[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 98 (Tuesday, May 23, 2017)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 23518-23520]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-10551]

Proposed Rules
                                                Federal Register

This section of the FEDERAL REGISTER contains notices to the public of 
the proposed issuance of rules and regulations. The purpose of these 
notices is to give interested persons an opportunity to participate in 
the rule making prior to the adoption of the final rules.


Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 98 / Tuesday, May 23, 2017 / Proposed 

[[Page 23518]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2017-0006; FF04E00000 178 FXES11130400000]
RIN 1018-BB98

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Nonessential 
Experimental Population of Red Wolves (Canis rufus) in North Carolina

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Advance notice of proposed rulemaking; notice of intent to 
prepare a National Environmental Policy Act document.


SUMMARY: This notice advises the public that we, the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service (Service), intend to gather information necessary to 
develop a proposed rule to revise the existing nonessential 
experimental population designation of red wolves (Canis rufus) in 
North Carolina under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended, and prepare a draft environmental review pursuant to 
the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended. The 
Service is furnishing this notice to advise other agencies and the 
public of our intentions; obtain suggestions and information on the 
scope of issues to include in the environmental review; and announce 
public scoping meetings to occur in June 2017.

DATES: Comment submission: Public scoping will begin with the 
publication of this document in the Federal Register and will continue 
through July 24, 2017. We will consider all comments on the scope of 
the draft environmental review that are received or postmarked by that 
date. Comments received or postmarked after that date will be 
considered to the extent practicable.
    Public meetings: We will conduct two public scoping meetings during 
the scoping period. The scoping meetings will provide the public with 
an opportunity to ask questions, discuss issues with Service staff 
regarding the environmental reviews under NEPA, and provide written 
comments. The meetings will be held on the following dates:
     June 6, 2017, 6:30-8:30 p.m. in Swan Quarter, NC; and
     June 8, 2017, 6:30-8:30 p.m. in Manteo, NC.

ADDRESSES: Comment submission: You may submit written comments by one 
of the following methods:
    (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Search for FWS-R4-ES-2017-0006, which is the 
docket number for this action. You may submit a comment by clicking on 
``Comment Now!''
    (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public 
Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2017-0006; Division of Policy, 
Performance, and Management Programs; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-
    We request that you send comments only by the methods described 
above. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This 
generally means that we will post any personal information you provide 
us (see Information Requested below in SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION). To 
increase our efficiency in downloading comments, groups providing mass 
submissions should submit their comments in an Excel file.
    Public meetings: We will hold two public scoping meetings on the 
dates specified above in DATES at the following locations:
     Mattamuskeet High School; 20392 US-264, Swan Quarter, NC 
27885. The meeting will be held in the cafeteria.
     Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge; 100 Conservation 
Way, Manteo, NC 27954. The meeting will be held in the auditorium.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Pete Benjamin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office, 551F Pylon Drive, 
Raleigh, NC 27606, or by telephone 919-856-4520, extension 11. If you 
use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), please call the 
Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.



    The red wolf was originally listed as a species threatened with 
extinction under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 (32 FR 
4001; March 11, 1967). This species is currently listed as an 
endangered species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended 
(Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The demise of the red wolf was directly 
related to human activities, such as drainage of vast wetland areas for 
agricultural purposes; construction of dam projects that inundated 
prime habitat; and predator control efforts at the private, State, and 
Federal levels.
    Historically, the red wolf range included Texas and Louisiana to 
the Ohio River Valley and up the Atlantic Coast into northern 
Pennsylvania or southern New York, and perhaps further north (Wildlife 
Management Institute 2014; for reference, see docket number FWS-R4-ES-
2017-0006 in www.regulations.gov). However, by the mid-1970s, the only 
remaining population occurred in southeastern Texas and southwestern 
Louisiana (Wildlife Management Institute 2014).
    In 1975, it became apparent that the only way to save the red wolf 
from extinction was to capture as many wild animals as possible and 
place them in a secured captive-breeding program. This decision was 
based on the critically low numbers of animals left in the wild, poor 
physical condition of those animals due to disease and internal and 
external parasites, the threat posed by an expanding coyote (Canis 
latrans) population, and consequent inbreeding problems. The Service 
removed the remaining red wolves from the wild and used them to 
establish a breeding program with the objective of restoring the 
species to a portion of its former range. Forty adult red wolves were 
captured from the wild and provided to the established Red Wolf Captive 
Breeding Program with the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, 
Washington. By 1986, the captive-breeding program held 80 red wolves in 
7 facilities and public and private zoos across the United States.
    With the red wolf having been extirpated from its entire historic 
range, the Service took action to reestablish a wild population. In 
1986, a final rule to introduce red wolves into Alligator River 
National Wildlife Refuge

[[Page 23519]]

(Alligator River), Dare County, North Carolina, was published in the 
Federal Register (51 FR 41790, November 19, 1986). Alligator River was 
chosen due to the absence of coyotes, lack of livestock operations, and 
availability of prey species. The red wolf population in Dare County 
(Alligator River) and adjacent Tyrrell, Hyde, and Washington Counties 
were determined to be a nonessential experimental population (NEP) 
under section 10(j) of the Act (a ``10(j) rule''). In 1991, a revision 
to the rule added Beaufort County to the counties where the 
experimental population designation would apply (56 FR 56325, November 
4, 1991). From 1987 through 1992, recovery officials released 42 red 
wolves to establish this NEP. In 1993, the experimental population was 
expanded with reintroductions at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge 
in North Carolina. The 10(j) rule was modified again in 1995 (60 FR 
18940, April 13, 1995). Today, the only population of red wolves in the 
wild is the NEP established around Alligator River in North Carolina. 
All other individuals of this species are found in captive facilities 
around the country.
    The NEP has been closely monitored and managed since the first 
introductions in 1986. Management of this population includes fitting 
animals with radio collars and vaccinating prior to release against 
diseases prevalent in canids. Some management actions involve take, as 
defined under section 3 of the Act, of red wolves including recapture 
of wolves to: Replace transmitter or capture collars; provide routine 
veterinary care; return to the refuge animals that move off Federal 
lands; or return to captivity animals that are a threat to human safety 
or property or severely injured or diseased. In the early 1990s, 
expansion of coyotes into the area of the NEP resulted in interbreeding 
and coyote gene introgression into the wolf population. To reduce 
hybridization, an adaptive management plan was developed that used 
sterilized coyotes as territorial ``placeholders.'' Placeholders do not 
interbreed with red wolves and exclude other coyotes from their 
territories. The placeholder coyotes were eventually replaced by red 
wolves via natural displacement or management actions (i.e., removal).

Proposed Action and Possible Alternatives

    In 2013, acknowledging growing concerns from private landowners 
regarding management of the NEP, the Service and North Carolina 
Resources Commission entered into a broad canid management agreement, 
recognizing steps were needed to improve management of the population. 
Subsequently, the Service contracted an independent evaluation of the 
NEP project in 2014 and of the entire red wolf recovery program in 
2015. From these evaluations, it became clear that the current 
direction and management of the NEP project is unacceptable to the 
Service and all stakeholders.
    As a result of the findings from the evaluations, the Service is 
considering a potential revision of the 1995 NEP final rule. Risks of 
continued hybridization, human-related mortality, continued loss of 
habitat due to sea level rise, and continued population decline are 
high and have led to poor prospects for the NEP. Further, the most 
recent PVA indicates that the viability of the captive population is 
below and declining from the original recovery plan diversity threshold 
of 90 percent and could be enhanced by breeding captive wolves with 
wolves from the NEP project area. Therefore, the Service is considering 
whether the NEP should be managed with the captive population as one 
meta-population, whereby individuals could be moved not only from 
captivity into the wild but also from the wild into captivity. 
Incorporating the NEP into a meta-population with the captive 
population will increase the size of the population and introduce the 
natural selection occurring in the NEP back into the captive 
population. Therefore, the Service is proposing to change the goal of 
the current NEP project from solely that of establishing a self-
sustaining wild population to a goal of also supporting viability of 
the captive wolves of the red wolf breeding program (proposed action). 
Maintaining a wild population fully integrated with the captive wolves 
also will: (1) Allow for animals removed from the wild to support the 
necessary expansion of current and future wild reintroduced populations 
and to improve the genetic health of the captive-breeding program; (2) 
preserve red wolf natural instincts and behavior in the captive 
population gene pool; and (3) provide a population for continued 
research on wild behavior and management.
    The proposed revision would recognize that the size, scope, and 
management of the NEP will be focused on maintaining a wild population 
on Federal lands within Dare County, North Carolina and on protecting 
the species by increasing the number and genetic diversity of wolves in 
captivity. These revisions will allow removal of isolated packs of 
animals from non-Federal lands at the landowners' request, 
incorporation of these animals into the wild/captive metapopulation, 
and better management of the remaining wild animals in accessible areas 
to minimize risks of hybridization. Management of wolves occupying 
Federal lands in Dare County will include population monitoring, animal 
husbandry, and control of coyotes and hybrids.
    The proposed revision would authorize the movement of animals 
between the captive and wild populations in order to increase the 
number of wolves in the captive-breeding program and maintain genetic 
diversity for both captive and wild wolves. This means the captive 
wolves and the NEP will be managed as one single meta-population.
    The draft environmental review under NEPA will consider 
consequences of a range of reasonable alternatives to the proposed 
action. We have identified several management alternatives for the NEP:
    (1) Maintain the NEP project in its current state. In other words, 
we would make no revisions to the current 10(j) rule.
    (2) Publish a rule eliminating the NEP project. Under this 
alternative, the red wolves found in the wild would retain their status 
as a federally listed ``endangered'' species under the Act.
    (3) Revise the existing NEP. We may consider revisions to the 
current 10(j) rule that vary from the proposed action.

Information Requested

Issues Related to the Scope of the NEP

    We seek comments or suggestions from the public, governmental 
agencies, Tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other 
interested parties. To promulgate a proposed rule and prepare a draft 
environmental review pursuant to NEPA, we will take into consideration 
all comments and any additional information received. To ensure that 
any proposed rulemaking to revise the existing NEP effectively 
evaluates all potential issues and impacts, we are seeking comments and 
suggestions on the following for consideration in preparation of a 
proposed revision to the NEP final rule for the red wolf:
    (a) Contribution of the NEP to recovery goals for the red wolf;
    (b) Tools for population management;
    (c) Management strategies to address hybridization with coyotes;
    (d) Appropriate provisions for ``take'' of red wolves; and
    (e) Protocols for red wolves that leave the NEP area, including, 
but not limited to, requests for removal of animals from private lands.

[[Page 23520]]

    The Service will act as the lead Federal agency responsible for 
completion of the environmental review. Therefore, we are seeking 
comments on the identification of direct, indirect, beneficial, and 
adverse effects that might be caused by revising the 10(j) rule for red 
wolves. You may wish to consider the following issues when providing 
    (a) Impacts on floodplains, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers, or 
ecologically sensitive areas;
    (b) Impacts on park lands and cultural or historic resources;
    (c) Impacts on human health and safety;
    (d) Impacts on air, soil, and water;
    (e) Impacts on prime agricultural lands;
    (f) Impacts to other species of wildlife, including other 
endangered or threatened species;
    (g) Disproportionately high and adverse impacts on minority and 
low-income populations;
    (h) Any other potential or socioeconomic effects; and
    (i) Any potential conflicts with other Federal, State, local, or 
Tribal environmental laws or requirements.
    To promulgate a proposed rule and prepare a draft environmental 
review pursuant to NEPA, we will take into consideration all comments 
and any additional information received. Please note that submissions 
merely stating support for or opposition to the proposed action and 
alternatives under consideration, without providing supporting 
information, will be noted but not considered by the Service in making 
a determination. Please consider the following when preparing your 
     Be as succinct as possible.
     Be specific. Comments supported by logic, rationale, and 
citations are more useful than opinions.
     State suggestions and recommendations clearly with an 
expectation of what you would like the Service to do.
     If you propose an additional alternative for 
consideration, please provide supporting rationale and why you believe 
it to be a reasonable alternative that would meet the purpose and need 
for our proposed action.
     If you provide alternate interpretations of science, 
please support your analysis with appropriate citations.
    The alternatives we develop will be analyzed in our draft a draft 
environmental review pursuant to NEPA. We will give separate notice of 
the availability of the draft environmental review for public comment 
when it is completed. We may hold public hearings and informational 
sessions so that interested and affected people may comment and provide 
input into the final decision.
    You may submit your comments and materials by one of the methods 
listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you send comments only by the 
methods described in ADDRESSES.
    If you submit information via http://www.regulations.gov, your 
entire submission--including any personal identifying information--will 
be posted on the Web site. If your submission is made via a hardcopy 
that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the 
top of your document that we withhold this information from public 
review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We 
will post all hardcopy submissions on http://www.regulations.gov.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we use in preparing the proposed rule and draft 
environmental review, will be available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, at Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2017-0006, or by 
appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR 


    The primary authors of this document are the staff members of the 
Red Wolf Recovery Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast 


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 1973 
(16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and the National Environmental Policy Act of 
1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.).

    Dated: February 2, 2017.
James W. Kurth,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2017-10551 Filed 5-22-17; 8:45 am]