyoming has successfully managed resident ungulate populations 
for decades. With managers and scientists collaborating to determine 
the source of the potential population fluctuations and appropriate 
management responses, we feel confident that, although different herds 
may experience differing population dynamics, the GYA will continue to 
support large populations of ungulates, and Wyoming will continue to 
maintain ungulate populations at densities that will continue to 
support a recovered wolf population well into the foreseeable future.
    The presence of cattle and sheep also affect wolf habitat and 
range. Cattle and sheep are at least twice as numerous as wild 
ungulates, even on public lands (Service 1994, p. viii). Most wolf 
packs have at least some interaction with livestock. Wolves and 
livestock can live near one another for extended periods of time 
without significant conflict, if agency control prevents the behavior 
of chronic livestock depredation from becoming widespread in the wolf 
population. However, whenever wolves and livestock mix, some livestock 
and some wolves will be killed. Conflicts between wolves and livestock 
have resulted in the annual removal of around 8 to 15 percent of the 
wolf population (Bangs et al. 1995, p. 130; Bangs et al. 2004, p. 92; 
Bangs et al. 2005, pp. 342-344; Service et al. 2012, Tables 4, 5; Smith 
et al. 2010, p. 620). Such active control promotes tolerance for wolf 
presence by responding to, and minimizing future, impacts to private 
property without threatening the wolf population viability.
    We do not foresee a substantial increase in livestock abundance 
occurring across northwestern Wyoming that would result in increased 
wolf mortality, and in fact, the opposite trend has been occurring. In 
recent years, more than 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) of public land 
grazing allotments have been purchased and retired in areas of chronic 
conflict between livestock and large predators, including wolves 
(Fischer 2008). Assuming adequate regulation of other potential threat 
factors (discussed below), the continued presence of livestock will not 
in any meaningful way threaten the recovered status of the Wyoming wolf 
population in the foreseeable future.
    Although human population growth and development may affect wolf 
habitat and range, we expect these impacts will be minimal, because the 
amount of secure suitable habitat is more than sufficient to support 
wolf breeding pairs well above recovery levels. We expect the region 
will see increased growth and development including conversion of 
private low-density rural lands to higher density urban and suburban 
development; accelerated road development and increasing amounts of 
transportation facilities (pipelines and energy transmission lines); 
additional resource extraction (primarily oil and gas, coal, and wind 
development in certain areas); and increased recreation on public lands 
(Robbins 2007, entire). Despite efforts to minimize impacts to wildlife 
(Brown 2006, pp. 1-3), some development will make some areas of Wyoming 
and the GYA less suitable for wolf occupancy. In the six northwestern 
Wyoming counties most used by wolves, the human population is projected 
to increase approximately 15 percent by 2030 (from 122,787 counted in 
2010 to 141,000 forecast in 2030) (Carroll et al. 2006, p. 536; Wyoming 
Department of Administration and Information Economic Analysis Division 
2008, entire; U.S. Census Bureau 2010, entire). We anticipate similar 
levels of population growth in the other neighboring areas, because the 
West as a region is projected to increase at rates faster than any 
other region (U.S. Census Bureau 2005). As human populations increase, 
associated impacts will follow. However, human development will not 
occur on a scale that could possibly affect the overall suitability of 
Wyoming or the GYA for wolves, and no foreseeable habitat-related 
threats will prevent these areas from supporting a wolf population that 
is capable of substantially exceeding recovery levels.
    Most types of intensive human development predicted in the future 
in Wyoming will occur in areas that have already been extensively 
modified by human activities and are unsuitable as wolf habitat 
(Freudenthal 2005, appendix III). Mineral extraction activities are 
likely to continue to be focused at lower elevations, on private lands, 
in open habitats, and outside of currently suitable and currently 
occupied wolf habitat (Robbins 2007, entire). Development on private 
land near suitable habitats will continue to expose wolves to more 
conflicts and higher risk of human-caused mortality. However, the rate 
of conflict is well below the level wolves can withstand, especially 
given the large amount of secure habitat in public ownership, much of 
which is protected, that will support a recovered wolf population and 
will provide a reliable and constant source of dispersing wolves. 
Furthermore, management programs (Linnell et al. 2001, p. 348), 
research and monitoring, and outreach and education about living with 
wildlife can somewhat reduce such impacts.
    Modeling exercises can also provide insight into future land-use

[[Page 55578]]

development patterns. While these models have weaknesses (such as an 
inability to accurately predict economic upturns or downturns, 
uncertainty regarding investments in infrastructure that might drive 
development, such as roads, airports, or water projects, and an 
inability to predict open-space acquisitions or conservation 
easements), we nevertheless think that such models are useful in adding 
to our understanding of likely development patterns. Carroll et al. 
(2003, p. 541; 2006, p. 32) predicted future wolf habitat suitability 
under several scenarios through 2025, including potential threats such 
as increased human population growth and road development. Similarly, 
in 2005, the Center for the West produced a series of maps predicting 
growth through 2040 for the West (Travis et al. 2005, pp. 2-7). These 
projections are available at: http://www.centerwest.org/futures/west/2040.html. These models predict very little development across occupied 
and suitable portions of the NRM DPS, Wyoming, or GYA.
    Based on these projections, we have determined that increased 
development will not alter wolf habitat suitability in the NRM DPS, 
Wyoming, or GYA nearly enough to cause the wolf population to fall 
below recovery levels in the foreseeable future. We acknowledge that 
habitat suitability for wolves will change over time with human 
development, activities, and attitudes, but not to the extent that it 
is likely to threaten wolf recovery. We conclude that future human 
population growth will not adversely affect wolf conservation. Wolf 
populations persist in many areas of the world that are far more 
developed than this region currently is, or is likely to be, in the 
foreseeable future (Boitani 2003, pp. 322-323). Current habitat 
conditions are adequate to support a wolf population well above minimal 
recovery levels, and model predictions indicate that development over 
the next 25 years is unlikely to change habitat in a manner that would 
threaten the wolf population (Carroll et al. 2003, p. 544).
    Regarding connectivity between the Wyoming and the GYA wolf to the 
remainder of the NRM DPS, minimal change in human population growth 
(Travis et al. 2005, pp. 2-7) and habitat suitability (Carroll et al. 
2003, p. 541; Carroll et al. 2006, p. 32) are expected along the Idaho-
Montana border between the central Idaho wolf population and the GYA. 
In fact, projected development is anticipated to include modest 
expansions concentrated in urban areas and immediately surrounding 
areas (Travis et al. 2005, pp. 2-7). Conversely, in many surrounding 
rural areas, habitat suitability for wolves will be increased beyond 
current levels as road densities on public lands are reduced, a process 
under way in the entire NRM region (Carroll et al. 2006, p. 25; 
Servheen et al. 2003; Service 1993, 1996, 2007; Brown 2006, pp. 1-3). 
Wolves have exceptional dispersal abilities including the ability to 
disperse long distances across vast areas of unsuitable habitat. 
Numerous lone wolves have already been documented to have successfully 
dispersed through these types of developed areas (Jimenez et al. In 
review, p. 1). History proves that wolves are among the least likely 
species of land mammal to face a serious threat from reduced 
connectivity related to projected changes in habitat (Fuller et al. 
2003, pp. 189-190).
    There is more than enough habitat connectivity between occupied 
wolf habitat in Canada, northwestern Montana, and Idaho to provide for 
the exchange of sufficient numbers of dispersing wolves to maintain 
demographic and genetic diversity in the NRM wolf metapopulation. We 
have documented routine movement of radio-collared wolves across the 
nearly contiguous available suitable habitat between Canada, 
northwestern Montana, and central Idaho (Boyd et al. 1995, p. 136; Boyd 
and Pletscher 1999, pp. 1100-1101; Jimenez et al. In review, p. 23). No 
foreseeable threats put this connectivity at risk. The GYA is the most 
physically isolated core recovery area within the NRM DPS, but the GYA 
has also demonstrated sufficient levels of connectivity to other 
occupied habitats and wolf populations in the NRM. Within the 
foreseeable future, only minimal habitat degradation will occur between 
the GYA and the other recovery areas. Overall, we conclude that this 
will have only minimal impacts on foreseeable levels of dispersal and 
connectivity of wolves in the GYA and the State of Wyoming with other 
wolf populations in the NRM. In short, future connectivity is unlikely 
to be meaningfully affected by changes in habitat and range (genetic 
exchange is discussed in more detail under Factor E below), and any 
changes that are likely will not threaten the recovered status of the 
Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf populations in the foreseeable 
future. Therefore, we find present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of habitat and range, singularly or in 
combination with other threats, will not cause the Wyoming, the GYA, or 
the NRM gray wolf populations to be ``likely to become an endangered 
species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant 
portion of its range.''

Factor B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Commercial or Recreational Uses--This section discusses both legal 
and illegal killing for commercial or recreational purposes, such as 
hunting and trapping. All other potential sources of human-caused 
mortality (e.g., legal or illegal killing for other purposes, agency or 
individual actions to address conflicts over wolf-livestock 
interactions, or wolf kills in the predator area of Wyoming) are 
discussed in the ``Human-caused Mortality'' section of Factor C below; 
potential impacts of human-caused mortality to natural connectivity and 
gene flow are discussed in the ``Genetic Considerations'' section of 
Factor E below. First, this section discusses illegal commercial or 
recreational use. Next, this section focuses on legal hunting and 
trapping in Wyoming. Finally, this section evaluates regulated hunting 
and trapping in Idaho and Montana because some wolves and some packs 
cross State boundaries. For an analysis of other portions of the NRM 
DPS relative to this factor, see our 2009 delisting determination (74 
FR 15123, April 2, 2009). Additional consideration of such take since 
2009 has verified our previous conclusions that State management of 
such human-caused mortality will not undermine maintenance of any 
portion of the NRM DPS's recovered status (Cooley 2011; Jimenez 2012b; 
see also Issue and Response 4 above). Additional consideration of such 
take in Montana and Idaho are also included in other portions of this 
rule as appropriate.
    Since the species was listed, killing for commercial or 
recreational use has been prohibited. While some wolves may have been 
illegally killed for commercial use of the pelts and other parts, such 
illegal commercial trafficking is rare. Furthermore, illegal capture of 
wolves for commercial breeding purposes is also possible, but we have 
no evidence that it occurs in Wyoming, the GYA, or elsewhere in the NRM 
DPS. We conclude that the prohibition against ``take'' provided by 
section 9 of the Act has discouraged and minimized the illegal killing 
of wolves for commercial or recreational purposes. Post-delisting, 
State, tribal, and other Federal laws and regulations will continue to 
provide a strong deterrent to such illegal wolf killing by the public. 
State, tribal, and other Federal wildlife agencies have well-
distributed,

[[Page 55579]]

experienced professional law enforcement officers to help enforce their 
respective wildlife regulations. Similar regulatory approaches have 
been effective in the conservation of other resident wildlife, such as 
black bears, mountain lions, elk, and deer. Most hunting and trapping 
that will occur post-delisting will be legal, permitted, and regulated 
by the State of Wyoming or the Wind River Indian Reservation.
    Legal regulated harvest will be employed by Montana, Idaho, and 
Wyoming after delisting. Additionally, the Wind River Indian 
Reservation may consider legal regulated harvest. Harvest will be done 
in a manner compatible with wolf conservation. Wolves can maintain 
themselves despite human-caused mortality rates of 17 to 48 percent 
(Fuller et al. 2003, pp. 182-184 [22 percent +/- 8 percent]; Adams et 
al. 2008 [29 percent]; Creel and Rotella 2010 [22 percent]; Sparkman et 
al. 2011 [25 percent]; Gude et al. 2011 [48 percent]; Vucetich and 
Carroll In review [17 percent]).
    We have long encouraged hunting as a long term strategy for wolf 
conservation because it is a valuable, efficient, and cost-effective 
tool to help manage wildlife populations (Bangs et al. 2009, pg. 113). 
Viable robust wolf populations in Canada, Alaska, and other parts of 
the world are hunted and trapped and are not threatened by this type of 
mortality. Furthermore, all States in the NRM DPS have substantial 
experience operating regulated harvest as a wildlife management tool 
for resident species. Regarding experience specific to wolves, in both 
2009 and 2011, more than 250 NRM wolves were killed through hunting and 
a total of more than 600 NRM wolves died each year from all sources of 
mortality (agency control including defense of property, regulated 
harvest, illegal and accidental killing, and natural causes), and the 
population showed little change (technically, slight increases in 
minimum population levels were documented each year) (Service et al. 
2012, tables 4a, 4b). While future population reductions are 
anticipated, the available information gives us every confidence that 
the States will run hunts such that wolf populations will not be 
threatened by recreational or commercial uses.
    In Wyoming, wolves will be managed as game animals year-round or 
protected in about 38,500 km\2\ (15,000 mi\2\) in the northwestern 
portion of the State (15.2 percent of Wyoming), including YNP, Grand 
Teton National Park, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, 
adjacent U.S. Forest Service-designated Wilderness Areas, adjacent 
public and private lands, the National Elk Refuge, and most of the Wind 
River Indian Reservation (Lickfett 2012). This area is of sufficient 
size to support Wyoming wolf population targets, under the management 
regime developed for this area.
    Wolves will be considered as trophy game animals within the area of 
northwestern Wyoming identified as the Trophy Area (see Figure 1 
above). In areas under State jurisdiction, ``trophy game'' status 
allows the WGFC and WGFD to regulate methods of take, hunting seasons, 
and numbers of wolves that could be killed. The boundary and size of 
the Trophy Area was established by State statute and cannot be 
diminished through WGFC rule or regulation. The Trophy Area will be 
seasonally expanded approximately 80 km (50 mi) south (see Figure 1 
above) from October 15 to the last day of February (28th or 29th) to 
facilitate natural dispersal of wolves between Wyoming and Idaho. 
During this timeframe, the Trophy Area will be expanded by 
approximately 3,300 km\2\ (1,300 mi\2\) (i.e., an additional 1.3 
percent of Wyoming) (Lickfett 2011).
    Regarding methods for regulated hunting within the Trophy Area, 
numerous safeguards ensure such take will be fair chase. For example, 
hunting regulations within the Trophy Area prohibit: Use of dogs to aid 
in wolf hunting (W.S. 23-3-109(a)); poisoning (W.S. 23-3-304); hunting 
from a road (W.S. 23-3-305); hunting with the aid of artificial light 
(W.S. 23-3-306(b)); hunting from snow machines, automobiles, or 
airplanes; and hunters receiving spotting assistance from aircraft 
(W.S. 23-3-306). Note that the limitations listed here are a small 
sample of protective measures in place and not intended to constitute a 
comprehensive list; parties looking for a comprehensive list of 
limitations on wolf hunting within the Trophy Area should consult the 
WGFD.
    Within the Trophy Area, Wyoming intends to use public harvest of 
wolves to reduce wolf populations to minimize wolf impacts to 
livestock, ungulate herds, and humans (WGFC 2011, pp. 1, 23). Wyoming 
will develop an annual hunt plan that will take into consideration, but 
not be limited to, the following when developing a wolf hunting program 
or extending wolf hunting seasons: Wolf breeding seasons; short- and 
long-range dispersal opportunity, survival, and success in forming new 
or joining existing packs; conflicts with livestock; and the broader 
game management responsibilities related to ungulates and other 
wildlife (WGFC 2011, pp. 2-3, 16, 25, 53). Harvest quotas will be 
established through WGFD's normal season-setting process. Quotas will 
be based on the population status of wolves at the end of the previous 
calendar year, and consider wolf mortality and population growth 
estimated during the current calendar year (WGFC 2011, pp. 23-25). All 
forms of wolf mortality will be considered when setting appropriate 
harvest levels (WGFC 2011, pp. 23-25). Seasons will close when the 
mortality quota is reached or if the WGFC deems it necessary to close 
the season for other reasons. Importantly, the WGFD will not manage 
wolves at the minimum population objective (WGFC 2011, p. 24). Instead, 
the WGFD will set harvest levels that maintain an adequate buffer above 
minimum population objectives to provide management flexibility (WGFC 
2011, p. 24).
    Wyoming wolf hunting seasons will coincide primarily with fall big 
game hunting seasons (October through December), but they may be 
established outside of that period or extended beyond that period if 
necessary to achieve management objectives (WGFC 2011, pp. 23-25, 53). 
Wyoming's wolf management plan indicates that the State expects to 
delineate approximately 10 to 12 wolf hunting areas within the Trophy 
Area to focus harvest in specific areas (i.e., areas with high wolf-
livestock conflict, high human-trafficked areas, or areas where 
ungulate herds are below State management objectives) (WGFC 2011, pp. 
1, 16). Wyoming has 12 hunting units for the 2012 hunting season. 
Persons who legally harvest a wolf within the Trophy Area will be 
required to report the harvest to the WGFD within 24 hours, and check 
the harvested animal in within 5 days (WGFC 2011, pp. 3, 22-25). 
Reporting periods for harvested wolves may be extended after inaugural 
hunting seasons if it is determined that extended reporting periods 
will not increase the likelihood of overharvest (WGFC 2011, p. 23). 
Similar harvest strategies have been successful for countless other 
wildlife species in Wyoming.
    Within the Trophy Area, at the end of 2011, there were at least 177 
wolves in at least 29 packs (including 16 breeding pairs), as well as 
at least 4 lone wolves; within the seasonal Trophy Area, at the end of 
2011, there were at least 10 wolves in at least 2 packs (including 1 
breeding pair), as well as at least 5 lone wolves (Jimenez 2012a). In 
2012, Wyoming will authorize a hunting quota of 52 wolves in 2012, and 
once reproduction is accounted for, the State estimates that this would 
reduce the

[[Page 55580]]

population by about 11.5 percent within the Trophy Area (Mills 2012, 
pers. comm.). Specifically, Wyoming estimates the population within the 
Trophy Area would be around 170 wolves and 15 breeding pairs at the end 
of 2012 (Mills 2012, pers. comm.). We note that this first-year goal is 
comfortably above the minimum agreed-upon population targets.
    Commercial or recreational trapping is not currently being planned 
in Wyoming (Bruscino 2011b). However, an adaptive management approach, 
which could include trapping, may occur in the future (WGFC 2011, p. 
25; Mead 2012a). If such a season is considered in the future, it would 
be regulated by the WGFD and the WGFC. Furthermore, take would be 
limited because the resultant mortality would count toward Wyoming's 
total harvest quotas, which are already expected to be modest once 
desired population reductions are achieved. If trapping is used in the 
future it will be conducted within the framework of the State's overall 
demographic targets.
    Regarding past hunting seasons, in our 2009 delisting rule (74 FR 
15123, April 2, 2009), we determined that Wyoming's proposed 2008 
harvest strategy (that was not implemented) was well-designed, 
biologically sound, and, by itself, it would not have threatened 
Wyoming's share of the recovered NRM wolf population. Given Wyoming's 
strong commitment to maintain a population of at least the agreed-upon 
minimum population targets, its intention to consider all forms of wolf 
mortality when making wolf management decisions, and numerous 
safeguards built into its harvest strategy, we are confident that this 
source of mortality will not compromise the Wyoming wolf population's 
recovered status.
    The Wind River Indian Reservation's management plan indicates 
wolves will be designated as a game animal post-delisting and hunting 
and trapping can occur (Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game 
Department 2007, p. 9). The season timing and length, harvest quota, 
and other specifics will be determined by the Eastern Shoshone and 
Northern Arapaho Tribes (Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game 
Department 2007, p. 9). Harvest strategy will depend on the number of 
wolves present on Wind River Indian Reservation and the management 
direction the Tribes wish to take (Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and 
Game Department 2007, p. 9). The Tribes have not designated a specific 
number of individuals or packs for which they will manage (Shoshone and 
Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Department 2007, p. 9). Given the small 
number of wolves, packs, and breeding pairs supported while Act 
protections were in place, we expect the area will support very modest 
wolf population levels and distribution. Given this, we expect very 
limited hunting or trapping on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
    No legal wolf hunting or trapping will occur within the boundaries 
of YNP and Grand Teton National Park. Similarly, no wolf hunting is 
currently planned or anticipated on the National Elk Refuge (although 
it could be considered in the future) (Kallin 2012, per. comm.). 
However, wolves in these areas may be impacted by hunting or trapping 
when they leave these areas to various extents depending on the unit. 
In Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge, wolf pack 
home ranges typically cross outside of these Federal boundaries, thus, 
hunting pressures in adjoining areas will likely impact these wolves. 
These wolves were included in the Trophy Area for exactly this reason. 
Therefore, Wyoming will manage these wolves along with other wolves 
within the remainder of the Trophy Area to ensure their statewide 
minimum management target is not compromised.
    Most YNP packs rarely leave the park. However, a few packs 
occasionally leave the park boundaries, which could subject them to 
hunting in adjoining areas. This situation is most common for packs in 
the northern part of YNP where some of these wolves occasionally enter 
adjoining portions of southern Montana. Montana has responded to this 
situation by creating a small subquota for areas adjoining YNP. 
Specifically, within the large South Central Montana hunting unit, 
which had an overall quota of 18 wolves in 2011, Montana Fish, Wildlife 
and Parks created a small subunit with a subquota of 3 wolves for areas 
immediately adjoining YNPs northern boundary (Montana Fish, Wildlife 
and Parks 2011, pp. 6-7). This approach has been successful at 
minimizing hunting impacts to YNP packs (Smith 2012, pers. comm.). We 
anticipate Montana will continue such harvest limits in areas adjoining 
YNP in future years. Most other YNP wolf packs are not expected to be 
as vulnerable to human-caused mortality in adjoining areas most years 
because they generally spend less time in these adjoining areas. That 
said, these patterns will vary by year. For example, the Delta pack is 
generally known from southeastern YNP and its range can include 
adjoining portions of Wyoming, but this year it appears to be spending 
so much time in Wyoming that it may count as a Wyoming pack rather than 
a YNP pack.
    Although not likely to be necessary, should hunting in other 
adjoining areas have a bigger impact than anticipated, we expect other 
adjoining States would follow Montana's lead and limit hunting in these 
adjoining areas to limit impacts to YNP wolves. All three States have 
long cooperated with YNP on wildlife management issues, a situation we 
expect to continue (Bruscino 2012, pers. comm.; Smith 2012, pers. 
comm.). Furthermore, all three States have an incentive to maintain a 
minimally affected wolf population in YNP both for visitor enjoyment 
and the resulting economic benefits. Additionally, while we doubt this 
issue could ever bring the Wyoming statewide population down below 15 
breeding pairs or below 150 wolves, all 3 States have an incentive not 
to have their management actions outside YNP cause population-level 
impacts in the park that could lead to a Service status review (see 
status review trigger 3 below). Wyoming's wolf management plan confirms 
this intention in that it states Wyoming is committed to coordinate 
with YNP to contribute to maintain a statewide total of at least 15 
breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves (WGFC 2011, p. 1).
    Although hunting is currently allowed for many other game species 
in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway under the Parkway's 
enabling legislation and Wyoming law, the National Park Service has 
indicated a ``strong preference that wolves not be hunted in the John 
D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway'' (Frost and Wessels 2012). 
Wyoming's hunting regulations are clear that gray wolf hunting would 
not occur in the Parkway during the 2012 season, although nothing in 
Wyoming's regulations or Wyoming's wolf management plan would preclude 
wolves from being hunted in the Parkway in subsequent years. Should 
hunting ever occur in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, it 
would likely be very limited, would be unlikely to noticeably affect 
wolf gene flow or connectivity, and it would be closely coordinated 
with the National Park Service.
    Recent hunts in Idaho and Montana demonstrate wolf tolerance for 
hunting. Both Idaho and Montana designated wolves as game animals 
statewide and each State conducted conservative wolf hunts in 2009. 
These hunts distributed wolf harvest across occupied habitat, took into 
account connectivity and possible dispersal corridors, resulted in good 
hunter compliance, and improved hunter attitudes about wolves (Montana 
Fish, Wildlife and Parks 2009, entire; Dickson 2010; Service et al. 
2010, Idaho chapter, pp. 13-14; Service et al. 2010,

[[Page 55581]]

Montana chapter, pp. 17-25). In total, Montana hunts took 72 wolves out 
of the 75-harvest quota and, in Idaho, hunts took 185 wolves out of 
2009's quota of 220 (Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks 2009, entire). Each 
State closed wolf harvest in individual management zones at the end of 
that State's season or when as a unit (or subunit) met its quota, 
whichever came first. Montana closed its wolf hunt statewide November 
16th. In Idaho, a few zones remained open until March 31. Despite a 
total harvest of 257 wolves in Montana and Idaho and other sources of 
human-caused mortality, the NRM population showed little change in 2009 
(technically, a slight increase in minimum population levels was 
documented). Hunting continued in some portions of Idaho into 2010. In 
2010, the minimum population estimate saw a small decline. During the 
2011-2012 harvest, 379 wolves were taken in Idaho (255 by hunters and 
124 by trappers), and 166 wolves were taken in Montana (Idaho 
Department of Fish and Game 2012, entire; Montana Fish, Wildlife and 
Parks 2012a, entire).
    Considering all sources of mortality in 2011, the population 
changed minimally (minimum population estimates grew by around 3 
percent across the NRM DPS including a 15 percent increase in Montana 
and 4 percent reduction in Idaho). Some additional reduction likely 
occurred during the 2012 portion of the 2011-2012 hunting season. 
Regardless, these data confirm wolves' capacity to withstand 
significant mortality. As anticipated in our 2009 delisting rule (74 FR 
15123, April 2, 2009), Montana and Idaho are now planning higher 
harvest rates to reduce the population below current levels (which are 
likely at or above long term carrying capacity of the suitable 
habitat). After this initial population reduction phase, we anticipate 
that the NRM gray wolf population will then settle into a reasonable, 
long term equilibrium, well above minimum recovery levels.
    On a more localized level, hunting in Idaho and Montana may affect 
Wyoming wolves because some wolves and some packs cross State 
boundaries. Thus, next we analyze hunting in Idaho's and Montana's 
portion of the GYA. During the 2009 season, Island Park hunting unit 
had a quota of five wolves with an October 1st to December 31st season 
and a limit of one wolf per person (Service et al. 2010, Idaho chapter, 
pp. 81-84). The quota for this unit was met, and the unit was closed 
November 2nd (Service et al. 2010, Idaho chapter, pp. 81-84). There is 
no harvest data from 2010 because wolves were not hunted in this unit 
in 2010. During the 2011 season, Idaho authorized a quota of 30 wolves 
in the Island Park hunting unit with a season from August 30th to 
December 31st, and limits of 1 wolf per tag with a limit of 2 tags per 
person (Idaho Fish and Game Commission 2011). The quota for this unit 
was not reached because only 10 wolves were taken. The 2012-2013 
hunting seasons authorize a quota of 30 wolves with a season from 
August 30th to January 31st and limits of 1 wolf per tag with a limit 
of 2 tags per person. If the last several years are any indication, it 
is unlikely this quota will be achieved. Overall, the data demonstrate 
this modest hunting level in this unit had minimal impact. As hunting 
continues in this region across multiple consecutive years, it will 
reduce the number of wolves, packs, and breeding pairs in this area 
(this is the State's intention). In the long run, it is likely that 
this area will continue to support a modest number of wolves and packs 
(one to four packs) some of which will qualify as breeding pairs. This 
regulated taking in Idaho may minimally affect a small number of 
Wyoming wolves (e.g., the three Wyoming packs that cross into Idaho). 
In future years, once the initial desired population level is achieved, 
such impacts are expected to be minimal.
    Idaho's other hunting unit in the GYA area is the southern Idaho 
unit. Potential hunting impacts in this unit are expected to be zero to 
low single digits. During the 2009-2010 hunting season, Idaho allowed 
hunting from August 30th to March 31st in this zone but did not reach 
its quota and only 1 wolf was harvested. During the 2011-2012 hunting 
season, Idaho allowed hunting from August 30th to March 31st with an 
unlimited quota in this zone, but only harvested 2 wolves. During 2011, 
no documented packs or groups occupied the Southern Idaho Zone. 
Furthermore, hunting in this unit is expected to have little to no 
impact on packs in Wyoming. Because this area is largely unsuitable 
habitat with no substantial wolf population, recent modest take trends 
in this unit are likely to continue.
    Trapping was not authorized in either the Island Park unit or the 
southern Idaho unit (Idaho Fish and Game Commission 2011). Similarly, 
trapping is also not planned for the 2012-2013 season in either of 
these areas. Trapping was only authorized where hunting alone was not 
anticipated to be effective in reducing the wolf population (Idaho Fish 
and Game Commission 2011). Because trapping is typically reserved for 
more remote, inaccessible areas (Idaho Fish and Game Commission 2011), 
we do not expect much, if any, future trapping in this area.
    Montana's wolf quota for 2011 within the GYA was 43 wolves 
including 19 wolves within the Gallatin/Madison unit, 6 wolves within 
the Highlands/Tobacco Roots/Gravelly/Snowcrest unit, and 18 wolves 
within the South Central Montana unit (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks 
2011, pp. 6-7). These quotas were nearly achieved with 16, 5, and 18 
wolves taken in each of the above units, respectively. In 2011, the 
minimum estimate was 139 wolves in 22 verified packs, 10 of which 
qualified as a breeding pair. This represents a slight change in the 
area's wolf population (technically, a slight increase in the 
documented wolf population) from 2010 when the minimum population 
estimate was 118 wolves in 19 packs in 2010, of which 6 qualified as 
breeding pairs. Small fluctuations also occurred following the 2009 
hunting season. Thirteen wolves were taken in this unit in 2009. From 
the end of 2008 to the end of 2009 (the period affected by the 2009 
wolf hunt), the minimum wolf population estimate in Montana's share of 
the GYA declined from 130 wolves in 18 packs, 11 of which met the 
breeding pair criteria, to 106 wolves in 17 verified packs, 9 of which 
qualified as a breeding pair. Both agency control (which increased in 
2009) and hunter harvest were factors in these declines.
    As of this writing, the Montana 2012-2013 hunting season's quota is 
not determined, but will be higher than past seasons and may include 
trapping and increased harvest. In the long run, Montana will modestly 
reduce the number of wolves, packs, and breeding pairs in this area. 
However, it is likely this area will continue to support a sizeable 
number of wolves, packs, and breeding pairs. Specifically, in our 
professional judgment, this area will support at least 8 packs long 
term, a significant number of which will qualify as breeding pairs. 
This regulated taking in Montana, in light of the quotas for areas 
adjacent to YNP, may affect some Wyoming wolves in some years, but is 
not expected to be a significant impact.
    In summary, illegal commercial and recreational use will remain a 
negligible source of mortality, and legal and State-regulated harvest 
for commercial and recreational use will be managed in a manner 
compatible with wolf conservation. Wolves can maintain population 
levels despite very high sustained human-caused mortality rates. For 
example, in 2009 and in 2011, more than 600 NRM wolves died each year 
from all sources of mortality (agency control including defense of 
property, regulated harvest, illegal and accidental

[[Page 55582]]

killing, and natural causes), and the population showed little change 
(technically, slight increases in minimum population levels were 
documented each year) (Service et al. 2012, tables 4a, 4b). Regulated 
hunting and trapping are commonly used to manage wolves in Canada and 
Alaska without population-level negative effects (Bangs 2008), and all 
States in the NRM DPS have substantial experience operating regulated 
harvest as a wildlife management tool for resident species. In Wyoming, 
population levels will be carefully monitored; all sources of mortality 
will be used to set quotas and measure progress toward them; harvest 
units will be closed when quotas are met, or if otherwise needed (e.g., 
if overall population objectives are being approached); harvest units 
will be small to allow targeted control of authorized mortality; and 
populations will be managed with a buffer above minimum targets. This 
approach is consistent with the State's management of numerous other 
species.
    On the whole, we anticipate Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana will all 
reduce populations in the short term and that harvest rates and season 
duration will be reduced over time. Long term, commercial and 
recreational human-caused mortality and total human-caused mortality 
will occur at sustainable rates that will not compromise minimum 
management targets or minimum recovery objectives.
    Overutilization for Scientific or Educational Purposes--From 1979 
to 2010, the Service and our cooperating partners captured 1,963 wolves 
for monitoring, nonlethal control, and research purposes with less than 
3 percent experiencing accidental death. After delisting, the States, 
National Parks, and Tribes will continue to capture and radio-collar 
wolves for monitoring and research purposes in accordance with State, 
Federal, and tribal laws, wolf management plans, regulations, and 
appropriate agency humane animal care and handling policies. The 
capture or possession of wolves from within the Trophy Area for 
scientific or educational purposes will be regulated by the WGFD under 
rules set in chapter 10 and chapter 33 of Commission Regulations. We 
expect that capture-caused mortality by Federal, State, and Tribal 
agencies, and universities conducting wolf monitoring, nonlethal 
control, and research, will remain below 3 percent of the wolves 
captured, and will remain an insignificant source of mortality to the 
wolf population (Murray et al. 2010, p. 2519).
    We are unaware of any wolves that have been removed from the wild 
for solely educational purposes in recent years. Wolves that are used 
for such purposes are typically privately held captive-reared offspring 
of wolves that were already in captivity for other reasons. However, we 
or the States and Tribes may get requests to place wolves that would 
otherwise be euthanized in captivity for research or educational 
purposes. Such requests have been, and are likely to continue to be, 
rare. Such requests will not substantially affect human-caused wolf 
mortality rates.
    In summary, we find that commercial, recreational, scientific, and 
educational use, singularly or in combination with other threats, will 
not cause the Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf population to be 
``likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range.''

Factor C. Disease or Predation

    This section discusses disease and parasites, natural predation, 
and all sources of human-caused mortality not covered under Factor B 
above (the Factor B analysis includes sources of human-caused mortality 
for commercial and recreational uses). The below analysis focuses on 
wolves in Wyoming, but considers adjoining portions of the GYA because 
some wolves and some packs cross State boundaries. Data for other 
regions are considered, particularly where it implies a threat that 
could someday affect Wyoming or GYA wolves. For an analysis of other 
portions of the NRM DPS relative to this factor, see our 2009 delisting 
determination (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009).
    Disease--Wolves throughout North America are exposed to a wide 
variety of diseases and parasites. Many diseases (viruses and bacteria, 
many protozoa and fungi) and parasites (helminthes and arthropods) have 
been reported for the gray wolf, and several of them have had 
significant but temporary impacts during wolf recovery in the 48 
conterminous States (Brand et al. 1995, p. 428; Kreeger 2003, pp. 202-
214). The 1994 Environmental Impact Statement on gray wolf 
reintroduction identified disease impact as an issue, but did not 
evaluate it further (Service 1994, pp. 1:20-21).
    Infectious disease induced by parasitic organisms is a normal 
feature in the life of wild animals, and the typical wild animal hosts 
a broad multispecies community of potentially harmful parasitic 
organisms (Wobeser 2002, p. 160). We fully anticipate that these 
diseases and parasites will follow the same pattern seen for wolves in 
other areas of North America (Brand et al. 1995, pp. 428-429; Bailey et 
al. 1995, p. 445; Kreeger 2003, pp. 202-204; Atkinson 2006, pp. 1-7; 
Smith and Almberg 2007, pp. 17-19; Johnson 1995a, 1995b; Almberg et al. 
2009, p. 3; 2010, p. 2058; Jimenez et al. 2010a, p. 1120; 2010b p. 
331), and will not significantly threaten wolf population viability. 
Nevertheless, because these diseases and parasites, and perhaps others, 
have the potential to affect wolf population distribution and 
demographics, monitoring implemented by the States, Tribes, and 
National Park Service will track disease and parasite events. Should 
such an outbreak occur that results in a population decline, 
discretionary human-caused mortality (such as hunting, post-delisting) 
would be adjusted over an appropriate area and time period to ensure 
wolf population numbers are maintained above recovery levels (WGFC 
2011, pp. 21-22, 24).
    Canine parvovirus (CPV) infects wolves, domestic dogs (Canis 
familiaris), foxes (Vulpes vulpes), coyotes (Canis latrans), skunks 
(Mephitis mephitis), and raccoons (Procyon lotor). The population 
impacts of CPV occur via diarrhea-induced dehydration leading to 
abnormally high pup mortality (Wisconsin Department of Natural 
Resources 1999, p. 61). Clinical CPV is characterized by severe 
hemorrhagic diarrhea and vomiting; debility and subsequent mortality is 
a result of dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and shock. CPV has 
been detected in nearly every wolf population in North America 
including Alaska (Bailey et al. 1995, p. 441; Brand et al. 1995, p. 
421; Kreeger 2003, pp. 210-211; Johnson et al. 1994; Almberg et al. 
2009, p. 2), and exposure in wolves is thought to be almost universal. 
Currently, nearly 100 percent of the wolves handled in Montana and 
Wyoming had blood antibodies indicating nonlethal exposure to CPV 
(Atkinson 2006; Smith and Almberg 2007, p. 18; Almberg et al. 2009, p. 
2; Service et al. 2009, Wyoming chapter, p. 11). CPV might have 
contributed to low pup survival in the northern range of YNP in 1999. 
CPV was suspected to have done so again in 2005 and possibly 2008, but 
evidence now points to canine distemper (CD) as having been the primary 
cause of low pup survival during those years (Smith et al. 2006, p. 
244; Smith 2008, pers. comm.; Almberg et al. 2010, p. 2058). Pup 
production and survival in YNP returned to normal levels after each 
event (Almberg et al. 2009, pp. 18-19).
    The impact of disease outbreaks to the overall NRM wolf population 
has been

[[Page 55583]]

localized and temporary, as has been documented elsewhere (Bailey et 
al. 1995, p. 441; Brand et al. 1995, p. 421; Kreeger 2003, pp. 210-
211). Despite these periodic disease outbreaks, the NRM wolf population 
increased at a rate of about 20 percent annually from 1996 to 2008 
(Service et al. 2012, Table 4; Smith et al. 2010, p. 620; also see 
Figure 3 above. Mech and Goyal (2011) recently found that from 1987 to 
1993, CPV reduced pup survival and subsequent dispersal and overall 
population growth in the Superior National Forest of Minnesota (a 
population at carrying capacity in suitable habitat); after that the 
population apparently gained resistance to CPV. It is possible that at 
carrying capacity CPV may affect the GYA and Wyoming wolf populations 
similarly, such that the overall rate of growth may be temporarily 
reduced.
    Canine distemper (CD) is an acute, fever-causing disease of 
carnivores caused by a virus (Kreeger 2003, p. 209). It is common in 
domestic dogs and some wild canids, such as coyotes and foxes in the 
NRM region (Kreeger 2003, p. 209). The prevalence of antibodies to this 
disease in wolf blood in North American wolves is about 17 percent 
(Kreeger 2003, p. 209), but varies annually and by specific location. 
Nearly 85 percent of Montana wolf blood samples analyzed in 2005 
indicated nonlethal exposure to CD (Atkinson 2006). Similar results 
were found in Wyoming (Smith and Almberg 2007, p. 18; Service et al. 
2009, Wyoming chapter, p. 11; Almberg et al. 2010, p. 2061). Mortality 
in wolves has been documented in Canada (Carbyn 1982, p. 109), Alaska 
(Peterson et al. 1984, p. 31; Bailey et al. 1995, p. 441), and in a 
single Wisconsin pup (Wydeven and Wiedenhoeft 2003, p. 7). CD is not a 
major mortality factor in wolves, because despite high exposure to the 
virus, affected wolf populations usually demonstrate good recruitment 
(Brand et al. 1995, pp. 420-421). Mortality from CD has only been 
confirmed on a few occasions in NRM wolves despite their high exposure 
to it, however, we suspect it contributed to the high pup mortality 
documented in the northern GYA in spring 1999, 2005, and 2008 (Almberg 
et al. 2010, p. 2061).
    CD is likely maintained in the NRM region by multiple hosts, and 
periodic outbreaks will undoubtedly occur every 2-5 years (Almberg et 
al. 2010, p. 2058). However, as documented elsewhere, CD does not 
threaten wolf populations, and the NRM wolf population increased even 
during years with localized outbreaks (Almberg et al. 2010, p. 2058). 
YNP biologists (Smith 2008, pers. comm.) documented the most severe 
wolf impacts from CD when the YNP population was around the historic 
high of 170 wolves the previous winter. That said, less severe 
outbreaks of CD can and do occur at lower population levels. CD impacts 
are typically localized. In 2008, wolf packs in Wyoming outside YNP 
(about 25 packs and 15 breeding pairs) appeared to have normal pup 
production (Jimenez 2008, pers. comm.), indicating the probable disease 
outbreak in 2008 was localized to YNP. The available information 
indicates CD mortality may be associated with high carnivore density. 
Thus, the wolf populations in the GYA may be more affected by CD and 
other diseases when wolves and other carnivores exist at high densities 
in suitable habitat (e.g., in YNP in 2005 and 2008). This may partially 
explain why no similar events have been documented in other portions of 
Wyoming, and may limit the future likelihood of similar events in other 
portions of Wyoming after delisting.
    Lyme disease, caused by a spirochete bacterium, is spread primarily 
by deer ticks (Ixodes dammini). Host species include humans, horses 
(Equus caballus), dogs, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, white-footed 
mice (Peromyscus leucopus), eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus), 
coyotes, and wolves. In wolf populations in the Western Great Lakes 
region, it does not appear to cause adult mortality, but might be 
suppressing population growth by decreasing wolf pup survival 
(Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 1999, p. 61). Lyme disease 
has not been documented in the GYA or Wyoming wolf populations.
    Mange is caused by a mite (Sarcoptes scabeii) that infests the 
skin. The irritation caused by feeding and burrowing mites results in 
intense itching, resulting in scratching and severe fur loss, which can 
lead to secondary infections or to mortality from exposure during 
severe winter weather (Kreeger 2003, pp. 207-208). Advanced mange can 
involve the entire body and can cause emaciation, decreased flight 
distance, staggering, and death (Kreeger 2003, p. 207). In a long term 
Alberta 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, pp. 427-428). Mange 
has been shown to temporarily affect wolf population growth rates and 
perhaps wolf distribution (Kreeger 2003, p. 208).
    Mange has been detected in, and caused mortality to, GYA wolves 
(Jimenez et al. 2010a, p. 1120; Atkinson 2006, p. 5; Smith and Almberg 
2007, p. 19). The GYA wolves likely contracted mange from coyotes or 
fox, whose populations experience occasional outbreaks. Between 2003 
and 2008, the percentage of Montana packs with mange fluctuated between 
3 and 24 percent of packs. Between 2002 and 2008, the percentage of 
Wyoming packs with mange fluctuated between 3 and 15 percent of packs. 
In these cases, mange did not appear to infest every member of the 
pack. For example, in 2008, manage was detected in 8 wolves from 4 
different packs in YNP, one pack in Wyoming outside YNP, and a couple 
of packs in previously infested areas of southwestern Montana. Mange 
has not been confirmed in wolves in Idaho (Jimenez et al. 2010a, p. 
1123).
    In packs with the most severe mange infestations, pup survival 
appeared low, and some adults died (Jimenez et al. 2010a, pp. 1122-
1123). In addition, we euthanized several wolves with severe mange for 
humane reasons and because of their abnormal behavior. We predict that 
mange in the GYA and State of Wyoming will act as it has in other parts 
of North America (Brand et al. 1995, pp. 427-428; Kreeger 2003, pp. 
207-208; Jimenez et al. 2010a, p. 1123) and not threaten wolf 
population viability. Wolves are not likely to be infested with mange 
on a chronic population-wide level (Jimenez et al. 2010a, p. 1123).
    Dog-biting lice (Trichodectes canis) commonly feed on domestic 
dogs, but can infest coyotes and wolves (Schwartz et al. 1983, p. 372; 
Mech et al. 1985, p. 404; Jimenez et al. 2010b, entire). The lice can 
attain severe infestations, particularly in pups. The worst 
infestations can result in severe scratching, irritated and raw skin, 
substantial hair loss particularly in the groin, and poor condition. 
While no wolf mortality has been confirmed from dog-biting lice, death 
from exposure or secondary infection following self-inflicted trauma 
caused by inflammation and itching appears possible. The first 
confirmed NRM wolves with dog-biting lice were members of the 
Battlefield pack in the Big Hole Valley of southwestern Montana in 2005 
and 2006, and one wolf in south-central Idaho in 2006 and 2007; but 
these infestations were not severe (Service et al. 2006, p. 15; 
Atkinson 2006, p. 5; Jimenez et al. 2010b). The source of this 
infestation is unknown, but was likely domestic dogs. Lice have been 
documented in the NRM DPS since 2005, and infestations are likely to 
continue to be occasionally documented in the future. Lice may 
contribute to the death of some individual wolves, but they will not 
threaten the GYA or Wyoming wolf

[[Page 55584]]

population (Jimenez et al. 2010b, p. 332).
    Rabies, canine heartworm (Dirofilaria immitus), blastomycosis, 
brucellosis, neosporsis, leptospirosis, bovine tuberculosis, canine 
herpesvirus (Almberg et al. 2010), canine coronavirus, viral 
papillomatosis, hookworm, tapeworm (Echinococcus granulosus) (Foreyt et 
al. 2008, p. 1), lice, sarcoptic mange, coccidiosis, and canine 
adenovirus/hepatitis have all 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; Johnson 1995a, b, pp. 5-
73, 1995b, pp. 5-49; Mech and Kurtz 1999, p. 305; Wisconsin Department 
of Natural Resources 1999, p. 61; Kreeger 2003, pp. 202-214; Atkinson 
2006, pp. 1-7; Almberg et al. 2010, p. 3; Jimenez et al. 2010a, p. 
1123; 2010b, p. 332). Canid rabies caused local population declines in 
Alaska (Ballard and Krausman 1997, p. 242), and may temporarily limit 
population growth or distribution where another species, such as arctic 
foxes (Alopex lagopus), act as a reservoir for the disease. We have not 
detected rabies in NRM wolves. Range expansion could provide new 
avenues for exposure to several of these diseases, especially canine 
heartworm, rabies, bovine tuberculosis, and possibly new diseases such 
as chronic wasting disease and West Nile virus, further emphasizing the 
need for vigilant disease-monitoring programs.
    Because several of the diseases and parasites are known to be 
spread by wolf-to-wolf contact, their incidence may increase if wolf 
densities increase. However, because wolf densities are already high 
and may be peaking (Service et al. 2012, Table 1, Figure 1), wolf-to-
wolf contacts will not likely lead to a continuing increase in disease 
prevalence. Most NRM gray wolves will continue to have exposure to most 
diseases and parasites in the system. However, the impact of disease 
outbreaks to the overall NRM wolf population has been localized and 
temporary, as has been documented elsewhere (Bailey et al. 1995, p. 
441; Brand et al. 1995, p. 421; Kreeger 2003, pp. 210-211). Diseases or 
parasites have not been a significant threat to wolf population 
recovery to date, and we have no reason to conclude that they will 
become a significant threat to the viability of recovered wolves in the 
foreseeable future.
    In terms of future disease monitoring, States have committed to 
monitor the NRM wolf population for significant disease and parasite 
problems. State wildlife health programs often cooperate with Federal 
agencies and universities and usually have both reactive and proactive 
wildlife health monitoring protocols. Reactive strategies consist of 
periodic intensive investigations after disease or parasite problems 
have been detected through routine management practices, such as pelt 
examination, reports from hunters, research projects, or population 
monitoring. Proactive strategies often involve ongoing routine 
investigation of wildlife health information through collection and 
analysis of blood and tissue samples from all or a sub-sample of 
wildlife carcasses or live animals that are handled.
    Overall, we conclude that diseases or changes in disease 
monitoring, singularly or in combination with other threats, will not 
cause the Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf population to become 
in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range now or in the foreseeable future.
    Natural Predation--No wild animals routinely prey on gray wolves 
(Ballard et al. 2003, pp. 259-260). From 1982 to 2004, about 3.1 
percent of all known wolf mortality in the NRM DPS resulted from 
interspecific strife (Murray et al. 2010, p. 2519). Occasionally wolves 
have been killed by large prey such as elk, deer, bison, and moose 
(Mech and Nelson 1989, p. 207; Smith et al. 2006, p. 247; Mech and 
Peterson 2003, p. 134), but those instances are few. Since the 1980s, 
about a dozen YNP wolves have died from wounds received while attacking 
prey (Smith et al. 2006, p. 247). That level of natural mortality does 
not significantly affect wolf population viability or stability. Since 
NRM wolves have been monitored, only a few wolves have been confirmed 
killed by other large predators. At least two adults were killed by 
mountain lions, and one pup was killed by a grizzly bear (Jimenez et 
al. 2009, p. 76). Wolves in the NRM region inhabit the same areas as 
mountain lions, grizzly bears, and black bears, but conflicts rarely 
result in the death of either species. Wolves evolved with other large 
predators, and no other large predators in North America, except 
humans, have the potential to significantly affect wolf populations.
    Other wolves are the largest cause of natural predation among 
wolves. Wherever wolf packs occur, including the NRM DPS, some low 
level of wolf mortality will result from territorial conflict. Such 
intraspecific killing has been noted in newly expanding populations or 
restored populations (Fritts and Mech 1981; Wydeven et al. 1995; Mech 
and Boitani 2003; Smith 2005), in wolf populations subject to human 
harvest (Adams et al. 2008), and during periods of relatively high prey 
abundance (Peterson and Page 1988). However, this cause of mortality 
does not result in a level of mortality that would significantly affect 
a wolf population's viability in Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM DPS.
    In summary, we find that natural predation, singularly or in 
combination with other threats, will not cause the Wyoming, the GYA, or 
the NRM gray wolf populations to be ``likely to become an endangered 
species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant 
portion of its range.''
    Human-caused Mortality--This section discusses most sources of 
human-caused mortality; however, hunting and trapping are discussed in 
the ``Commercial and Recreational Uses'' section of Factor B above and 
potential impacts of human-caused mortality to natural connectivity and 
gene flow are discussed in the ``Genetic Considerations'' section of 
Factor E below. As with previous sections, this write-up focuses on 
Wyoming, because this is the portion of the NRM DPS that remains 
listed; however, the conclusions of the previous delisting and the 
information supporting this determination are incorporated by reference 
and updated below as appropriate.
    Humans kill wolves for a number of reasons. For example, some 
wolves are killed to resolve conflicts with livestock (Fritts et al. 
2003, p. 310; Woodroffe et al. 2005, pp. 86-107, pp. 345-347). 
Occasionally, wolf killings are accidental (e.g., wolves are hit by 
vehicles, mistaken for coyotes and shot, or caught in traps set for 
other animals) (Bangs et al. 2005, p. 346). Other wolf killings are 
intentional, illegal, and are not reported to authorities. A few wolves 
have been killed by people who stated that they believed their physical 
safety was being threatened. The overall NRM wolf mortality rate of 26 
percent since reintroduction comprises illegal kills (10 percent), 
control actions to resolve conflicts (10 percent), natural causes 
including disease/parasites and intraspecific strife (3 percent), and 
accidental human causes such as vehicle collisions and capture 
mortality (3 percent). Eighty percent of the overall NRM wolf 
mortalities are human-caused (Murray et al. 2010; Smith et al. 2010; 
Service et al. 2011, p. 7). While human-caused mortality, including 
both illegal killing and agency control, has not prevented population 
recovery, it has affected NRM wolf distribution (Bangs et al. 2004, p. 
93), preventing successful pack establishment and persistence in

[[Page 55585]]

open prairie or high desert habitats (Bangs et al. 1998, p. 788; Bangs 
et al. 2009, p. 107; Service et al. 1989-2012, Figure 1). Overall, wolf 
populations can maintain themselves despite human-caused mortality 
rates of 17 to 48 percent, indicating wolf populations are quite 
resilient to moderate human-caused mortality, if it is adequately 
regulated (Fuller et al. 2003, pp. 182-184 [22 percent +/- 8 percent]; 
Adams et al. 2008 [29 percent]; Creel and Rotella 2010 [22 percent]; 
Sparkman et al. 2011 [25 percent]; Gude et al. 2011 [48 percent]; 
Vucetich and Carroll In review [17 percent])
    As part of the interagency wolf monitoring program and various 
research projects, over 20 percent of the NRM wolf population has been 
monitored since the 1980s (Smith et al. 2010, p. 620; Murray et al. 
2010, p. 2514; Service et al. 1989-2012, Tables 1-5). While it is 
unclear if these wolves were representative of the entire population 
(Atkins 2011, p. 56), this information is nonetheless informative. From 
1984 through 2004, annual adult survival likely averaged around 75 
percent, which typically allows wolf population growth (Keith 1983, p. 
66; Fuller et al. 2003, p. 182; Smith et al. 2010, p. 620; Murray et 
al. 2010, p. 2514). Wolves in the largest blocks of remote habitat 
without livestock, such as central Idaho or YNP, had annual survival 
rates around 80 percent (Smith et al. 2006, p. 245; Smith et al. 2010, 
p. 620). Wolves outside of large remote areas had survival rates as low 
as 54 percent in some years (Smith et al. 2006, p. 245; Smith et al. 
2010, p. 626); the highest mortality rates are localized in areas we 
consider largely unsuitable for pack persistence.
    Wolf mortality resulting from control of problem wolves, which 
includes legal take by private individuals under defense of property 
regulations, was estimated to remove an average of 10 percent of adult 
radio-collared wolves annually since reintroduction, but that rate has 
steadily increased as the wolf population has expanded beyond suitable 
habitat and caused increased conflicts with livestock (Service et al. 
2012, Table 4, 5). Defense of property take, authorized by experimental 
population rules (Service 1994, pp. 2:13-14; 59 FR 60252, November 22, 
1994; 59 FR 60266, November 22, 1994; 70 FR 1286, January 6, 2005; 73 
FR 4720, January 28, 2008; 50 CFR 17.84(i) & (n)), makes up a small 
percentage of these control actions. Specifically, such take 
represented about 7 percent of problem wolves legally removed from 1995 
to 2010 and about 9 percent of such removals from 2008 to 2010. In 
spite of these mortality rates, minimum known wolf numbers increased at 
a rate of around 20 percent annually 1995-2008 (the period when the 
population was presumed below carrying capacity) (Service et al. 2012, 
Table 4; Smith et al. 2010, p. 620; also see Figure 3 above). Since 
2008, the NRM population appears to have largely stabilized (see Figure 
3 above).
    After delisting, human-caused mortality, and its authorization or 
regulation, will differ in various parts of Wyoming. In total, wolves 
will be managed as game animals year-round or protected in about 38,500 
km\2\ (15,000 mi\2\) in northwestern Wyoming (15.2 percent of Wyoming), 
including YNP, Grand Teton National Park, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. 
Memorial Parkway, adjacent U.S. Forest Service-designated Wilderness 
Areas, adjacent public and private lands, the National Elk Refuge, and 
most of the Wind River Indian Reservation. This area is of sufficient 
size to support Wyoming population targets, under the management regime 
developed for this area.
    Within portions of the Trophy Area under State jurisdiction, wolves 
will be managed by the WGFD as trophy game animals. ``Trophy game'' 
status allows the WGFC and WGFD to regulate methods of take, hunting 
seasons, types of allowed take, and numbers of wolves that could be 
killed. The boundary and size of the Trophy Area was established by 
State statute and cannot be changed through WGFC rule or regulation. 
The Trophy Area will be seasonally expanded approximately 80 km (50 mi) 
south (see Figure 3) from October 15 to the last day of February (28th 
or 29th) to facilitate natural dispersal of wolves between Wyoming and 
Idaho. During this timeframe, the Trophy Area will be expanded by 
approximately 3,300 km\2\ (1,300 mi\2\) (i.e., an additional 1.3 
percent of Wyoming). Management within the Trophy Area is described 
below, followed by management in other portions of Wyoming.
    After delisting, Wyoming will allow property owners inside the 
Trophy Area to immediately kill a wolf doing damage to private property 
(WGFC 2011, pp. 3, 4, 22, 30-31, 32). State statute defines ``doing 
damage to private property'' as ``the actual biting, wounding, 
grasping, or killing of livestock or domesticated animal, or chasing, 
molesting, or harassing by gray wolves that would indicate to a 
reasonable person that such biting, wounding, grasping, or killing of 
domesticated animals is likely to occur at any moment'' (W.S. 23-3-
115(c)). These regulations define ``owner'' as ``the owner, lessee, 
immediate family, employee, or other person who is charged by the owner 
with the care or management of livestock or domesticated animals'' 
(WGFC 2011, p. 22). Wolves killed under authority of these regulations 
shall be reported to a WGFD representative within 72 hours (WGFC 2011, 
pp. 22, 31). These regulations are similar to the experimental 
population rules in place in Montana and Idaho after the population 
achieved recovery levels (70 FR 1286, January 6, 2005; 73 FR 4720, 
January 28, 2008; 50 CFR 17.84(n)). While in place in Montana and 
Idaho, these rules were sufficiently protective to allow continued 
population expansion (Service et al. 2012, Table 4). Based on our 
experience with these similar rules, we expect take related to this 
issue to be minimal. We conclude that these rules will not compromise 
the State of Wyoming's ability to meet the agreed-upon population 
objectives (at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves outside 
YNP and sovereign tribal lands) assuming the State manages for an 
adequate buffer above these minimum levels as Wyoming intends to do 
(WGFC 2011, p. 24; WGFC 2012, pp. 3-5).
    Additionally, Wyoming law (W.S. 23-1-304(n)) states that permits 
``shall be issued'' to landowners or livestock owners in cases where 
wolves are harassing, injuring, maiming, or killing livestock or other 
domesticated animals, and where wolves occupy geographic areas where 
chronic wolf predation occurs. Importantly, numerous safeguards are in 
place that limit the potential of these permits to meaningfully and 
detrimentally affect the population. For example, State statute 
requires that permits be issued, and renewed as necessary, in 45-day 
increments (W.S. 23-1-304(n)), and State regulations limit the take 
allowance for each permit to a maximum of 2 gray wolves, and specify 
that each permit can only apply to a specified limited geographic or 
legally described area (chapter 21, section 7(b)(ii)). These 
requirements ensure application of this source of take is limited in 
time and geography. Similarly, State regulations indicate that 
purported cases of wolf harassment, injury, maiming, or killing must be 
verified by the WGFD (chapter 21, section 6(b)). This requirement for 
WGFD verification will limit potential abuse for this source of 
mortality. Regarding the issuance of lethal take permits for wolves 
``harassing'' livestock or domestic animals, Wyoming will require that 
WGFD staff verify that wolves were present and involved in activities 
that would directly indicate an

[[Page 55586]]

actual attack was likely; such activity must be an immediate precursor 
to actual biting, wounding, grasping, or killing, such as chasing or 
molesting (Mead 2012b). Wolves killed under the authority of a lethal 
take permit shall be reported to the WGFD representative specified on 
the permit within 24 hours (WGFC 2011, pp. 3, 22-23).
    Finally, and most importantly, State law (W.S. 23-1-304(n)) and the 
implementing regulations (chapter 21, section 7(b)(iii)) clarify that 
existing permits would be cancelled, and issuance of new permits would 
be suspended, if the WGFD determines further lethal control could 
compromise the State's ability to maintain a population of at least 10 
breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves in Wyoming outside of YNP and 
the Wind River Indian Reservation at the end of the calendar year. 
Importantly, the word ``could'' (as opposed to would or will) provides 
authority for the WGFD to manage for a buffer above the minimum target 
and limit control from lethal take permits, if necessary, to maintain 
an adequate minimum buffer. However, the Addendum to the Wyoming Gray 
Wolf Management Plan explains that the State law's mandatory approach 
to issuance of lethal take permits requires that Wyoming's adaptive 
management framework limit other discretionary sources of mortality 
before it limits this source of mortality (WGFC 2012, p. 7). On the 
whole, the available information indicates that Wyoming's approach to 
lethal take permits may affect population abundance (particularly at a 
localized level where wolf-livestock conflict is high), but that 
Wyoming has instituted sufficient safeguards so that this source of 
mortality would not compromise the State's ability to maintain a 
population of at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves in 
Wyoming outside of YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation at the end 
of the calendar year.
    Some other minor sources of human-caused mortality may also occur 
inside the Trophy Area. For example, accidental mortality sometimes 
occurs from such sources as vehicle collisions. Because these types of 
mortalities are rare and have little impact on wolf populations, they 
were authorized by our experimental population rule with little to no 
impact on wolf populations. Take in self-defense or defense of others 
has been exceedingly rare. We expect take from these sources will 
remain rare after delisting with little impact on the wolf population.
    While wolves were listed, illegal killing removed an estimated 10 
percent of the population annually. Following our previous delisting, 
there was no indication that illegal mortality levels increased from 
those occurring while wolves were delisted. After delisting, WGFD law 
enforcement personnel will investigate all wolves killed outside the 
framework established by State statute and WGFC regulations, and 
appropriate law enforcement and legal action will be taken. We do not 
expect illegal killing will increase after delisting.
    Within portions of the Trophy Area under State jurisdiction, WGFD 
may also control wolves when it determines a wild ungulate herd is 
experiencing unacceptable impacts or to address wolf-ungulate conflicts 
at State-operated elk feedgrounds (WGFC 2011, pp. 5, 39-41). As noted 
by several peer reviewers, it is scientifically challenging to 
conclusively demonstrate that predation is causing an ungulate 
population decline (or what portion of a decline is being caused by 
predation) because numerous factors typically interact to cause the 
impact (Atkins 2011, pp. 67, 85-86). While any decision to remove 
wolves in response to ``unacceptable impacts'' to ungulate populations 
could be a normative, values-driven determination (e.g., one party may 
view any impact as unacceptable, while others may have extremely high 
tolerance for impacts), we expect the agency will primarily base such 
decisions on ungulate herd health. Specifically, Wyoming's wolf 
management plan indicates wolf control to address unacceptable impacts 
to wild ungulates will require a determination that wolf predation is a 
significant factor in the population or herd not meeting the State 
population management goals or recruitment levels established for the 
population or herd (WGFC 2011, pp. 5, 39-41). All but 2 of Wyoming's 35 
elk management units are at or above the State's numeric objectives for 
those herds; however, calf/cow ratios in several herd units are below 
desired levels (WGFD 2010, p. 1). Five of the State's ten moose herds 
are below objectives (WGFD unpublished data).
    Wyoming has not yet put forward any proposals to control wolves to 
address unacceptable impacts to ungulate herds, and we are not aware of 
any intentions to develop such proposals. While such proposals are 
possible, it is more likely Wyoming will consider ungulate herd health 
when designing hunting units and quotas. This approach will allow them 
to use hunting (which is a far cheaper management tool) to address any 
perceived issues. Both hunting and projects specifically to address 
unacceptable impacts to ungulate herds (should any occur) will be 
carefully regulated so that population objectives are not compromised 
and that recovery is maintained in Wyoming, the GYA, and across the NRM 
DPS.
    WGFD may also take wolves that displace elk from State-operated 
feedgrounds in the Trophy Area if this movement by elk results in one 
of the following conflicts: (1) Damage to private stored crops; (2) elk 
commingling with domestic livestock; or (3) displacement of elk from 
feedgrounds onto highway rights-of-way causing human safety concerns 
(WGFC 2011, pp. 5, 39-41). While such authorizations may cause 
localized impacts, we do not expect population-level impacts in 
Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM DPS. Because Wyoming will consider all 
forms of wolf mortality when making ungulate-related wolf control 
management decisions (WGFC 2011, pp. 21, 23-24), these mortality 
sources will not compromise the State's ability to maintain wolf 
management objectives nor will they compromise recovery in Wyoming, the 
GYA, or the NRM DPS.
    In the predator area, wolves will experience unlimited human-caused 
mortality; mortality in this area will be monitored through mandatory 
reporting within 10 days of the kill (WGFC 2011, pp. 3, 8, 17, 23, 29). 
Wolves are unlike coyotes, in that wolf behavior and reproductive 
biology have resulted in wolves historically being extirpated in the 
face of extensive human-caused mortality. As we have previously 
concluded (71 FR 43410, August 1, 2006; 72 FR 6106, February 8, 2007; 
73 FR 10514, February 27, 2008; 74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009), wolf packs 
are unlikely to persist in portions of Wyoming where they are 
designated as predatory animals. This conclusion was validated in 2008 
after our previous delisting became effective and most of the wolves in 
the predator area were killed within a few weeks of losing the Act's 
protection. We expect that wolf packs in the predator area of Wyoming 
will not persist.
    Despite this anticipated mortality, the portions of Wyoming outside 
the predator area are large enough to support Wyoming's management 
goals and a recovered wolf population (Figure 1 illustrates wolf pack 
distribution relative to Wyoming's Trophy Area). Our 2009 delisting 
rule confirmed this conclusion, but expressed two concerns (74 FR 
15123, April 2, 2009). First, the rule expressed concern that mortality 
in the predator area would be high, and this situation would inhibit 
natural genetic exchange. This issue is discussed in the Issues and 
Responses above and in ``Genetic Considerations'' portion of Factor E 
below.

[[Page 55587]]

    The second concern expressed in our 2009 delisting rule (74 FR 
15123, April 2, 2009) was that lone wolves, breeding pairs, or packs 
from the Trophy Area may periodically and temporarily travel into the 
predator area and suffer high mortality rates. The 2009 rule concluded 
that a large predator area ``substantially increases the odds that 
these periodic dispersers will not survive, thus, affecting Wyoming's 
wolf population'' (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009). We continue to conclude 
that no wolf packs or breeding pairs will persist in the predator area 
of Wyoming and that some wolves that primarily occupy the Trophy Area 
will be killed when traveling into the predator area. However, 
Wyoming's overall management strategy has been improved to such an 
extent that such mortality can occur without compromising the recovered 
status of the population in Wyoming.
    Such losses were a substantial concern when State law required WGFD 
to aggressively manage the population down to minimal levels. However, 
Wyoming has removed current statutory mandates for aggressive 
management down to minimum levels. Furthermore, Wyoming has agreed to 
maintain a population of at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 
wolves in areas under its jurisdiction. To accomplish this, Wyoming 
intends to maintain an adequate buffer above minimum population 
objectives to accommodate management flexibility and to ensure that 
uncontrollable sources of mortality do not drop the population below 
this minimum population level (WGFC 2011, p. 24). Collectively, the 
plan gives us confidence that unlimited human-caused mortality in the 
predator area will not compromise the recovered status of the Wyoming 
wolf population.
    The Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Department will 
manage all wolves occurring on the Wind River Indian Reservation 
according to its approved wolf management plan (King 2007; Shoshone and 
Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Department 2007, entire). The plan allows 
any enrolled member on tribal land to shoot a wolf in the act of 
attacking livestock or dogs on tribal land, provided the enrolled 
member provides evidence of livestock or dogs recently (less than 24 
hours) wounded, harassed, molested, or killed by wolves, and a 
designated agent is able to confirm that the livestock or dogs were 
wounded, harassed, molested, or killed by wolves (Shoshone and Arapaho 
Tribal Fish and Game Department 2007, p. 8). ``In the act of 
attacking'' means the actual biting, wounding, grasping, or killing of 
livestock or dogs, or chasing, molesting, or harassing by wolves that 
would indicate to a reasonable person that such biting, wounding, 
grasping, or killing of livestock or dogs is likely to occur at any 
moment (Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Department 2007, p. 
8). The plan also allows the tribal government to remove ``wolves of 
concern'' (Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Department 2007, 
p. 8). ``Wolves of concern'' are defined as wolves that attack 
livestock, dogs, or livestock herding and guarding animals once in a 
calendar year or any domestic animal twice in a calendar year (Shoshone 
and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Department 2007, p. 8).
    Criteria to determine when take will be initiated are: (1) Evidence 
of the attack, (2) reason to believe that additional attacks will 
occur, (3) no evidence of unusual wolf attractants, and (4) any animal 
husbandry practices previously specified by the Tribes have been 
implemented (Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Department 2007, 
p. 8). In situations with chronic wolf depredation, enrolled members 
may acquire written authorization from the tribes to shoot wolves on 
tribal land after at least two separate confirmed depredations by 
wolves on livestock, livestock herding or guarding animals, or dogs, 
and the tribes have determined that wolves are routinely present and 
pose a significant risk to the owner's livestock (Shoshone and Arapaho 
Tribal Fish and Game Department 2007, p. 8). Other forms of authorized 
human-caused mortality include take in defense of human life, take 
needed to avoid conflicts with human activities, incidental take, 
accidental take, scientific take, or take for humane reasons (such as 
to aid or euthanize sick, injured, or orphaned wolves) (Shoshone and 
Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Department 2007, p. 8).
    These regulations are similar to experimental population rules 
currently in place on the Wind River Indian Reservation (70 FR 1286, 
January 6, 2005; 73 FR 4720, January 28, 2008; 50 CFR 17.84(n)). This 
type of take has not proven a limiting factor for the area. 
Furthermore, as stated in our 2007 approval letter, suitable habitat on 
the Wind River Indian Reservation is occasionally used by wolves, but 
is not considered essential to maintaining a recovered wolf population 
in Wyoming, and any wolves that establish themselves on tribal lands 
will be in addition to those necessary for management by the State of 
Wyoming for maintaining a recovered wolf population (King 2007).
    In National Parks units, human-caused mortality has been, and is 
expected to continue to be, very rare because park regulations are very 
protective of wildlife with few exceptions. Accidental mortality or 
defense of life mortality may occur, but as in the rest of Wyoming, we 
expect these sources of mortality will be exceedingly rare. Another 
rare but potential source of human-caused mortality is agency action to 
remove habituated wolves that pose a threat to human safety after 
nonlethal efforts have failed to correct the behavior. In 2003, YNP 
developed a plan for the management of habituated wolves (YNP 2003, 
entire). YNP policies indicate ``removal of nuisance animals may be 
undertaken to reduce a threat to public health or safety'' (YNP 2003, 
p. 8). Further, management policies (YNP 2003, p. 8) state: ``Where 
visitor use or other human activities cannot be modified or curtailed, 
the Service may directly reduce the animal population by using several 
animal population management techniques * * *.'' Those techniques 
include ``destruction of animals by National Park Service personnel or 
their authorized agents.'' This is important in YNP because the 
unusually high exposure that wolves have to people in YNP increases the 
likelihood of unpredictable wolf behavior (YNP 2003, p. 9). To address 
such situations, YNP has developed a management plan that calls for 
increased public education, monitoring, aversion conditioning, and, if 
necessary, wolf removal (YNP 2003, pp. 4, 9-12). This approach, 
endorsed by the Service in 2003 (YNP 2003, p. 13), is authorized by 
existing experimental population rules (50 CFR 17.84(i)(3)(v)).
    State, Tribal, and Federal management in Wyoming provides that 
human-caused mortality will not threaten the recovered status of the 
population. As discussed above, wolf populations have an ample natural 
resiliency to high levels of human-caused mortality, if population 
levels and controllable sources of mortality are adequately regulated. 
For example, in 2009 and in 2011, more than 600 NRM wolves died each 
year from all sources of mortality (agency control including defense of 
property, regulated harvest, illegal and accidental killing, and 
natural causes), and the population showed little change (technically, 
slight increases in minimum population levels were documented each 
year) (Service et al. 2012, tables 4a, 4b). From 1995 to 2008, the NRM 
wolf population grew by an average of about 20 percent annually, even 
in the face of an average annual

[[Page 55588]]

human-caused mortality rate of 23 percent (Service et al. 2012, Table 
4; Smith et al. 2010, p. 620; also see Figure 3 above). Overall, wolf 
populations can maintain themselves despite human-caused mortality 
rates of 17 to 48 percent (Fuller et al. 2003, pp. 182-184 [22 percent 
+/- 8 percent]; Adams et al. 2008 [29 percent]; Creel and Rotella 2010 
[22 percent]; Sparkman et al. 2011 [25 percent]; Gude et al. 2011 [48 
percent]; Vucetich and Carroll In review [17 percent]).
    After delisting, most human-caused mortality in Wyoming will be 
similar to that which occurred under either the 1994 experimental 
population rules (now governing most of Wyoming) or the 2005 
experimental population rules (as noted above, hunting is evaluated 
separately under Factor B above) (59 FR 60252, November 22, 1994; 59 FR 
60266, November 22, 1994; 70 FR 1286, January 6, 2005; 73 FR 4720, 
January 28, 2008; 50 CFR 17.84(i) & (n)), as modified in 2008, 
governing management over most of Idaho and Montana in recent years. 
While some allowed take will be more liberal (e.g., mortality in the 
predator area), resulting in greater overall rates of human-caused 
mortality post-delisting, the increase will not compromise the State's 
ability to maintain the population above recovery levels. All sources 
of mortality will be monitored and considered in State management 
decisions. Many sources of authorized take can be limited, if 
necessary, to keep the population above recovery levels (e.g., the 
State can suspend lethal take permits, agency control actions, or 
hunting seasons). Finally, recognizing some mortality will occur from 
uncontrollable sources (e.g., some wolves that primarily occupy the 
Trophy Area will be lost when they occasionally travel into the 
predator area), Wyoming no longer intends to aggressively manage the 
population down toward minimal levels (an approach we previously 
indicated was unacceptable), and, in fact, intends to maintain an 
adequate buffer above minimum population objectives. Collectively, this 
information indicates that human-caused mortality will be managed to 
assure the Wyoming population's recovered status is not compromised.
    In summary, we find human-caused mortality, singularly or in 
combination with other threats, will not cause the Wyoming, the GYA, or 
the NRM gray wolf populations to be ``likely to become an endangered 
species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant 
portion of its range.''

Factor D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    This section provides an analysis of State, tribal, and Federal 
regulatory mechanisms to determine if they are adequate to maintain the 
species' recovered status in the absence of the Act's protections. By 
definition, potential threats only require regulation if they represent 
a threat in the absence of regulation. This section focuses on likely 
future population levels anticipated to be maintained, noting that 
human-caused mortality is the most significant issue influencing these 
levels. In short, if human-caused mortality is adequately regulated and 
population targets are sufficient to allow for other potential 
unforeseen or uncontrollable sources of mortality, no other potential 
threats are likely to compromise the population's viability. This 
section does not go into detail about each individual threat factor or 
source of mortality. Instead it includes an overview with a focus on 
the regulatory mechanism that addresses each threat factor or source of 
mortality. For a more detailed discussion of any one potential threat, 
see the supporting discussion under the specific applicable Factor 
(i.e., A, B, C, or E). As with other factors above, the below analysis 
focuses on wolves in Wyoming because only wolves in Wyoming remain 
listed, however, the conclusions of the previous delisting and the 
information supporting this determination are incorporated by 
reference. To the extent that management changes have taken place, they 
are discussed in the applicable Factor elsewhere in this rule as well 
as in the Issues and Response section above.
    National Park Service--Twenty percent of the currently occupied 
portions of Wyoming (defined in Factor A above) and 23 percent of areas 
that are protected or where wolves are regulated as game animals occur 
within a National Park (see Figure 1 above). Since 2000, the wolf 
population in YNP ranged from 96 to 174 wolves, and between 6 to 16 
breeding pairs. While some wolves and some wolf packs also occur in 
Grand Teton National Park and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial 
Parkway, most of these wolves and wolf packs usually have a portion of 
their home range in areas under the State of Wyoming's jurisdiction; 
thus, these wolves are only subject to National Park Service regulation 
when on National Park Service lands.
    The National Park Service Organic Act (16 U.S.C. l et seq.) and the 
National Park Service management policies on wildlife generally require 
the agency to conserve natural and cultural resources and the wildlife 
present within units of the National Park System. 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 federal law and applicable laws of the State or States in which a 
park is located (National Park Service 2006, pp. 44, 103). No 
population targets for wolves will be established for the National 
Parks. Instead, management emphasis in National Parks after delisting 
will focus on continuing to minimize the human impacts on wolf 
populations (YNP 2003, pp. 9-12). 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 wolf, the 
National Park Service Organic Act and National Park Service policies 
will continue to provide protection following Federal delisting for 
wolves located within the park boundaries.
    Although hunting is currently allowed for many other game species 
in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway under the Parkway's 
enabling legislation and Wyoming law, the National Park Service has 
indicated a ``strong preference that wolves not be hunted in the John 
D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway'' (Frost and Wessels 2012). 
Wyoming's hunting regulations are clear that gray wolf hunting would 
not occur in the Parkway during the 2012 season, although nothing in 
Wyoming's regulations or the Wyoming's wolf management plan would 
preclude wolves from being hunted in the Parkway in subsequent years. 
Should hunting ever occur in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial 
Parkway, it would likely be very limited, would be unlikely to 
noticeably affect wolf gene flow or connectivity, and it would be 
closely coordinated with the National Park Service.
    Overall, natural sources of mortality (e.g., disease) will 
occasionally affect wolf populations in National Parks, but, in light 
of adequate regulation of intentional human-caused mortality, impacts 
from these occasional events will be temporary and not threaten the 
population.
    National Wildlife Refuges--Each unit of the National Wildlife 
Refuge System was established for specific purposes. The National Elk 
Refuge was established in 1912 as a ``winter game (elk) reserve'' (37 
Stat. 293, 16 U.S.C. 673), and the following year Congress designated 
the area as ``a winter elk refuge'' (37 Stat. 847). In 1921, all lands 
included in the

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refuge, or that might be added in the future, were reserved and set 
apart as ``refuges and breeding grounds for birds'' (Executive Order 
3596), which was affirmed in 1922 (Executive Order 3741). In 1927, the 
refuge was expanded to provide ``for the grazing of, and as a refuge 
for, American elk and other big game animals'' (44 Stat. 1246, 16 
U.S.C. 673a). These purposes apply to all or most of the lands now 
within the refuge. In accordance with the National Wildlife Refuge 
System Administration Act of 1966 as amended (16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) by 
the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the 
Service, which manages the National Elk Refuge, recently announced a 
notice of intent to prepare a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the 
refuge. Comprehensive Conservation Plans guide management of wildlife 
and their habitats on refuges (75 FR 65370, October 22, 2010). This 
process is ongoing.
    The refuge's nearly 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) provide a winter 
home for one of the largest wintering concentrations of elk; in 
addition to the large elk herds, a free-roaming bison herd winters at 
the refuge (75 FR 65370, October 22, 2010). Wolves occurring on the 
National Elk Refuge will be monitored, and refuge habitat management 
will maintain an adequate prey base for them (Service and National Park 
Service 2007, entire; Kallin 2011, pers. comm.; Smith 2007, pers. comm. 
as cited by WGFC 2011, p. 18; Kallin 2012b). Recreational wolf hunting 
and trapping is not currently authorized and is not anticipated, but 
could be considered in the future (Kallin 2012, pers. comm.). Because 
of the relatively small size of the refuge, all of the wolves and all 
of the packs that occur on the refuge will also spend significant 
amounts of time on adjacent U.S. Forest Service lands. Thus, much like 
Grand Teton National Park, these wolves are only subject to National 
Wildlife Refuge regulation during the small portion of their time spent 
on the National Elk Refuge.
    Tribal Lands--Wolves will be managed as game animals on the Wind 
River Indian Reservation. The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho 
Tribes govern this area and the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and 
Game Department and the Service's Lander Wyoming Management Assistance 
Office manage wildlife occurring on the reservation. Wolf management on 
the Wind River Indian Reservation is guided by the Service-approved 
``Wolf Management Plan for the Wind River Indian Reservation'' (King 
2007; Shoshone and Arapahoe Tribal Fish and Game Department 2007, 
entire). Suitable habitat on the Wind River Indian Reservation supports 
a small wolf population. While this area sometimes supports packs, it 
has not supported a breeding pair. The Wind River Indian Reservation is 
not considered essential to maintaining a recovered wolf population in 
Wyoming, and any wolves that establish themselves on tribal lands will 
be in addition to those necessary for management by the State of 
Wyoming for maintaining a recovered wolf population (King 2007).
    Forest Service--Federal law indicates Forest Service land shall be 
managed to provide habitat for fish and wildlife including wolves and 
their prey. Specifically, under the National Forest Management Act of 
1976, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1600-1614), the Forest Service shall strive 
to provide for a diversity of plant and animal communities when 
managing national forest lands. Similarly, the Multiple Use and 
Sustained Yield Act (16 U.S.C. 528) indicates National Forests are to 
be managed for ``wildlife and fish purposes'' among other purposes, and 
the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1701) 
says public lands are to be ``managed in a manner * * * that will 
provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife and domestic animals.''
    Wilderness areas are afforded the highest protections of all Forest 
Service lands. The Wilderness Act of 1964 (16 U.S.C. 1131-1136) states 
the following: (1) New or temporary roads cannot be built; (2) there 
can be no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment, or motorboats; 
(3) there can be no landing of aircraft; (4) there can be no other form 
of mechanical transport; and (5) no structure or installation may be 
built. The following wilderness areas occur in the Trophy Area: All of 
the Absaroka Beartooth, Fitzpatrick, Gros Ventre, Jedediah Smith, North 
Absaroka, Washakie, Teton, and Winegar Hole Wilderness Areas as well as 
the northern half of the Bridger Wilderness Area.
    Wilderness study areas are designated by Federal land management 
agencies (e.g., USDA Forest Service) as those having wilderness 
characteristics and being worthy of congressional designation as a 
wilderness area. The following wilderness study areas occur in the 
Trophy Area: The Dubois Badlands, Owl Creek, and Whiskey Mountain 
Wilderness Study Areas. Individual National Forests that designate 
wilderness study areas manage these areas to maintain their wilderness 
characteristics until Congress decides whether to designate them as 
permanent wilderness areas. This means that individual wilderness study 
areas are protected from new road construction by Forest Plans. 
Therefore, activities such as timber harvest, mining, and oil and gas 
development are much less likely to occur because the road networks 
required for these activities are unavailable. However, because these 
lands are not congressionally protected, they could experience changes 
in management prescription with Forest Plan revisions.
    This regulatory framework has been adequate to achieve wolf 
recovery in Wyoming and across the entire NRM DPS without additional 
land use restrictions. The Forest Service has a demonstrated capacity 
and a proven history of providing sufficient habitat for wolves and 
their prey, and the Forest Service lands will continue to be adequately 
regulated to provide for the needs of wolves and their prey.
    While the Forest Service manages and regulates habitat and factors 
affecting habitat, the Forest Service typically defers to States on 
hunting decisions (43 U.S.C. 1732(b)). The primary exception to this 
deference is the Forest Service's authority to identify areas and 
periods when hunting is not permitted (43 U.S.C. 1732(b)). However, 
even these decisions are to be developed in consultation with the 
States. Thus, human-caused mortality and the adequacy of the associated 
regulatory framework are discussed under the ``State Regulatory 
Mechanisms'' section below, as well as ``Commercial and Recreational 
Uses'' section of Factor B, and the ``Human-caused Mortality'' section 
of Factor C.
    State Regulatory Mechanisms--Within portions of the Trophy Area 
under State jurisdiction, wolves will be managed as a game animal, 
which allows the WGFC and WGFD to regulate methods of take, hunting 
seasons, types of allowed take, and numbers of wolves. The boundary and 
size of the Trophy Area and its seasonal expansion, as set forth in the 
agreement between the Service and the State and reflected in Wyoming's 
revised wolf management plan, was established by State statute, which 
cannot be changed through WGFC rule or regulation. This area is of 
sufficient size to support Wyoming population targets, assuming 
implementation of Wyoming's management plan for this area. In 
consideration of, and to address, Service concerns about genetics and 
connectivity, Wyoming included a seasonal expansion of the Trophy Area 
in its management plan. From October 15 through the end of February, 
the Trophy Area will expand approximately

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80 km (50 mi) south (see Figure 1 above). This seasonal expansion will 
benefit natural dispersal (for a more detailed discussion of genetic 
connectivity, see the ``Genetic Considerations'' section of Factor E 
below).
    Wolves that occur in the remainder of Wyoming under State 
jurisdiction will be classified as predators. Predatory animals are 
regulated by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture under title 11, 
chapter 6 of the Wyoming Statutes. Under these regulations, wolves in 
predator areas can be killed by anyone with very few restrictions. As 
we have previously concluded (71 FR 43410, August 1, 2006; 72 FR 6106, 
February 8, 2007; 73 FR 10514, February 27, 2008; 74 FR 15123, April 2, 
2009), wolf packs are unlikely to survive in portions of Wyoming where 
they are designated as predatory animals. However, portions outside the 
predator area are large enough to support Wyoming's management goals 
and a recovered wolf population (this issue is discussed further in the 
``Human-caused Mortality'' section of Factor C above as well as the 
``Genetic Considerations'' portion of Factor E below).
    Within portions of the Trophy Area under State jurisdiction, wolves 
will be managed by the WGFC and the WGFD. The WGFC will direct the 
management of wolves, and the WGFD will assume management authority of 
wolves (WGFC 2011, p. 1). The State of Wyoming has a relatively large 
and well-distributed professional game and fish agency that has the 
demonstrated skills and experience to successfully manage a diversity 
of resident species, including large carnivores. The WGFD and WGFC are 
well-qualified to manage a recovered wolf population. State management 
of wolves within the Trophy Area will follow the classic State-led 
North American model for wildlife management, which has been extremely 
successful at restoring, maintaining, and expanding the distribution of 
numerous populations of other wildlife species, including other large 
predators, throughout North America (Geist 2006, p. 1; Bangs 2008).
    Within the Trophy Area, Wyoming statute (W.S. 23-1-304), 
regulations (chapter 21, section 4(a)(i)), and its management plan 
(WGFC 2011, p. 1) all require maintenance of at least 10 breeding pairs 
and at least 100 wolves. To ensure this target is not inadvertently 
compromised, Wyoming intends to maintain an adequate buffer above 
minimum population objectives (WGFC 2011, p. 24; WGFC 2012, pp. 3-5). 
Additionally, Wyoming is planning that any future population reduction 
will be gradual to ensure population targets are not compromised while 
the State gathers information on the vulnerability of wolves under a 
State management regime. All sources of mortality will be considered in 
management decisions and all forms of regulated take will be limited in 
the unlikely event that wolves approach minimum recovery criteria. 
These will be reflected in all WGFD and WGFC planning and management 
decisions.
    Wolves taken outside the framework established by State statute and 
WGFC regulations will be considered to have been taken illegally and 
will be investigated by WGFD law enforcement personnel (WGFC 2011, p. 
25). Appropriate law enforcement and legal action will be taken, which 
could include fines, jail terms, and loss of hunting privileges (WGFC 
2011, p. 25). We conclude that these measures constitute adequate 
regulatory mechanisms to address the threat of illegal killing of 
wolves.
    In Montana, statutes and administrative rules categorize the gray 
wolf as a ``Species in Need of Management'' under the Montana Nongame 
and Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1973 (MCA 87-5-101 to 87-5-
123). Montana law defines ``species in need of management'' as ``The 
collection and application of biological information for the purposes 
of increasing the number of individuals within species and populations 
of wildlife up to the optimum carrying capacity of their habitat and 
maintain those levels. The term includes the entire range of activities 
that constitute a modern scientific resource program, including, but 
not limited to research, census, law enforcement, habitat improvement, 
and education. The term also includes the periodic or total protection 
of species or populations as well as regulated taking.'' Classification 
as a ``Species in Need of Management'' and the associated 
administrative rules under Montana State law create the legal mechanism 
to protect wolves and regulate human-caused mortality (including 
regulated public harvest) beyond the immediate defense of life/property 
situations. Some illegal human-caused mortality likely still occurs, 
and is to be prosecuted under State law and Commission regulations. 
Montana's Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Commission determine harvest quotas 
annually (specific harvest quotas are discussed in Factor B, and 
impacts on genetics are discussed in Factor E).
    The Idaho Fish and Game Commission has authority to classify 
wildlife under Idaho Code 36-104(b) and 36-201. The gray wolf was 
classified as endangered by the State until March 2005, when the Idaho 
Fish and Game Commission reclassified the species as a big game animal 
under the Idaho Administrative Procedures Act (13.01.06.100.01.d). As a 
big game animal, State regulations adjust human-caused wolf mortality 
to ensure recovery levels are exceeded. Title 36 of the Idaho statutes 
has penalties associated with illegal take of big game animals. These 
rules are consistent with the legislatively adopted Idaho Wolf 
Conservation and Management Plan (Idaho Legislative Wolf Oversight 
Committee 2002) and big game hunting regulations currently in place. 
The Idaho Wolf Conservation and Management Plan states that wolves will 
be protected against illegal take as a big game animal under Idaho Code 
36-1402, 36-1404, and 36-202(h). The Idaho Fish and Game Commission 
determines harvest quotas annually (specific harvest quotas are 
discussed in Factor B, and impacts on genetics are discussed in Factor 
E as well as in the Issues and Responses above).
    Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming are committed to implement wolf 
management in a manner that also encourages connectivity among wolf 
populations (Groen et al. 2008, entire; WGFC 2011, pp. 26-29, 52, 54). 
This will include limiting human-caused mortality timing, intensity, 
and overall levels as necessary. Both Montana's and Idaho's 2009 and 
2011 hunts consider and minimize impacts to natural connectivity. As a 
measure of last resort, if necessary, the States will implement agency-
managed genetic exchange (moving individual wolves or their genes into 
the affected population segment) (Groen et al. 2008, entire; WGFC 2011, 
pp. 26-29, 52, 54). Genetics is discussed further under Factor E below 
as well as in the Issues and Responses above)
    Overall, the regulatory frameworks of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho 
are adequate and provide that potential remnant threats are 
sufficiently minimized. Should management needs be identified in future 
years, all three States have regulatory authority to modify management 
to meet such needs; although we did not rely upon this in making our 
decision, we recognized all three States have a strong incentive to 
maintain the NRM DPS and its subpopulations well above minimal 
population levels.
    Environmental Protection Agency--The Federal Insecticide, 
Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (7 U.S.C. 136 et seq.) provides for 
Federal regulation of pesticide distribution, sale, and use. All 
pesticides distributed or sold in the

[[Page 55591]]

United States must be registered (licensed) by the Environmental 
Protection Agency. Before the Environmental Protection Agency may 
register a pesticide, the applicant must show, among other things, that 
using the pesticide according to specifications ``will not generally 
cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.'' No poisons can 
currently be legally used to poison wolves in the United States because 
of Environmental Protection Agency restrictions. However, sodium 
cyanide (used only in M-44 devices) and Compound 1080 (sodium 
fluoroacetate used only in livestock protection collars) are legal 
toxicants for use on other non-wolf canids. Sodium cyanide was 
reregistered for use in M-44 devices in 1994 (Environmental Protection 
Agency 1994, entire). Compound 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate) was 
registered for use in livestock protection collars in 1995 
(Environmental Protection Agency 1995, entire). The Large Gas or 
Denning Cartridge was registered for use in 2007 (Environmental 
Protection Agency 2007, entire). Although gas cartridges are beginning 
the reregistration process, we do not expect the product will be 
approved for use on wolves.
    All three products have label restrictions imposed by the 
Environmental Protection Agency consistent with a Service 1993 
Biological Opinion to protect endangered species (Environmental 
Protection Agency 1994, p. 4; Environmental Protection Agency 1995, pp. 
27, 32-38). It is a violation of Federal law to use a pesticide in a 
manner inconsistent with its labeling, and the courts consider a label 
to be a legal document (Environmental Protection Agency 2011, p. 1). 
The Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of these and other 
toxicants has been adequate to prevent any meaningful impacts to wolf 
populations in Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM DPS. These restrictions 
constitute an adequate regulatory mechanism of this potential issue.
    Collectively, the above regulatory framework is adequate to 
maintain recovered wolf populations and to prevent relisting. These 
regulations protect wolf populations (in the case of the National Park 
Service) or manage them adequately above population targets so that 
potential unforeseen or uncontrollable sources of mortality do not 
compromise population targets. While no wolves are expected to persist 
in the predator area, this area is not necessary for wolf conservation 
in Wyoming. Impacts could also occur in adjacent portions of Montana 
and Idaho, but these impacts are expected to be minor (few wolf packs 
are transboundary) and can be regulated through limits on human-caused 
mortality, if necessary. Population reductions in Idaho and Montana are 
not expected to threaten the Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf 
population. Additionally, agency capacity and past practice with wolves 
and other game species provide confidence that minimum management 
targets will always be met or exceeded. Finally, the threat of 
relisting provides additional certainty the objectives will not be 
compromised, although we did not rely on this fact in reaching our 
conclusion.
    In summary, we find existing regulatory mechanisms adequate and 
conclude that this issue, singularly or in combination with other 
threats, will not cause the Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf 
populations to be ``likely to become an endangered species within the 
foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range.''

Factor E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued 
Existence

    This section discusses public attitudes toward wolves, genetics, 
poison, climate change, catastrophic events, and potential impacts of 
human-caused mortality to pack structure. As with previous sections, 
this write-up focuses on Wyoming because this is the portion of the NRM 
DPS that remains listed; however, the conclusions of the previous 
delisting and the information supporting this determination are 
incorporated by reference and updated below as appropriate.
    Public Attitudes Toward the Gray Wolf--Human attitudes toward 
wolves were the main reason the wolf was listed under the Act because 
those attitudes resulted in Federal, State, and local governments 
promoting wolf extirpation by whatever means possible, including 
widespread poisoning, even in National Parks (see also Poisoning 
section below). Those attitudes were largely based on the real and 
perceived conflicts between humans and wolves, primarily in the context 
of livestock depredation, hunting of ungulates, and concerns for human 
safety.
    Public hostility toward wolves led to the government-sanctioned 
persecution that extirpated the species from the NRM DPS in the 1930s. 
Negative attitudes toward wolves remain deeply ingrained in some 
individuals and continue to affect human tolerance of wolves. Many 
papers have addressed the concept of recent human tolerance of wolves 
and how those attitudes might affect wolf restoration (Kellert et al. 
1996, p. 977; Kellert 1999; p. 167; Zimmermann et al. 2001, p. 137; 
Enck and Brown 2002, p. 16; Williams et al. 2002, p. 1; Ericsson and 
Heberlein 2003, p. 149; Fritts et al. 2003, pp. 289-316; Bruskotter et 
al. 2007, p. 211; Karlsson and Sjostrom 2007, p. 610; Stronen et al. 
2007, p. 1; Heberlein and Ericsson 2008, p. 391; Bruskotter et al. 
2009, p. 119; Wilson and Bruskotter 2009, p. 353; Bruskotter et al. 
2010a, p. 941; Bruskotter et al. 2010b, p. 30; Houston et al. 2010, p. 
2; Treves and Martin 2010, p. 1; Treves et al. 2009, p. 2; for 
additional references see Service 1994, appendix 3; 76 FR 81666, 
December 28, 2011).
    These public attitudes began to shift in the mid-20th century 
because of increased urbanization and increasing national concerns 
about environmental issues. However, huge decreases in wolf abundance 
due to wolf extirpation in the last century, lack of first-hand 
experience with wolves and the damage they can cause, and increasing 
urbanization have resulted in most Americans holding favorable 
attitudes toward wolves and wolf restoration (Williams et al. 2002; 
Atkins 2011, p. 71). These same societal shifts in human attitudes have 
also occurred in other parts of the world (Boitani 2003, p. 321). The 
huge shift in human attitudes and the resulting treatment of wolves 
compared to 100 years ago is evident by the shift in policies 
throughout North America and other parts of the world from extirpation 
to restoration (Boitani 2003, pp. 322-323; Boitani and Ciucci 2010, pp. 
19-21). Today, a majority of Americans view wolves favorably for a 
multitude of reasons, and many members of the public now consider it 
appropriate to reverse wolf extirpation, a perceived historic wrong 
(Houston et al. 2010, p. 27).
    Despite the variety of opinions, there is little published research 
on what factors increase human tolerance of wolves and how those 
translate into conservation success by preventing excessive rates of 
human-caused mortality (Bath and Buchanan 1989; Williams et al. 2002; 
Ericsson et al. 2004; Fritts et al. 2003). The groups most supportive 
of wolf conservation are often members of environmental organizations 
and urban residents. These individuals often view wolf reintroduction 
as restoring an ecological balance. However, favorable attitudes toward 
wolves frequently decrease as people experience, or think they might 
soon experience, living with wolves (Houston et al. 2010, p. 1).
    Typically, the groups most likely to oppose wolf recovery are 
livestock

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producers, hunters, and rural residents within or near potential wolf 
habitat. These individuals face a higher probability of directly 
suffering competition or damage from wolves. Numerous public attitudes 
surveys indicate human attitudes toward wolves improve when there is 
local participation in wildlife management through regulated harvest 
and defense of life and property regulations. Surveys also show 
improvement in attitudes when people can pursue traditional activities, 
like hunting and grazing, without restrictions (For references see 
Service 1994, appendix 3; Williams et al. 2002; Idaho Department of 
Fish and Game 2007; Houston et al. 2010; 76 FR 81666, December 28, 
2011). Wolf conservation can be successful even in areas with 
relatively high human density, if management policies factor-in human 
concerns (Linnell et al. 2001, p. 345).
    A 1994 Environmental Impact Statement's summary of human values 
surveys (Service 1994, appendix 3) found that the overriding concern of 
those living with wolves is the financial and emotional loss that 
occurs when wolves kill livestock. Further illustrating the connection 
between financial cost/benefit and attitudes, one survey found Alaskan 
trappers (who legally harvest wolves for their pelts) had the most 
accurate knowledge of wolves and viewed wolves the most favorably 
(Kellert 1985). Toward this end, compensation programs for wolf-
livestock depredations may have benefited attitudes toward wolves. 
Wyoming intends to continue such programs in the trophy game portions 
of the State (WGFC 2011, pp. 4, 31).
    Allowing landowners to defend their property may have also 
ameliorated some of the concern related to potential wolf-livestock 
conflicts. For example, from 1995 through 2004, the highest rate of 
illegal killing occurred in northwestern Montana, where wolves were 
listed as endangered and legal protection was highest, compared to 
central Idaho and the GYA, where wolves were managed under more liberal 
nonessential experimental population regulations. However, the 
difference in habitat security might also explain the differences in 
rates of human-caused mortality (Smith et al. 2010, p. 630). Upon 
delisting, Wyoming intends to implement regulations similar to our 
experimental population regulations within the Trophy Area. State 
management provides a larger and more effective local organization and 
a more familiar means for dealing with these conflicts (Mech 1995, pp. 
275-276; Williams et al. 2002, p. 582; Bangs et al. 2004, p. 102; Bangs 
et al. 2009, pp. 112-113). We anticipate this approach will continue to 
benefit public attitudes after delisting.
    Additionally, hunters' perceptions of wolves improve when 
opportunity for hunting is allowed (Idaho Department of Fish and Game 
2007, pp. 51, 55-56, 64-65). Idaho Department of Fish and Game and 
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists (Dickson 2010; Maurier 
2010; Idaho Department of Fish and Game 2007, pp. 43-47) reported that 
many big game hunters coming through mandatory hunter check stations in 
2008 were extremely agitated and angry about wolves. In 2009, when 
wolves were delisted and there was a fair-chase hunting season, few 
hunters complained. In 2010, when the court order had relisted wolves, 
local frustration and negative opinions about wolves erupted to 
previously unforeseen levels. Hunters and most hunter organizations 
were again very upset and frustrated; some went as far as to call for 
illegal killing by shooting, and a few even called for poisoning 
wolves.
    Similarly, in Wisconsin in 2006 (before wolves were delisted for 19 
months in 2007-2008), 17 illegal kills were discovered, including 9 
killed during the 9-day firearm deer season. When wolves were delisted 
in 2007 and lethal control of problem wolves was allowed by the State, 
known and documented illegal kills decreased to 11 overall with only 1 
during the firearm deer season, and 5 of these were deemed to be 
accidental shootings outside of regular wolf range. Notably, the wolf 
population steadily increased throughout this period (Wydeven et al. 
2010, Figure 3). Although the small sample size does not allow any firm 
conclusions, this example illustrates that local human tolerance of 
wolves is an important factor in long term wolf conservation. Keeping a 
large, recovered wolf population listed under the Act fuels negative 
attitudes rather than resolves them (Bangs et al. 2009, pp. 112-113).
    Regulated public harvest has also been successfully used for a host 
of other species to garner local public tolerance for restoration 
efforts (Geist 2006, p. 285). The success of this approach is 
illustrated by the conservation of mountain lions and black bears, 
which were also once persecuted throughout most of North America. These 
species were recovered by State and tribal game and fish agencies and 
hunters with much less controversy than the recovery of wolves. The 
recovery of those other species included regulated public harvest from 
the beginning of restoration efforts. Likewise, the Canadian Provinces 
restored wolf populations throughout large portions of their historical 
range by ``harvesting'' them back to fully recovered levels (Pletscher 
et al. 1991, p. 545). In 2009 and 2010, Sweden used hunters to cap the 
population at 220 wolves, in part, to promote public tolerance for wolf 
restoration (Liberg 2009, pers. comm.; Furuholm 2011, pers. comm.).
    We conclude that public tolerance of wolves will improve as wolves 
are delisted, local residents begin to play a role in managing wolf 
populations, and hunters start to see wolves as a trophy animal with 
value. This process has already begun in other delisted areas; however, 
it will likely take time for this increased control over the resource 
and the related sense of ownership to translate into tangible benefits 
in improved public opinion and less extreme rhetoric. Public acceptance 
is highest where wolves did not disappear and where wolf populations 
are typically healthy (or perhaps just with much longer periods of 
exposure to wolves) (Houston et al. 2010, pp. 19-20). However, it has 
not been determined whether this is due more to increased knowledge and 
experience dealing with wolves or relaxed local management policies 
(including liberal public harvest and defense of property regulations) 
to address local conflicts.
    The State of Wyoming has developed a strategy that will not only 
provide for wolf recovery, but also allow consideration of the diverse 
opinions and attitudes of its citizens. Wyoming's plan promotes wolf 
occupancy of suitable habitat in a manner that minimizes damage to 
private property, allows for continuation of traditional western land-
uses such as grazing and hunting, and allows for direct citizen 
participation in, and funding for, State wolf management (in the form 
of State defense of property and hunting regulations). With the 
continued help of private conservation organizations, Wyoming and the 
Tribes will continue to foster public support to maintain a recovered 
wolf population. The WGFD has staff dedicated to providing accurate and 
science-based public education, information, and outreach (WGFC 2011, 
pp. 41-42). Wyoming's comprehensive approach to wolf management 
provides us with confidence that human attitudes toward wolves should 
not again threaten wolves in Wyoming.
    As noted above, wolf conservation has the potential to be affected 
by the degree of human tolerance for wolves (Boitiani 2003, p. 317; 
Fritts et al. 2003, p. 289). We expect that State management will

[[Page 55593]]

improve tolerance of wolves because the public appreciates increased 
State control (less Federal control), and increased management 
flexibility, including hunting. When one considers that current human 
attitudes were sufficient to achieve wolf restoration, and that we 
expect State management to improve these attitudes, we conclude that 
public attitudes are no longer a threat to wolves' recovered status in 
Wyoming.
    Furthermore, to the extent any impact from human tolerance (or lack 
thereof) is realized, it will affect human-caused mortality. Wyoming's 
plan provides assurance that human-caused mortality will be adequately 
regulated so that recovery is not compromised. Thus, we conclude that 
human attitudes are no longer a threat to the gray wolf population's 
recovered status in Wyoming.
    Genetic Considerations--Overall, NRM wolves are as genetically 
diverse as their vast, secure, healthy, contiguous, and connected 
populations in Canada (Forbes and Boyd 1997, p. 1089; vonHoldt et al. 
2007, p. 19; vonHoldt et al. 2010, pp. 4412, 4416-4421) and, thus, 
genetic diversity is not a wolf conservation issue anywhere in the NRM 
DPS at this time (Hebblewhite et al. 2010, p. 4383; vonHoldt et al. 
2010, pp. 4412, 4416, 4421). This current genetic health is the result 
of deliberate management actions by the Service and its cooperators 
since 1995 (Bradley et al. 2005, p. 1504). Furthermore, genetic data 
collected from 1995 to 2004 demonstrate that all subpopulations within 
the NRM DPS maintained high genetic diversity during the first 10 years 
after reintroduction (Hebblewhite et al. 2010, p. 4384; vonHoldt et al. 
2010, p. 4423). Genetic diversity has likely changed little since 2004. 
Below we analyze whether genetics will become a threat to wolves in 
Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM region within the foreseeable future.
    Wolves have an unusual ability to rapidly disperse long distances 
across virtually any habitat and select mates to maximize genetic 
diversity. Only extremely large bodies of water or vast deserts appear 
to restrict wolf dispersal (Linnell et al. 2005). Wolves are among the 
least likely species to be affected by inbreeding when compared to 
nearly any other species of land mammal (Fuller et al. 2003, pp. 189-
190; Paquet et al. 2006, p. 3; Liberg 2008). Wolves avoid inbreeding by 
dispersing to find unrelated mates (Bensch et al. 2006, p. 72; vonHoldt 
et al. 2007, p. 1). This social pattern is a basic function of wolf 
populations and occurs regardless of the numbers, density, or presence 
of other wolves (Mech and Boitani 2003, pp. 11-180; Jimenez et al. In 
review, p. 14).
    As a general rule, genetic exchange of at least one effective 
migrant (i.e., a breeding migrant that passes on its genes) per 
generation is viewed as sufficient to prevent the loss of alleles and 
minimize loss of heterozygosity within subpopulations (Mills and 
Allendorf 1996, entire; Wang 2004, entire; Mills 2007, p. 193). This 
level of gene flow allows for local evolutionary adaptation while 
minimizing negative effects of genetic drift and inbreeding depression. 
While higher levels of genetic exchange may be beneficial (note the 
``at least'' in the above standard), we conclude that a minimum of one 
effective migrant per generation is a reasonable and acceptable goal to 
avoid any degradation in the NRM DPS's current levels of genetic 
diversity. The northwestern Montana and central Idaho core recovery 
areas are well-connected to each other and to large wolf populations in 
Canada through dispersal (Boyd et al. 1995, p. 136; Boyd and Pletscher 
1999, pp. 1100-1101; Hebblewhite et al. 2010, p. 4383; vonHoldt et al. 
2010, pp. 4422-4423; Jimenez et al. In review, p. 23).
    The GYA is the most isolated core recovery area within the NRM DPS 
(Oakleaf et al. 2006, p. 554; vonHoldt et al. 2007, p. 19). From 1992 
to 2008, we documented five radio-collared wolves naturally entering 
the GYA, two of which are confirmed to have bred (Jimenez et al. In 
review, p. 23). The first wolf dispersed from northwestern Montana to 
the eastern side of the GYA in 1992 when only 41 wolves and 4 breeding 
pairs were in the region (Pletscher et al. 1997, p. 464). This wolf did 
not breed because it dispersed before the 1995-1996 reintroductions and 
there were no other wolves present in the GYA. In 2002, a central Idaho 
wolf dispersed to the eastern side of the GYA and became the breeding 
male of the Greybull pack near Meeteetse, Wyoming. In 2006, another 
central Idaho wolf dispersed to the northern edge of the GYA (south of 
Bozeman, Montana); it is unknown if this wolf bred. In 2007, two wolves 
from central Idaho dispersed to the eastern side of GYA. One of these 
dispersers joined a pack near Dubois, Wyoming; its reproductive status 
is unknown. The other 2007 disperser joined a pack near Sunlight Basin, 
Wyoming, and bred. Because only 20 to 30 percent of the NRM wolf 
population has been radio-collared, it is reasonable to assume several 
times the documented number of radio-collared wolves likely entered the 
GYA. On average, about 35 percent of dispersing wolves reproduce 
(Jimenez et al. In review, p. 12). Because a wolf generation is 
approximately 4 years, dispersal data indicate that more than one 
effective migrant per generation has likely entered into the GYA wolf 
population. Specifically, these data indicate we may have averaged 
around one-and-a-half effective migrants into the GYA per generation 
since reintroduction, with a large portion of this dispersal occurring 
in recent years.
    Genetics data have only been analyzed from 1995 to 2004 when the 
NRM gray wolf population was between 101 and 846 wolves (including a 
minimum population estimate of 14 to 452 wolves in central Idaho) and 
still growing (average 27 percent annual growth rate). During this 
period, the NRM region demonstrated a minimum of 3.3 to 5.4 effective 
migrants per generation among the three subpopulations (vonHoldt et al. 
2010, p. 4412). Within this range, the 3.3 effective migrants per 
generation reflect natural dispersal, while the 5.4 effective migrants 
per generation include human-assisted migration (Stahler 2011). Within 
the GYA, natural dispersal data demonstrates that six wolves in four 
packs appear to have descended from one central Idaho disperser (the 
2002 disperser discussed in the above paragraph who was the breeding 
male of the Greybull pack near Meeteetse, Wyoming) (vonHoldt et al. 
2010, p. 4412, Supporting Table S5; Stahler 2011). These data 
demonstrate a minimum of 0.42 natural effective migrants entering the 
GYA per generation from 1995 to 2004 (Stahler 2011). Because only about 
30 percent of the NRM wolf population was sampled, the minimum estimate 
of effective migrants per generation was likely a significant 
underestimate (Hebblewhite et al. 2010, p. 4384; vonHoldt et al. 2010, 
pp. 4422-4423; Stahler 2011). While additional analysis may be needed 
to determine how much of an underestimate this represents (Stahler 
2011), Hebblewhite et al. (2010, p. 4384) suggest this estimate is 
``almost certainly low by at least half.''
    Both of the above information sources (documented dispersal rates 
from 1992 to 2008 and genetic analysis from 1995 to 2004) indicate 
acceptable levels of effective migration occurred when the population 
was between 101 and 846 wolves and have likely been exceeded at higher 
population levels. However, numerous factors that contributed to these 
levels of gene flow while the species was listed will differ after 
delisting. For example, after delisting the population will no longer 
be growing, the population will likely go

[[Page 55594]]

through a period reduction before leveling off, and management will 
likely result in higher mortality rates for both dispersers and 
resident wolves. Thus, past dispersal data is unlikely to be an exact 
predictor of future effective migration rates. Below we discuss factors 
likely to influence future effective migration after delisting.
    A more detailed look at dispersal data, although reflective of the 
situation while wolves were listed, may provide insights into likely 
dispersal after delisting. NRM gray wolf dispersal data from 1995 to 
2008 indicated that: Wolves routinely dispersed at all population 
levels and from packs of all sizes (greater than 10 percent of the 
radio-collared wolf population dispersed annually); some dispersers 
moved long distances despite the occurrence of empty suitable habitat 
nearby (23 percent of these dispersers traveled greater than or equal 
to 100 miles, a distance that separates routinely occupied areas in the 
GYA and central Idaho); wolves dispersed in all directions (19 percent 
of dispersers traveled east as would be necessary to get from central 
Idaho to the GYA); dispersal occurred year round, but peaked in winter 
(more than half of all dispersal occurred in the 4 months of November 
through February); dispersal was a long, meandering process (dispersal 
events averaged 5.5 months); disperser survival rates were lower than 
for resident wolves (70 versus 80 percent); and 35 percent of 
dispersing wolves reproduced (Jimenez et al. In review, pp. 9-12).
    It should be noted that the above estimates could over- or under 
estimate actual percentages depending on various factors related to the 
representativeness of the available data. For example, the estimate 
that 10 percent of the wolf population disperses annually may be an 
underestimate of the real number because yearlings and 2-year-olds in 
some areas have a higher dispersal rate than older wolves (Adams et al. 
2008, Table 4), but may be underrepresented in the radio-collared wolf 
sample (Jimenez et al. In review, p. 10). Mech and Boitani (2003, p. 
170) summarized North American wolf studies that suggested lone 
dispersing wolves comprised 10 to 15 percent of wolf populations in 
winter. Adams et al. (2008, Table 4) estimated dispersal rates for 
yearlings, 2-year-olds, and older Alaskan wolves as being 61 percent, 
35 percent, and 11 percent, respectively; Adams suggested a dispersal 
rate around 30 percent may be more likely for NRM wolves given our 
data's bias toward older adults (Atkins 2011, p. 56; Jimenez et al. In 
review, p. 10). Furthermore, while these data could be used to model 
likely future effective migration, natural changes to the wolf 
population and post-delisting management across the NRM region will 
affect these variables and affect the resulting projections. Below we 
discuss factors that are likely to change these variables in future 
years.
    Several geographic and biological factors influence migration in 
the GYA. For example, physical barriers (such as high-elevation 
mountain ranges that are difficult to traverse in winter) appeared to 
discourage dispersal through Grand Teton National Park's western 
boundary. Because most wolves disperse in winter, they tended to travel 
through low-elevation valleys where wild prey concentrations were 
highest due to lower snow depths. To date, the high density and 
reproductive output of wolves in YNP have created a unidirectional flow 
of effective dispersers leaving but not entering the Park's wolf 
population (note, we have few data regarding whether wolves traveled 
through the park) (vonHoldt et al. 2007, p. 270; vonHoldt et al. 2010, 
p. 4413; Wayne and Hedrick 2010). This is because young dispersing 
wolves seek to establish territories in less saturated habitats, and 
wolves from outside YNP are unable to establish residency inside areas 
that appear saturated. This does not mean wolves were precluded from 
traveling through the park. Long term, we expect that, at lower YNP 
population densities, wolves from outside YNP will be increasingly 
successful at dispersing into and through YNP.
    Population levels across the NRM DPS could affect natural rates of 
gene flow. For example, because a small portion of wolves disperse 
annually (perhaps between 10 and 30 percent (Adams et al. 2008, Table 
4; Atkins 2011, p. 56; Jimenez et al. In review)), an Idaho wolf 
population of 350 to 550 wolves long term (a range that is realistic 
long term) will produce many more dispersers than a population closer 
to minimum recovery targets. While the wolf population will probably be 
reduced after delisting, all three States in the NRM region plan to 
manage wolf populations comfortably above minimum recovery levels to 
allow for wolf hunting opportunities, in anticipation of uncontrollable 
sources of mortality, and to provide that relisting does not occur. 
Based on the available suitable habitat including remote or protected 
areas, management direction being employed or planned by the States, 
and State projections, we conclude that the overall NRM population is 
likely to be maintained well above recovery levels (perhaps around 
1,000 wolves across the NRM DPS). Overall, conclude that State 
management of population levels alone is unlikely to reduce the overall 
rate of natural dispersal enough to threaten adequate levels of 
effective migration.
    Human-caused wolf mortality is another key factor in determining 
whether dispersers become effective (i.e., a breeding migrant that 
passes on its genes). In short, wolves must be able to traverse 
suitable and unsuitable habitat between the key recovery areas and 
survive long enough to find a mate in suitable habitat and reproduce. 
While managed under the Act, dispersers had a 70 percent survival rate. 
However, State and Tribal wolf management is likely to reduce survival 
of dispersing wolves. Across the NRM DPS, we expect mortality rates to 
increase after delisting due to hunting, more liberal defense of 
property allowances (than under previous experimental population 
rules), and, in Wyoming, control of wolves on State-managed elk feeding 
grounds and some impacts to dispersers in the predator area of the 
State.
    As noted above, wolves can maintain themselves despite human-caused 
mortality rates of 17 to 48 percent (Fuller et al. 2003, pp. 182-184 
[22 percent +/- 8 percent]; Adams et al. 2008 [29 percent]; Creel and 
Rotella 2010 [22 percent]; Sparkman et al. 2011 [25 percent]; Gude et 
al. 2011 [48 percent]; Vucetich and Carroll In review [17 percent]). 
Because States intend to initially reduce wolf populations and 
ultimately maintain level wolf populations in balance with prey 
populations and reduce livestock conflicts, it seems reasonable to 
assume that there will be high mortality across the entire region for 
the next several years, but that the population will stabilize at a 
sustainable level over the long term.
    The management approaches of all three NRM States take into account 
and limit hunting impacts during important dispersal periods, including 
the breeding, denning, and pup-rearing periods (late winter through 
early fall). Long term, across Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, most 
hunting-related mortality will occur from October to December when big 
game seasons are scheduled and most big game hunters are in the field. 
In 2009 in Montana, 78 percent of harvested wolves were 
opportunistically harvested by hunters who were primarily hunting elk, 
deer, or both (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks 2009, p. 3). In both 
2009 and 2011, Montana's wolf seasons were scheduled to run through the 
end of December, or when quotas were met (Montana Fish, Wildlife and 
Parks 2011,

[[Page 55595]]

entire). In 2009, Idaho's wolf season was open until December 31st or 
until the quota was met, but was extended through the end of March for 
all units that did not meet their quotas. The 2009 hunting season was 
not extended in any areas important for dispersal. In 2011, Idaho's 
wolf hunting season ran through March for most units, but ends December 
31st for those areas thought important for dispersal (i.e., the 
Beaverhead and Island Park units) (Idaho Fish and Game Commission 2011, 
entire). During the 2012-2013 hunting season, these units will remain 
open until January 31st. Closing hunting in these units earlier than 
other units is consistent with States' commitments to preserve genetic 
diversity by ensuring the continuation of natural dispersal among the 
subpopulations through effective management of the timing and location 
of human-caused mortality (Groen et al. 2008, entire). While increased 
human-caused mortality, particularly hunting and trapping, is expected 
to continue across much of the NRM DPS in the coming years as States 
pursue population reductions, we expect the need for such long seasons 
will dwindle once desired reductions are achieved. Other sources of 
human-caused mortality, such as State control of problem wolves, is 
limited to recent depredation events, which are uncommon during peak 
dispersal periods.
    The State of Wyoming has indicated that its hunting seasons will 
occur primarily in conjunction with fall hunting seasons, but may be 
extended beyond that period, if necessary, to achieve management 
objectives (WGFC 2011, pp. 2-3, 16, 25, 53). Wyoming will develop a 
hunting plan each year that will take into consideration, but will not 
be limited to, the following: Wolf breeding seasons; short- and long-
range dispersal opportunity, survival, and success in forming new or 
joining existing packs; conflicts with livestock; and the broader game 
management responsibilities related to ungulates and other wildlife 
(WGFC 2011, pp. 2-3, 16, 25, 53).
    In Wyoming, survival of dispersing wolves will also be reduced in 
portions of the State where wolves will be classified as predators. In 
the predator area, human-caused mortality will be unlimited; therefore, 
wolf survival rates will decline. This finding is consistent with past 
Service findings (71 FR 43410, August 1, 2006; 72 FR 6106, February 8, 
2007; 73 FR 10514, February 27, 2008; 74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009), and 
was validated in 2008 when most of the wolves in the predator area were 
killed within a few weeks of temporarily losing the Act's protection. 
However, roaming dispersers will be less prone to removal than resident 
packs, whose locations and ranges are easily detected.
    In total, wolves will be protected or managed as game animals year-
round in about 38,500 km\2\ (15,000 mi\2\) (15.2 percent of Wyoming) in 
northwestern Wyoming, including YNP, Grand Teton National Park, John D. 
Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, adjacent U.S. Forest Service-
designated Wilderness Areas, adjacent public and private lands, the 
National Elk Refuge, and the Wind River Indian Reservation. The 
permanent Trophy Area incorporates nearly all of Wyoming's current wolf 
packs and includes the vast majority of the State's suitable habitat. 
Additionally, the Trophy Area will be seasonally expanded approximately 
80 km (50 mi) south along the western border of Wyoming (see Figure 1 
above) from October 15 to the end of February (28th or 29th). During 
this period of peak dispersal, the Trophy Area will be expanded by 
approximately 3,300 km\2\ (1,300 mi\2\) (i.e., an additional 1.3 
percent of Wyoming). Maintenance of genetic exchange and connectivity 
were the primary considerations in Wyoming's agreement to increase 
protection for wolves within this area during winter months. This 
seasonal expansion will benefit natural dispersal.
    Within the Trophy Area, Wyoming may also control wolves to address 
wolf-ungulate conflicts at State-operated elk feeding grounds (WGFC 
2011, pp. 5, 39-41). Wyoming maintains 22 winter elk feeding grounds 
including 10 within the permanent Trophy Area, 3 within the seasonal 
Trophy Area, and 9 within the permanent predator area. These areas 
attract and frequently hold dispersing wolves. Many dispersing wolves 
in Wyoming, and several established packs, include elk feed grounds as 
part of their winter home range. As noted above, within the predator 
area, take would occur without limit. Within the Trophy Area, WGFD may 
take wolves that displace elk from feeding grounds in the Trophy Area 
if such displacement results in one of the following conflicts: (1) Elk 
damage to private stored crops; (2) elk commingling with domestic 
livestock; or (3) elk displaced from feeding grounds moving onto 
highway rights-of-way and causing human safety concerns. Such take will 
likely further reduce survival of dispersing wolves (WGFC 2011, pp. 5, 
39-41).
    Generally, genetic connectivity across the NRM DPS has increased 
with time, and it will remain a high-priority issue for the Service and 
our partner wildlife agencies. Processes to identify, maintain, and 
improve linkage of wildlife movement areas between the large blocks of 
public land in the region is ongoing (Servheen et al. 2003, p. 3). This 
interagency effort involves 9 State and Federal agencies working on 
linkage facilitation across private lands, public lands, and highways 
(Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee 2001, pp. 1-2; Brown 2006, pp. 1-
3). Key partners include the Forest Service, National Park Service, 
Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, and the States of 
Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming. To date, this effort has 
included: (1) Development of a written protocol and guidance document 
on how to implement linkage zone management on public lands (Public 
Lands Linkage Wildlife Taskforce 2004, pp. 3-5); (2) production of 
several private land linkage management documents (Service 1997; Parker 
and Parker 2002, p. 2); (3) analyses of linkage zone management in 
relation to highways (Geodata Services Inc. 2005, p. 2; Waller and 
Servheen 2005, p. 998); and (4) periodic workshops discussing 
implementation of management actions for wildlife linkage. The 
objective of this work is to maintain and enhance movement 
opportunities for all wildlife species across the region. Although this 
linkage work is not directly associated with the wolf population, it 
will benefit wolves after delisting.
    Wyoming's gray wolf management regulations indicate the State is 
committed to managing gray wolves in Wyoming so that genetic diversity 
and connectivity issues do not threaten the population (chapter 21, 
section 4(a)(ii)). These regulations state that this commitment would 
be accomplished by encouraging effective migrants into the population 
in accordance with the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan (chapter 21, 
section 4(a)(ii)). The Addendum to the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management 
Plan indicates the WGFD would strive for a minimum genetic target of ~1 
effective migrant per generation (WGFC 2012, pp. 6-7). Wyoming, in 
coordination with Montana and Idaho, has agreed to collect genetic 
samples continuously, and test the samples every 3 to 5 years to search 
for dispersers and their offspring as well as to detect losses in 
heterozygosity and changes in allele frequency (WGFC 2011, pp. 26-29). 
Success in achieving the objective of one effective migrant per 
generation will be measured over multiple generations (WGFC 2011, pp. 
26-29). If this minimum target is not achieved, the WGFD would first 
consider changes to

[[Page 55596]]

the monitoring program, if the increased monitoring is likely to 
overcome the failure to document the desired level of gene flow (WGFC 
2012, p. 6).
    If the WGFD determines increased monitoring is unlikely to document 
adequate levels of genetic interchange, or it determines that 
sufficient interchange is not occurring regardless of monitoring 
efforts, it would alter management, including reducing mortality quotas 
in dispersal corridors or reducing total mortality quotas over a series 
of years to increase the probability that migrants into the population 
survive and reproduce (WGFC 2012, pp. 6-7). Outside experts will be 
consulted, as necessary or appropriate, to assist in identifying 
appropriate changes to regional management. Specifically, Wyoming will: 
(1) Conduct an evaluation of all sources of mortality, in coordination 
with other partners as appropriate, with a focus on those within 
Wyoming's jurisdiction (and the jurisdiction of other partners, as 
appropriate), to determine which sources of mortality, and the extent 
to which those sources, are most meaningfully affecting genetic 
connectivity; and (2) modify population management objectives, in 
coordination with other partners, as appropriate, based on the above 
evaluation, as necessary, to achieve the desired level of gene flow 
(WGFC 2011, pp. 26-29). The extent of actions taken will depend on the 
level of gene flow as it relates to the genetic connectivity 
objectives. For example, if the data indicates gene flow is close to 
the objective, minor modifications to management will be implemented 
(WGFC 2011, pp. 26-29). However, if very low levels of gene flow are 
documented over numerous generations, more extreme management measures 
will be implemented (WGFC 2011, pp. 26-29). This adaptive approach will 
implement specific and appropriate remedial actions as directed by the 
available data (WGFC 2011, pp. 26-29). Translocation of wolves between 
subpopulations would only be used as a stopgap measure, if necessary to 
increase genetic interchange (WGFC 2012, p. 7). All of the above 
efforts would be coordinated with Montana and Idaho (WGFC 2012, p. 7).
    Maintenance of the GYA at very low population levels is unlikely to 
be a meaningful concern in its own right. Overall, we expect the GYA 
population will be managed for a long term average of around 300 wolves 
across portions of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. While exact numbers are 
difficult to predict and may fluctuate by area and by year, the 
following information provides some perspective. In Wyoming, the State 
will maintain a population above 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs on 
lands under State jurisdiction and, in most years, will maintain a 
healthy buffer above this minimum population level. The wolf population 
in YNP has ranged from 96 to 174 wolves since 2000. However, the YNP 
wolf population appears to be declining toward a long term equilibrium 
around the lower end of this range (Service et al. 2000-2012, Table 2; 
Smith 2012). In Montana's share of the GYA, minimum population 
estimates have ranged from 55 to 130 wolves since recovery was achieved 
in 2002 (Service et al. 2003-2012, Table 1b). During this period, the 
GYA constituted between 20 to 42 percent of Montana's statewide wolf 
population estimate. At the end of 2010, this area included a minimum 
population estimate of 118 wolves. Montana's planned quota for this 
area in the 2011 hunting season was 43 wolves, and 39 wolves were 
actually taken, which appears to have allowed the population in this 
area to grow (by about 18 percent). In Idaho's share of the GYA, 
minimum population estimates have ranged from 0 to 40 wolves since 
recovery was achieved in 2002 (Service et al. 2003-2012, Table 2). At 
the end of 2010, this area included a minimum population estimate of 40 
wolves. Idaho's planned 2011 hunt includes a quota of 30 wolves in this 
area, but the quota for this unit was not reached because only 10 
wolves were taken (Idaho Fish and Game Commission 2011, entire). 
Collectively, these data suggest a long term average of around 300 
wolves in the GYA, including sizable populations in YNP, other portions 
of Wyoming, and portions of the GYA in Montana and Idaho.
    In summary, the GYA wolf population will not be threatened by lower 
genetic diversity in the foreseeable future. A number of biological 
factors support this conclusion including the current high level of 
genetic diversity in the NRM DPS, proven connectivity between 
subpopulations, wolf dispersal capabilities, the strong tendency of 
wolves to outbreed by choosing unrelated mates, and the likely long 
term population and distribution levels of wolves in the NRM DPS. In 
addition to these natural factors, the States of Montana, Idaho, and 
Wyoming have committed to monitor for natural genetic connectivity, 
modify management as necessary to facilitate natural connectivity, and, 
if necessary, implement a human-assisted migration program to achieve 
at least one effective migrant per generation. In fact, in our 
professional judgment, even if no new genes entered into the GYA (a 
near impossibility), genetic diversity is likely many decades, and 
perhaps a century or more, away from becoming an issue and even then, 
it would be unlikely to threaten the GYA population.
    Poison--Poisoning is a potentially significant factor in 
maintenance of the wolf population because it can be an effective and 
inexpensive method to kill wolves. Wolf extirpation in the United 
States and many other areas of the world occurred primarily through 
extensive use of poisons. Wolf populations began to recover in many 
areas only when certain poisons were banned, despite continued human-
caused mortality by shooting and trapping (Fritts et al. 2003, p. 311; 
Fuller et al. 2003, pp. 162-163, 189; Boitani 2003, p. 329). Poison was 
once commonly used by Federal and State agencies and the public 
throughout the western United States for control of coyotes and other 
predators. However, many poisons (such as strychnine, Compound 1080, 
cyanide, and other toxins) for predatory animal management were banned 
or their use severely limited (Executive Order 11643; Fagerstone et al. 
2004).
    Today, no poisons can legally be used against wolves in the United 
States because of Environmental Protection Agency restrictions 
(described above). While steps could be taken to allow registration and 
limited use, the process is complex, time consuming (5-10 years), and 
would likely not allow widespread use for a host of reasons, including 
public disdain for poisoning predators (Fritts et al. 2003, p. 311; 
Fagerstone et al. 2004, p. 76) and concerns over secondary nontarget 
poisoning. Furthermore, within the Trophy Area, poison is prohibited by 
Wyoming Statute 23-3-304(a). Sodium cyanide (only in M-44 devices), 
Compound 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate used only in livestock protection 
collars), and denning cartridges (active ingredients of sodium nitrate 
and charcoal) are legal toxicants for use on other canids. In all three 
cases, Environmental Protection Agency label restrictions preclude use 
on wolves (Environmental Protection Agency 1994, pp. 2, 4; 
Environmental Protection Agency 1995, pp. 28-29; Environmental 
Protection Agency 2007, p. 3). Poisons (including strychnine, Compound 
1080, cyanide, and Temic (an agricultural poison used for insect 
control)) have occasionally illegally killed dogs and wolves in the NRM 
region. Such illegal killing has been exceedingly rare and has not 
affected the wolf population's recovery (Murray et al. 2010, p. 2514;

[[Page 55597]]

Service et al. 2012, Table 4, Figure 1). We believe this source of 
mortality will remain rare into the foreseeable future.
    Only a concerted agency-driven or otherwise large-scale campaign to 
employ poison could threaten the recovered wolf population in Wyoming, 
the GYA, or the larger NRM DPS. However, this circumstance is highly 
unlikely in the foreseeable future. Even in areas like the predator 
area, widespread poisoning is unlikely in the foreseeable future 
because as these types of highly toxic and dangerous poisons would have 
to be legally registered and widely available. Overall, this potential 
threat is strictly theoretical in nature and is unlikely to ever again 
threaten this wolf population.
    Climate Change--Our analyses under the Endangered Species Act 
include consideration of ongoing and projected changes in climate. The 
terms ``climate'' and ``climate change'' are defined by the 
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The term ``climate'' 
refers to the mean and variability of different types of weather 
conditions over time, with 30 years being a typical period for such 
measurements, although shorter or longer periods also may be used (IPCC 
2007a, p. 78). The term ``climate change'' thus refers to a change in 
the mean or variability of one or more measures of climate (e.g., 
temperature or precipitation) that persists for an extended period, 
typically decades or longer, whether the change is due to natural 
variability, human activity, or both (IPCC 2007a, p. 78).
    Scientific measurements spanning several decades demonstrate that 
changes in climate are occurring, and that the rate of change has been 
faster since the 1950s. Examples include warming of the global climate 
system, and substantial increases in precipitation in some regions of 
the world and decreases in other regions. For these and other examples, 
see IPCC 2007a (p. 30) and Solomon et al. 2007 (pp. 35-54, 82-85). 
Results of scientific analyses presented by the IPCC show that most of 
the observed increase in global average temperature since the mid-20th 
century cannot be explained by natural variability in climate, and is 
``very likely'' (defined by the IPCC as 90 percent or higher 
probability) due to the observed increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) 
concentrations in the atmosphere as a result of human activities, 
particularly carbon dioxide emissions from use of fossil fuels (IPCC 
2007a, pp. 5-6 and figures SPM.3 and SPM.4; Solomon et al. 2007, pp. 
21-35). Further confirmation of the role of GHGs comes from analyses by 
Huber and Knutti (2011, p. 4), who concluded it is extremely likely 
that approximately 75 percent of global warming since 1950 has been 
caused by human activities.
    Scientists use a variety of climate models, which include 
consideration of natural processes and variability, as well as various 
scenarios of potential levels and timing of GHG emissions, to evaluate 
the causes of changes already observed and to project future changes in 
temperature and other climate conditions (e.g., Meehl et al. 2007, 
entire; Ganguly et al. 2009, pp. 11555, 15558; Prinn et al. 2011, pp. 
527, 529). All combinations of models and emissions scenarios yield 
very similar projections of increases in the most common measure of 
climate change, average global surface temperature (commonly known as 
global warming), until about 2030. Although projections of the 
magnitude and rate of warming differ after about 2030, the overall 
trajectory of all the projections is one of increased global warming 
through the end of this century, even for the projections based on 
scenarios that assume that GHG emissions will stabilize or decline. 
Thus, there is strong scientific support for projections that warming 
will continue through the 21st century, and that the magnitude and rate 
of change will be influenced substantially by the extent of GHG 
emissions (IPCC 2007a, pp. 44-45; Meehl et al. 2007, pp. 760-764, 797-
811; Ganguly et al. 2009, pp. 15555-15558; Prinn et al. 2011, pp. 527, 
529). (See IPCC 2007b, p. 8, for a summary of other global projections 
of climate-related changes, such as frequency of heat waves and changes 
in precipitation. Also see IPCC 2011 (entire) for a summary of 
observations and projections of extreme climate events.)
    Various changes in climate may have direct or indirect effects on 
species. These effects may be positive, neutral, or negative, and they 
may change over time, depending on the species and other relevant 
considerations, such as interactions of climate with other variables 
(e.g., habitat fragmentation) (IPCC 2007, pp. 8-14, 18-19). Identifying 
likely effects often involves aspects of climate change vulnerability 
analysis. Vulnerability refers to the degree to which a species (or 
system) is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of 
climate change, including climate variability and extremes. 
Vulnerability is a function of the type, magnitude, and rate of climate 
change and variation to which a species is exposed, its sensitivity, 
and its adaptive capacity (IPCC 2007a, p. 89; see also Glick et al. 
2011, pp. 19-22). There is no single method for conducting such 
analyses that applies to all situations (Glick et al. 2011, p. 3). We 
use our expert judgment and appropriate analytical approaches to weigh 
relevant information, including uncertainty, in our consideration of 
various aspects of climate change.
    The 20th century was the warmest in the last 1,000 years (Inkley et 
al. 2004, pp. 2-3), with global mean surface temperature increasing by 
0.4 to 0.8 degrees Celsius (0.7 to 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit). These 
increases in temperature were more pronounced over land masses as 
evidenced by the 1.5 to 1.7 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 3.0 degrees 
Fahrenheit) increase in North America since the 1940s (Vincent et al. 
1999, p. 96; Cayan et al. 2001, p. 411). According to the IPCC, 
temperatures will increase 1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius (2.0 to 11.5 
degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 (IPCC 2007, pp. 10-11). The magnitude of 
warming in the NRM region has been greater, as indicated by an 8-day 
advance in the appearance of spring phenological indicators in 
Edmonton, Alberta, since the 1930s (Cayan et al. 2001, p. 400). The 
hydrologic regime in the NRM region also has changed with global 
climate change, and is projected to change further (Bartlein et al. 
1997, p. 786; Cayan et al. 2001, p. 411; Stewart et al. 2004, pp. 223-
224). Under global climate change scenarios, the NRM region may 
eventually experience milder, wetter winters and warmer, drier summers 
(Bartlein et al. 1997, p. 786). Additionally, the pattern of snowmelt 
runoff may also change, with a reduction in spring snowmelt (Cayan et 
al. 2001, p. 411) and an earlier peak (Stewart et al. 2004, pp. 223-
224), so that a lower proportion of the annual discharge will occur 
during spring and summer.
    Even with these changes, environmental, habitat, or prey changes 
resulting from climate change should not threaten the Wyoming wolf 
population. Next to humans, wolves are the most widely distributed land 
mammal on earth. Wolves live in every habitat type in the Northern 
Hemisphere that contains ungulates, and once ranged from central Mexico 
to the Arctic Ocean in North America. The NRM region is roughly in the 
middle of historical wolf distribution in North America. Because 
historical evidence suggests gray wolves and their prey survived in 
hotter, drier environments, including some near-desert conditions, we 
expect wolves could easily adapt to the warmer and drier conditions 
that are predicted with climate change, including any northward 
expansion of diseases, parasites, new prey, or competitors or 
reductions in species

[[Page 55598]]

currently at or near the southern extent of their range. It would be 
virtually impossible that environmental, habitat, or prey species 
changes due to the environmental effects of climate change could 
significantly affect such an adaptable, resilient, and generalist 
predator.
    Environmental or habitat changes resulting from changing climatic 
conditions have the potential to affect wolf prey. Declining moose 
populations in the southern GYA may result from climate change and 
declining habitat quality, a conclusion that has been reached in other 
parts of the southern range of moose in North America (Murray et al. 
2006, p. 25; Becker 2008, entire; Becker et al. 2010, p. 151). Climate 
change has affected elk nutrition, elk herd demographics, and the 
proportion of migratory and nonmigratory elk in the GYA, but not to the 
extent that such wolf prey could disappear (Middleton et al. In Press). 
However, the extent and rate to which most ungulate populations will be 
affected is difficult to foresee with any level of confidence. One 
logical consequence of climate change could be a reduction in the 
number of elk, deer, moose, and bison that die overwinter, thus 
maintaining a higher prey base for wolves (Wilmers and Getz 2005, p. 
574; Wilmers and Post 2006, p. 405). Furthermore, increased over-winter 
survival would likely result in overall increases and more resiliency 
in ungulate populations, thereby providing more prey for wolves.
    Catastrophic Events--Here we analyze a number of possible 
catastrophic events including fire, volcanic activity, and earthquake. 
Fire is a natural part of the Yellowstone system; however, 20th century 
forest management, which included extensive wildfire suppression 
efforts, promoted heightened potential for a large fire event. The 1988 
fires, the largest wildfires in YNP's recorded history, burned a total 
of 3,213 km\2\ (793,880 acres) or 36 percent of the Park. However, 
large mobile species such as wolves and their ungulate prey usually 
were not meaningfully adversely affected. Surveys after the 1988 fires 
found that 345 dead elk, 36 deer, 12 moose, 6 black bears, and 9 bison 
died in GYA as a direct result of the conflagration (YNP 2011, p. 3). 
YNP's fire management policy (YNP 2004, entire) indicates natural 
wildfires should be allowed to burn, so long as parameters regarding 
fire size, weather, and potential danger are not exceeded. Those fires 
that do exceed the standards, as well as all human-caused fires, are to 
be suppressed (YNP 2004, entire). Regarding impacts to wolves, YNP 
concluded ``wolves are adapted to landscapes strongly influenced by 
fire, the primary forest disturbance agent within the GYE, are highly 
vagile, and are adaptable to changing ecological conditions * * * [and] 
fires will provide significant long term benefits to gray wolves by 
maintaining natural ecosystem processes'' (YNP 2004, appendix I). 
Future fires are likely in the GYA system. Overall, we agree wolves are 
adaptable and will benefit from fires in the long term. Wildfires often 
lead to an increase in ungulate food supplies and an increase in 
ungulate numbers. While minor, localized, short term impacts are 
likely, fire will not threaten the viability of the wolf population in 
either the GYA or Wyoming.
    The GYA has also experienced several exceedingly large volcanic 
eruptions in the past 2.1 million years. Super eruptions occurred 2.1 
million, 1.3 million, and 640,000 years ago (Lowenstern et al. 2005, 
pp. 1-2). Such a similar event would devastate the GYA ecosystem. While 
one could argue ``we are due'' for such an event, scientists with the 
Yellowstone Volcano Observatory maintain that they ``see no evidence 
that another such cataclysmic eruption will occur at Yellowstone in the 
foreseeable future * * * [and that] recurrence intervals of these 
events are neither regular nor predictable'' (Lowenstern et al. 2005, 
p. 6). We agree and do conclude that such an event is not likely within 
the foreseeable future.
    More likely to occur is a nonexplosive lava flow eruption or a 
hydrothermal explosion. There have been 30 nonexplosive lava flows in 
YNP over the last 640,000 years, most recently 70,000 years ago 
(Lowenstern et al. 2005, p. 2). During such an eruption, flows ooze 
slowly over the surface, moving a few hundred feet per day for several 
months to several years (Lowenstern et al. 2005, p. 2). Any renewed 
volcanic activity at YNP would most likely take this form (Lowenstern 
et al. 2005, p. 3). In general, such events would have localized 
impacts and be far less devastating than a large eruption (although 
such an event could also cause fires; fire as a threat is discussed 
above). Hydrothermal explosions, triggered by sudden changes in 
pressure of the hydrothermal system, also occasionally affect the 
region. More than a dozen large hydrothermal explosion craters formed 
between about 14,000 and 3,000 years ago (Lowenstern et al. 2005, p. 
4). The largest hydrothermal-explosion crater documented in the world 
is along the north edge of Yellowstone Lake in an embayment known as 
Mary Bay; this 2.6-km (1.5-mile) diameter crater formed about 13,800 
years ago (Lowenstern et al. 2005, p. 4). We do not consider either a 
nonexplosive lava flow eruption or a hydrothermal-explosion likely 
within the foreseeable future, but even if one of these did occur, the 
impact to wolves or their prey would likely be localized, temporary, 
and would not threaten the viability of the wolf population in either 
the GYA, the Wyoming, or the NRM gray wolf populations.
    Earthquakes also occur in the region. The most notable earthquake 
in YNP's recent history was a magnitude 7.5 in 1959 (Lowenstern et al. 
2005, p. 3). Similarly, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake hit within YNP in 
1975 (Lowenstern et al. 2005, p. 3). The 1959 earthquake killed 28 
people, most of them in a massive landslide triggered by the quake 
(Lowenstern et al. 2005, p. 3). Such massive landslides and other 
earthquake-related impacts could also affect wildlife. But as with 
other potential catastrophic events, the impact of a large earthquake 
to wolves or prey would likely be localized, temporary, and would not 
threaten the viability of the wolf population in the GYA, the Wyoming, 
or the NRM gray wolf populations.
    The habitat model/population viability analysis by Carroll et al. 
(2003, p. 543) analyzed environmental stochasticity and predicted it 
was unlikely to threaten wolf persistence in the GYA. We also 
considered catastrophic and stochastic events that might reasonably 
occur in Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM DPS within the foreseeable 
future, to the extent possible. Most catastrophic events discussed 
above are unlikely to occur within the foreseeable future. Other events 
that might occur within the foreseeable future would likely cause only 
localized and temporary impacts that would not threaten the GYA, the 
Wyoming, or the NRM gray wolf populations.
    Impacts to Wolf Pack Social Structure as a Result of Human-Caused 
Mortality--When human-caused mortality rates are low, packs often 
contain a wider spread of individuals across age classes. Such larger 
complex pack structures are most common in National Parks and large, 
remote wilderness areas. These types of social structures will continue 
in protected areas like YNP after wolves are delisted. While intense 
harvest in immediately adjoining areas can alter natural social 
structure of kin-based groups (e.g., increase adoption of unrelated 
individuals into packs) in the protected areas (Rutledge et al. 2010, 
entire), as explained in the ``Commercial or

[[Page 55599]]

Recreational Uses'' section of Factor B above, harvest levels have been 
limited in adjoining areas where such impacts are most likely to be an 
issue and are likely to continue to be regulated in this manner. This 
approach is expected to minimize such impacts in YNP.
    Regardless, only approximately 20 percent of the region's wolf 
population currently lives primarily in National Parks or Wilderness 
areas. Therefore, wolves in most of the NRM DPS constantly interact 
with livestock and people. In these areas, wolves experience higher 
rates of human-caused mortality, which alters pack structure but does 
not reduce population viability, their ability to reproduce, or their 
ability to produce dispersers (Brainerd et al. 2008, p. 89; Jimenez et 
al. In review, p. 1).
    Wolf packs frequently have high rates of natural turnover (Mech 
2007, p. 1482) and quickly adapt to changes in pack social structure 
(Brainerd et al. 2008, p. 89). Higher rates of human-caused mortality 
outside protected areas will result in smaller wolf pack size and 
different structure than in protected areas. However, wolf populations 
in many parts of the world, including most of North America, experience 
various levels of human-caused mortality and the associated disruption 
in natural processes and wolf social structure, without ever being 
threatened (Boitani 2003, pp. 322-323). Therefore, while human-caused 
mortality may alter pack structure, we have no evidence that indicates 
this issue, if adequately regulated (as will occur in the NRM region), 
is a significant concern for wolf conservation.
    Since 1987, we have removed more than 1,700 problem wolves in the 
NRM region and have monitored the effect of removing breeding adults 
and other pack members on wolf pack structure and subsequent breeding. 
Those effects were minor and would certainly not affect wolf population 
recovery (Brainerd et al. 2008, p. 89). Although human-caused mortality 
will likely increase after delisting, history has proven that adequate 
wolf reproduction and survival can occur to sustain wolf populations, 
despite prolonged periods of high rates of human-caused mortality 
(Boitani 2003, pp. 322-323). The Wyoming wolf population will be 
managed so that human-caused mortality will not threaten the 
population.
    Overall, we conclude that other natural or manmade factors, 
singularly or in combination with other threats, will not cause the 
Wyoming, the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf population to be ``likely to 
become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout 
all or a significant portion of its range.''

Conclusion (Including Cumulative Impacts)

    According to 50 CFR 424.11(d), we may delist a species if the best 
available scientific and commercial data indicate that: (1) The species 
is extinct; (2) the species is recovered and is no longer endangered or 
threatened; or (3) if the original scientific data used at the time the 
species was classified were in error. The second criterion (i.e., 
recovered and is no longer endangered or threatened) applies for wolves 
in Wyoming.
    Wolves in Wyoming, the GYA, and across the NRM DPS are recovered. 
All prongs of the recovery criteria are satisfied. The numerical, 
distributional, and temporal components of the overarching recovery 
goal have been exceeded for 10 consecutive years. Furthermore, Montana, 
Idaho, and Wyoming have each individually met or exceeded the minimum 
per-State recovery targets every year since at least 2002, and met or 
exceeded the minimum management targets every year since at least 2004. 
Each of the recovery areas (which were originally used to measure 
progress toward recovery) has been documented at or above 10 breeding 
pairs and 100 wolves every year since 2005 and probably exceeded these 
levels every year since 2002 (Service et al. 2012, Table 4). Finally, 
the available evidence demonstrates the NRM gray wolf population is 
functioning as a metapopulation with gene flow between subpopulations. 
Thus, we conclude that the population has recovered.
    Before we can delist we must also consider the threats currently 
facing the species and the threats that are reasonably likely to affect 
the species in the foreseeable future following the delisting. Under 
section 3 of the Act, a species is an ``endangered species'' if it is 
in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range and is a ``threatened species'' if it is likely to become an 
endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. In considering what factors might 
constitute ``threats,'' we must look beyond the exposure of the species 
to a particular factor to evaluate whether the species may respond to 
the factor in a way that causes actual impacts to the species. The 
information must include evidence sufficient to suggest that the 
potential threat is likely to materialize and that it has the capacity 
(i.e., it should be of sufficient magnitude and extent) to affect the 
species' status such that it meets the definition of an ``endangered 
species'' or a ``threatened species'' under the Act.
    As long as populations are maintained above minimal recovery 
levels, wolf biology (namely the species' reproductive potential) and 
the availability of secure blocks of suitable habitat will maintain 
source populations capable of withstanding all other foreseeable 
threats. In terms of habitat, the amount and distribution of suitable 
habitat in public ownership provides, and will continue to provide, 
large core areas that contain high-quality habitat of sufficient size 
to anchor a recovered wolf population. Our analysis of land-use 
practices shows that these areas will maintain their suitability well 
into the foreseeable future. While disease and parasites can 
temporarily cause localized population impacts, as long as populations 
are managed above recovery levels, these factors are not likely to 
threaten the wolf population at any point in the foreseeable future. 
Natural predation is also likely to remain an insignificant factor in 
population dynamics into the foreseeable future. Additionally, we 
conclude that other natural or manmade factors like public attitudes 
towards wolves, climate change, catastrophic events, and impacts to 
wolf pack social structure are unlikely to threaten the wolf population 
within the foreseeable future. While poisoning is a potentially 
significant factor in the maintenance of the wolf population, no 
poisons can be legally used to poison wolves in the United States, and 
we do not foresee or anticipate a change in poison regulation that 
would allow more widespread wolf poisoning.
    Human-caused mortality is the most significant issue to the long 
term conservation status of the wolf population in Wyoming, the GYA, 
and the entire NRM DPS. Therefore, managing this source of mortality 
(i.e., overutilization for commercial and recreational purposes [Factor 
B] as well as other sources of human-caused mortality [Factor C]) 
remains the primary challenge to maintaining a recovered wolf 
population into the foreseeable future. Fortunately, wolf populations 
have an ample natural resiliency to high levels of human-caused 
mortality, if population levels and controllable sources of mortality 
are adequately regulated. For example, in 2009 and in 2011, more than 
600 NRM wolves died each year from all sources of mortality (agency 
control including defense of property, regulated harvest, illegal and 
accidental killing, and natural causes), and the population showed 
little change (technically, slight

[[Page 55600]]

increases in minimum population levels were documented each year) 
(Service et al. 2012, tables 4a, 4b). Similarly, from 1995 to 2008, the 
NRM wolf population grew by an average of about 20 percent annually, 
even in the face of an average annual human-caused mortality rate of 23 
percent (Service et al. 2012, Table 4; Smith et al. 2010, p. 620; also 
see Figure 3 above). Overall, wolf populations can maintain themselves 
despite human-caused mortality rates of 17 to 48 percent (Fuller et al. 
2003, pp. 182-184 [22 percent +/- 8 percent]; Adams et al. 2008 [29 
percent]; Creel and Rotella 2010 [22 percent]; Sparkman et al. 2011 [25 
percent]; Gude et al. 2011 [48 percent]; Vucetich and Carroll In review 
[17 percent]). Furthermore, wolf populations have been shown to 
increase rapidly if mortality is reduced after severe declines (Fuller 
et al. 2003, pp. 181-183; Service et al. 2012, Table 4).
    Human-caused mortality can include both controllable sources and 
sources of mortality that will be difficult to limit. Controllable 
sources of mortality are discretionary and can be limited by the 
managing agency. They include permitted take, sport hunting, and direct 
agency control. Sources of mortality that will be difficult to limit, 
or may be uncontrollable, occur regardless of population levels and 
include things like defense of property mortality, illegal take, 
accidental mortality (such as vehicle collisions), and mortality in the 
predator area of Wyoming.
    The recovery goal calls for a three-part metapopulation of at least 
30 breeding pairs and at least 300 wolves equitably distributed among 
Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. We have determined that Wyoming's share of 
this recovery goal will be satisfied by Wyoming's commitment to 
maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves in areas 
outside of YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation. All sources of 
mortality will be considered in management decisions so that management 
objectives are met. Furthermore, Wyoming intends to maintain an 
adequate buffer above minimum population objectives to accommodate 
management needs and ensure uncontrollable sources of mortality do not 
drop the population below this minimum population level. Thus, the 
minimum recovery goal for the State of Wyoming will be exceeded in 
areas outside YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation, allowing YNP 
and the Wind River Indian Reservation to provide an additional buffer 
above the minimum recovery target. Additionally, Wyoming is planning a 
gradual population reduction to ensure population targets are not 
compromised while the State gathers information on the vulnerability of 
wolves under a State management regime. This graduated approach to 
population reductions and long term stabilization of the population, 
with an adequate buffer above minimum population targets, provides us 
with confidence that Wyoming's minimum management targets will not be 
compromised.
    All three States within the NRM DPS are required to manage 
comfortably above the minimum recovery level of at least 10 breeding 
pairs and at least 100 wolves. In Montana and Idaho, we required the 
statewide population level to be managed at least 50 percent above this 
target. Because Wyoming, unlike Montana and Idaho, has a large portion 
of its wolf population in areas outside the State's control (e.g., YNP 
and the Wind River Indian Reservation), we developed an approach for 
Wyoming that recognizes this fact, but still holds the State to the 
same commitment to achieve the desired safety margin above the minimum 
recovery goal. Specifically, the wolf populations in YNP and the Wind 
River Indian Reservation will provide the remaining buffer above the 
minimum recovery goal intended by the minimum management targets 
employed in Montana and Idaho (i.e., population targets 50 percent 
above minimum recovery levels). From 2000 to the end of 2011 (the most 
recent official wolf population estimates available), the wolf 
population in YNP ranged from 96 to 174 wolves, and between 6 to 16 
breeding pairs. However, recent population levels may be higher than 
the long term carrying capacity of YNP; the park predicts its wolf 
numbers may decline further and settle into a lower equilibrium (Smith 
2012). Specifically, YNP biologists estimate that the park will have 
between 50 to 100 wolves and 5 to 10 packs with 4 to 6 of these packs 
meeting the breeding pair definition annually (Smith 2012). Regardless, 
YNP will represent a core refugium that contains a substantial number 
of overwintering wild ungulates and few livestock with low levels of 
human-caused wolf mortality. These factors guarantee that the area will 
remain a secure stronghold for the Wyoming wolf population. Thus, YNP 
will always provide a secure wolf population providing a safety margin 
above the minimum recovery goal.
    The Wind River Indian Reservation will further buffer the 
population, although the area's contribution to recovery levels has 
always been, and is likely to remain, very modest. The Wind River 
Indian Reservation typically contains a small number of wolves (single 
digits), which sometimes form packs that count toward Tribal population 
totals. None of these packs have ever met the breeding pair definition.
    In total, Wyoming wolves will be managed as game animals year-round 
or protected in about 38,500 km\2\ (15,000 mi\2\) in the northwestern 
portion of the State (15.2 percent of Wyoming), including YNP, Grand 
Teton National Park, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, 
adjacent U.S. Forest Service-designated Wilderness Areas, adjacent 
public and private lands, the National Elk Refuge, and most of the Wind 
River Indian Reservation (Lickfett 2012). This area (see Figure 1) 
includes: 100 percent of the portion of the GYA recovery area within 
Wyoming (Service 1987, Figure 2); approximately 79 percent of the 
Wyoming portion of the primary analysis area used in the 1994 
Environmental Impact Statement (areas analyzed as potentially being 
impacted by wolf recovery in the GYA) (Service 1994, Figure 1.1); the 
entire home range for 24 of 27 breeding pairs (88 percent), 40 of 48 
packs (83 percent), and 282 of 328 individual wolves (86 percent) in 
the State at the end of 2011 (Service et al. 2012, Tables 2, 4, Figure 
3; Jimenez 2012a; Jimenez 2012, pers. comm.); and approximately 81 
percent of the State's suitable habitat (including over 81 percent of 
the high-quality habitat (greater than 80 percent chance of supporting 
wolves) and over 62 percent of the medium-high-quality habitat (50 to 
79 percent chance of supporting wolves) (Oakleaf 2011; Mead 2012a)). 
Although wolves will not persist in the predator area, these protected 
and managed portions of Wyoming are of sufficient size to support a 
recovered wolf population in Wyoming.
    Genetic diversity is not a wolf conservation issue in the NRM DPS 
at this time and we do not expect it to become one in the foreseeable 
future. While the GYA is the most isolated core recovery area within 
the NRM DPS, genetic and dispersal data demonstrate that minimal 
acceptable levels of genetic exchange between all NRM subpopulations 
were met or exceeded while the species was listed. While State 
management will almost certainly reduce genetic exchange rates from 
recent levels (which appear to exceed minimal acceptable levels of 
genetic exchange), we find it extremely unlikely that it will be 
reduced to the point that the GYA wolf population will be threatened by 
lower genetic diversity in the foreseeable future. Overall, the best 
scientific and commercial information available indicates that this 
issue is unlikely to undermine the Wyoming,

[[Page 55601]]

the GYA, or the NRM gray wolf population's recovered status and that 
this issue, singularly or in combination with other factors, is 
unlikely to cause the population to become an endangered species within 
the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range.
    We considered all potential threats individually and cumulatively, 
including all sources of mortality, currently facing the species and 
those reasonably likely to affect the species in the foreseeable future 
throughout Wyoming and the GYA. Collectively, the available information 
indicates that wolves in Wyoming, the GYA, and the NRM DPS are 
recovered, likely to remain recovered, and unlikely to again become 
threatened with extinction within the foreseeable future. Thus, in 
accordance with 50 CFR 424.11(d), we are delisting wolves in Wyoming. 
This rulemaking is separate and independent from, but additive to, the 
previous action delisting wolves in the remainder of the NRM DPS (all 
of Idaho, all of Montana, eastern Oregon, eastern Washington, and 
north-central Utah) (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009; 76 FR 25590, May 5, 
2011).

Significant Portion of the Range Analysis

    Having determined that gray wolf in Wyoming does not meet the 
definition of endangered or threatened throughout its range, we must 
next consider whether there are any significant portions of its range 
that are in danger of extinction or likely to become endangered. The 
Act defines ``endangered species'' as any species which is ``in danger 
of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range,'' 
and ``threatened species'' as any species which is ``likely to become 
an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range.'' The definition of ``species'' is 
also relevant to this discussion. The Act defines the term ``species'' 
as follows: ``The term `species' includes any subspecies of fish or 
wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment [DPS] of any 
species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.'' 
The phrase ``significant portion of its range'' (SPR) is not defined by 
the statute, and we have not addressed it in our regulations including: 
(1) The consequences of a determination that a species is either 
endangered or likely to become so throughout a significant portion of 
its range, but not throughout all of its range; or (2) what qualifies a 
portion of a range as ``significant.''
    Two recent district court decisions have addressed whether the SPR 
language allows the Service to list or protect less than all members of 
a defined ``species'': Defenders of Wildlife v. Salazar, 729 F. Supp. 
2d 1207 (D. Mont. 2010), concerning the Service's delisting of the NRM 
gray wolf (74 FR 15123, Apr. 12, 2009); and WildEarth Guardians v. 
Salazar, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105253 (D. Ariz. Sept. 30, 2010), 
concerning the Service's 2008 finding on a petition to list the 
Gunnison's prairie dog (73 FR 6660, Feb. 5, 2008). The Service had 
asserted in both of these determinations that it had authority, in 
effect, to protect only some members of a ``species,'' as defined by 
the Act (i.e., species, subspecies, or DPS), under the Act. Both courts 
ruled that the determinations were arbitrary and capricious on the 
grounds that this approach violated the plain and unambiguous language 
of the Act. The courts concluded that reading the SPR language to allow 
protecting only a portion of a species' range is inconsistent with the 
Act's definition of ``species.'' The courts concluded that once a 
determination is made that a species (i.e., species, subspecies, or 
DPS) meets the definition of ``endangered species'' or ``threatened 
species,'' it must be placed on the list in its entirety and the Act's 
protections applied to all members of that species (subject to 
modification of protections through special rules under sections 4(d) 
and 10(j) of the Act).
    Consistent with that interpretation, and for the purposes of this 
finding, we interpret the phrase ``significant portion of its range'' 
in the Act's definitions of ``endangered species'' and ``threatened 
species'' to provide an independent basis for listing; thus there are 
two situations (or factual bases) under which a species would qualify 
for listing: a species may be endangered or threatened throughout all 
of its range; or a species may be endangered or threatened in only a 
significant portion of its range. If a species is in danger of 
extinction throughout a SPR, then, the entire species is an 
``endangered species.'' The same analysis applies to ``threatened 
species.'' Therefore, the consequence of finding that a species is 
endangered or threatened in a significant portion of its range is that 
the entire species shall be listed as endangered or threatened, 
respectively, and the Act's protections shall be applied across the 
species' entire range.
    We conclude, for the purposes of this finding, that interpreting 
the SPR phrase as providing an independent basis for listing is the 
best interpretation of the Act because it is consistent with the 
purposes and the plain meaning of the key definitions of the Act; it 
does not conflict with established past agency practice (i.e., prior to 
the 2007 Solicitor's Opinion), because no consistent, long term agency 
practice has been established; and it is consistent with the judicial 
opinions that have most closely examined this issue. Having concluded 
that the phrase ``significant portion of its range'' provides an 
independent basis for listing and protecting the entire species, we 
next turn to the meaning of ``significant'' to determine the threshold 
for when such an independent basis for listing exists.
    Although there are potentially many ways to determine whether a 
portion of a species' range is ``significant,'' we conclude, for the 
purposes of this finding, that the significance of the portion of the 
range should be determined based on its biological contribution to the 
conservation of the species. For this reason, we describe the threshold 
for ``significant'' in terms of an increase in the risk of extinction 
for the species. We conclude that a biologically based definition of 
``significant'' best conforms to the purposes of the Act, is consistent 
with judicial interpretations, and best ensures species' conservation. 
Thus, for the purposes of this finding, a portion of the range of a 
species is ``significant'' if its contribution to the viability of the 
species is so important that, without that portion, the species would 
be in danger of extinction.
    We evaluate biological significance based on the principles of 
conservation biology using the concepts of redundancy, resiliency, and 
representation. Resiliency describes the characteristics of a species 
that allow it to recover from periodic disturbance. Redundancy (having 
multiple populations distributed across the landscape) may be needed to 
provide a margin of safety for the species to withstand catastrophic 
events. Representation (the range of variation found in a species) 
ensures that the species' adaptive capabilities are conserved. 
Redundancy, resiliency, and representation are not independent of each 
other, and some characteristic of a species or area may contribute to 
all three. For example, distribution across a wide variety of habitats 
is an indicator of representation, but it may also indicate a broad 
geographic distribution contributing to redundancy (decreasing the 
chance that any one event affects the entire species) and the 
likelihood that some habitat types are less susceptible to certain 
threats, contributing to resiliency (the ability of the species to

[[Page 55602]]

recover from disturbance). None of these concepts is intended to be 
mutually exclusive, and a portion of a species' range may be determined 
to be ``significant'' due to its contributions under any one of these 
concepts.
    For the purposes of this finding, we determine if a portion's 
biological contribution is so important that the portion qualifies as 
``significant'' by asking whether, without that portion, the 
representation, redundancy, or resiliency of the species would be so 
impaired that the species would have an increased vulnerability to 
threats to the point that the overall species would be in danger of 
extinction (i.e., would be ``endangered''). Conversely, we would not 
consider the portion of the range at issue to be ``significant'' if 
there is sufficient resiliency, redundancy, and representation 
elsewhere in the species' range that the species would not be in danger 
of extinction throughout its range if the population in that portion of 
the range in question became extirpated (extinct locally).
    We recognize that this definition of ``significant'' establishes a 
threshold that is relatively high. On the one hand, given that the 
consequences of finding a species to be endangered or threatened in an 
SPR would be listing the species throughout its entire range, it is 
important to use a threshold for ``significant'' that is robust. It 
would not be meaningful or appropriate to establish a very low 
threshold whereby a portion of the range can be considered 
``significant'' even if only a negligible increase in extinction risk 
would result from its loss. Because nearly any portion of a species' 
range can be said to contribute some increment to a species' viability, 
use of such a low threshold would require us to impose restrictions and 
expend conservation resources disproportionately to conservation 
benefit: Listing would be rangewide, even if only a portion of the 
range of minor conservation importance to the species is imperiled. On 
the other hand, it would be inappropriate to establish a threshold for 
``significant'' that is too high. This would be the case if the 
standard were, for example, that a portion of the range can be 
considered ``significant'' only if threats in that portion result in 
the entire species being currently endangered or threatened. Such a 
high bar would not give the SPR phrase independent meaning, as the 
Ninth Circuit held in Defenders of Wildlife v. Norton, 258 F.3d 1136 
(9th Cir. 2001).
    The definition of ``significant'' used in this finding carefully 
balances these concerns. By setting a relatively high threshold, we 
minimize the degree to which restrictions will be imposed or resources 
expended that do not contribute substantially to species' conservation. 
But we have not set the threshold so high that the phrase ``in a 
significant portion of its range'' loses independent meaning. 
Specifically, we have not set the threshold as high as it was under the 
interpretation presented by the Service in the Defenders litigation. 
Under that interpretation, the portion of the range would have to be so 
important that current imperilment there would mean that the species 
would be currently imperiled everywhere. Under the definition of 
``significant'' used in this finding, the portion of the range need not 
rise to such an exceptionally high level of biological significance. 
(We recognize that if the species is imperiled in a portion that rises 
to that level of biological significance, then we should conclude that 
the species is in fact imperiled throughout all of its range, and that 
we would not need to rely on the SPR language for such a listing.) 
Rather, under this interpretation we ask whether the species would be 
endangered everywhere without that portion, i.e., if that portion were 
completely extirpated. In other words, the portion of the range need 
not be so important that even being in danger of extinction in that 
portion would be sufficient to cause the remainder of the range to be 
endangered; rather, the complete extirpation (in a hypothetical future) 
of the species in that portion would be required to cause the remainder 
of the range to be endangered.
    The range of a species can theoretically be divided into portions 
in an infinite number of ways. However, there is no purpose to 
analyzing portions of the range that have no reasonable potential to be 
significant and threatened or endangered. To identify only those 
portions that warrant further consideration, we determine whether there 
is substantial information indicating that: (1) The portions may be 
``significant,'' and (2) the species may be in danger of extinction 
there or likely to become so within the foreseeable future. Depending 
on the biology of the species, its range, and the threats it faces, it 
might be more efficient for us to address the significance question 
first or the status question first. Thus, if we determine that a 
portion of the range is not ``significant,'' we do not need to 
determine whether the species is endangered or threatened there; if we 
determine that the species is not endangered or threatened in a portion 
of its range, we do not need to determine if that portion is 
``significant.'' In practice, a key part of the portion status analysis 
is whether the threats are geographically concentrated in some way. If 
the threats to the species are essentially uniform throughout its 
range, no portion is likely to warrant further consideration. Moreover, 
if any concentration of threats applies only to portions of the 
species' range that clearly would not meet the biologically based 
definition of ``significant,'' such portions will not warrant further 
consideration.
    In this case, we have already determined wolves are not threatened 
or endangered in areas including protected and game portions of the 
State. Therefore, this analysis only evaluates whether the portions of 
Wyoming where wolves are treated as predators constitute a threatened 
or endangered significant portion of the range of wolves in Wyoming, 
the GYA, or the NRM DPS.
    When analyzing the significance of the predator area to wolf 
conservation, it is important to understand the role, or lack thereof, 
that the predator area plays in the conservation of the species. 
Wyoming's predator area was not envisioned to meaningfully contribute 
to wolf recovery in the region (in fact, the predator area contains 
zero percent of the original recovery zone) as it has very little 
suitable habitat (~19 percent of the State's suitable habitat). Today, 
even with the protections of the Act, very few wolves, packs, and 
breeding pairs occupy the predator area (3 of 27 breeding pairs, 8 of 
48 packs, and 46 of 328 individual wolves in Wyoming at the end of 
2011). If all of the wolves, packs, and breeding pairs that occupy the 
predator area were extirpated, the remainder of the Wyoming, the GYA, 
or the NRM wolf population would not become endangered. This 
determination is based on our conclusion that the protected and game 
portions of the State are of sufficient size and contain enough 
suitable habitat to support and maintain a recovered wolf population in 
Wyoming over the long term, given the expected management strategy for 
this area, without any survival in the predator area. While some wolves 
that primarily occupy the Trophy Area will be killed when traveling 
into the predator area, total mortality from such events is expected to 
be minimal, would not compromise the population's recovered status, and 
would not cause the remainder of the range to become endangered. 
Furthermore, while wolf mortality in the predator area could affect 
successful migration between subpopulations, such mortality: (1) Is 
expected to be opportunistic and

[[Page 55603]]

minimal, and (2) is not expected to affect genetic factors to the point 
that it could cause the remainder of the range to become endangered. In 
short, even if no wolves survived in, or successfully traversed, the 
predator area, the NRM DPS as well as wolves in Wyoming and the GYA 
would not become endangered. All of these issues are discussed in more 
detail above.
    Based on this information and analysis, we conclude that the 
predator portion of Wyoming does not represent ``a significant portion 
of range.''

Post-Delisting Monitoring

    Section 4(g)(1) of the Act requires us to implement a system in 
cooperation with the States, to monitor for at least 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 primary goal of post-delisting monitoring is to ensure that the 
recovered species does not deteriorate, and if an unanticipated decline 
is detected, to take measures to halt the decline to avoid relisting 
the species as threatened or endangered. If relisting is ever 
warranted, as directed by section 4(g)(2) of the Act, we will make 
prompt use of the Act's emergency listing provisions if we determine 
the wolf faces a significant risk to its well-being.
    Wolves have been monitored in the NRM DPS for over 20 years. The 
NRM region was intensively monitored for wolves even before wolves were 
documented in Montana in the mid-1980s (Weaver 1978; Ream and Mattson 
1982, pp. 379-381; Kaminski and Hansen 1984, p. v). Numerous Federal, 
State, and Tribal agencies, universities, and special interest groups 
assisted in those various efforts. Since 1979, wolves have been 
monitored using standard techniques including collecting, evaluating, 
and following up on suspected observations of wolves or wolf signs by 
natural resource agencies or the public; howling or snow tracking 
surveys conducted by the Service, cooperators, volunteers, and 
interested special interest groups; and by capturing, radio-collaring, 
and monitoring wolves. We only treat wolves and wolf packs as confirmed 
when Federal, State, or Tribal agency verification is made by field 
staff that can reliably identify wolves and wolf signs.
    At the end of the year, we compile agency-confirmed wolf 
observations to estimate the minimum number of and location of adult 
wolves and pups that were likely alive on December 31 of that year. 
These data are then summarized by packs to indicate minimum population 
size, approximate composition, and minimum distribution. This level of 
wildlife monitoring is intensive and provides relatively accurate 
minimum estimates of wolf population distribution and structure 
(Service et al. 2012, Table 1-4, Figure 1-4). The Service Annual 
Reports have documented all aspects of the wolf management program 
including staffing and funding, legal issues, population monitoring, 
livestock conflicts, control to reduce livestock and pet damage, 
research (predator/prey interactions, livestock/wolf conflict 
prevention, disease and health monitoring, publications, etc.) and 
public outreach.
    In Wyoming after delisting, the WGFD, the National Park Service, 
the Service, and the Shoshone and Arapahoe Tribal Fish and Game 
Department will each monitor wolf populations in areas under their 
respective jurisdiction and share information as appropriate. These 
agencies will monitor breeding pairs and total number of wolves in 
Wyoming in order to document their minimum number, distribution, 
reproduction, and mortality. These agencies will continue to use the 
monitoring techniques and strategies that have been used to estimate 
the NRM wolf population for more than 20 years, but may modify these 
techniques through time as new knowledge becomes available and as the 
parties responsible for monitoring gain additional experience at wolf 
management and conservation. Information from these partners will be 
published by WGFD in an annual wolf report. Similar reports have been 
published annually since 1989 by the Service and our partners (Service 
et al. 1989-2012, entire).
    For the post-delisting monitoring period, the best source of that 
information will be the State's annual report or other wolf reports and 
publications. We intend to post the annual State wolf reports on our 
Web site (http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/) by 
around April of each following year. We also intend to annually publish 
an assessment of the status of the wolf population in the NRM DPS 
during the post-delisting monitoring period. This assessment will 
consider the minimum numbers of packs, breeding pairs, and total 
numbers of wolves in mid-winter by State and by recovery area as well 
as any changes in threats. This information will inform whether a 
formal status review is necessary.
    Specifically, the following scenarios will lead us to initiate a 
formal status review to determine if relisting is warranted:
    (1) If the wolf population falls below the minimum recovery level 
of 10 breeding pairs or 100 wolves in Wyoming statewide (including YNP 
and the Wind River Indian Reservation) at the end of any 1 year;
    (2) If the wolf population segment in Wyoming excluding YNP and the 
Wind River Indian Reservation falls below 10 breeding pairs or 100 
wolves at the end of the year for 3 consecutive years;
    (3) If the wolf population in Wyoming falls below 15 breeding pairs 
or 150 wolves, including YNP and the Wind River Indian Reservation, for 
3 consecutive years; or
    (4) If a change in State law or management objectives would 
significantly increase the threat to the wolf population.
    As discussed above in Issue and Response 49, we will also 
conduct a status review if the above standards are routinely not 
achieved--an outcome we do not anticipate.
    Status review or relisting decisions will be based on the best 
scientific and commercial data available. If a formal status review is 
triggered during the post-delisting monitoring period by these triggers 
or the triggers noted for the remainder of the DPS in our 2009 
delisting rule (74 FR 15123, April 2, 2009), the review will evaluate 
the status of the entire NRM DPS to determine if relisting is 
warranted. In the unlikely event such a review is ever necessary, the 
review would attempt to identify why a particular area is not meeting 
its population objectives. For example, if the wolf population in 
Wyoming falls below 15 breeding pairs or 150 wolves including YNP and 
the Wind River Indian Reservation for 3 consecutive years when the 
Wyoming wolf population under State jurisdiction is at least 10 
breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves, the status review would focus 
on factors affecting wolves in YNP and the Wind River Indian 
Reservation. Adaptive management strategies may be recommended in this 
review.
    All such reviews will be made available for public review and 
comment, including peer review by select species experts. If relisting 
is ever warranted, as directed by section 4(g)(2) of the Act, we will 
make prompt use of the Act's emergency listing provisions if necessary 
to prevent a significant risk to the well-being of the NRM DPS. 
Additionally, if any of these scenarios occur during the mandatory 
post-delisting monitoring period of at least 5 years, the post-
delisting monitoring period will be extended 5 additional years from 
that point.

[[Page 55604]]

Effects of the Rule

    Once effective, this rule will remove the protections of the Act 
for all gray wolves in Wyoming. This rulemaking is separate and 
independent from, but additive to, the previous action delisting wolves 
in the remainder of the NRM DPS (all of Idaho, all of Montana, eastern 
Oregon, eastern Washington, and north-central Utah) (74 FR 15123, April 
2, 2009; 76 FR 25590, May 5, 2011). Additionally, once effective, this 
rule will remove the special regulations under section 10(j) of the Act 
designating Wyoming as a nonessential experimental population area for 
gray wolves. These regulations currently are found at 50 CFR 17.84(i) 
and 17.84(n). We are making this rule effective less than 30 days after 
the date of publication. As stated above, this rule removes protective 
regulations pertaining to gray wolves in Wyoming. Therefore, this rule 
is ``a substantive rule which * * * relieves a restriction.'' As set 
forth in 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(1), such a rule may be made effective less 
than 30 days after its publication date.

Required Determinations

Paperwork Reduction Act

    The OMB regulations at 5 CFR 1320 implement provisions of the 
Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.). 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. We 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 contain any collections of information that 
require approval by OMB under the Paperwork Reduction Act. As described 
under the Post-Delisting Monitoring section above, gray wolves in 
Wyoming will be monitored by WGFD, Sovereign Tribal Nations in Wyoming, 
the National Park Service, and the Service. 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 information from 10 or more non-Federal 
individuals, groups, or organizations per year, we will first obtain 
information collection approval from the OMB.

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). This issue 
is also addressed further in Issue and Response 5 above.

Executive Order 13211

    Executive Order 13211 requires agencies to prepare Statements of 
Energy Effects when undertaking certain actions. As this 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 the Department of 
the Interior's manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our 
responsibility to communicate meaningfully with recognized Federal 
Tribes on a government-to-government basis. In accordance with 
Secretarial Order 3206 of June 5, 1997 (American Indian Tribal Rights, 
Federal-Tribal Trust responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act), 
we readily acknowledge our responsibilities to work directly with 
Tribes in developing programs for healthy ecosystems, to acknowledge 
that tribal lands are not subject to the same controls as Federal 
public lands, to remain sensitive to Indian culture, and to make 
information available to Tribes. We have coordinated with the affected 
Tribes on this rule and earlier related rules including offers to 
consult with Native American Tribes and Native American organizations 
in order to both (1) provide them with a complete understanding of the 
changes, and (2) to understand their concerns with those changes. If 
requested, we will conduct additional consultations with Native 
American Tribes and multi-tribal organizations subsequent to this final 
rule in order to facilitate the transition to State and tribal 
management of wolves within Wyoming.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited is available: (1) On the 
Internet at http://www.regulations.gov or http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/ or (2) upon request from the Denver 
Regional Office, Ecological Services Office (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT above).

Authority

    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

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 follows:

PART 17--ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS

0
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; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.


Sec.  17.11  [Amended]

0
2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by removing the entry for ``Wolf, gray 
[Northern Rocky Mountain DPS]'' under MAMMALS in the List of Endangered 
and Threatened Wildlife.


Sec.  17.84  [Amended]

0
3. Amend Sec.  17.84 by removing and reserving paragraphs (i) and (n).

    Dated: August 22, 2012.
Daniel M. Ashe,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-21988 Filed 8-31-12; 4:15 pm]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P