THE U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed June 7 to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the list of threatened and endangered species.
The agency said the proposal comes after a comprehensive review confirmed the successful recovery of wolf populations resulting from management actions undertaken by federal, state and local partners following the wolf's listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) more than three decades ago.
In the western Great Lakes and northern Rocky Mountains, the gray wolf has rebounded from the brink of extinction to exceed population targets by as much as 300%. Gray wolf populations in the northern Rocky Mountain district and western Great Lakes population segments were removed from the "Federal List of Endangered & Threatened Wildlife" in 2011 and 2012.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA) and Public Lands Council (PLC) expressed support for the action. NCBA president and Wyoming rancher Scott George said, unlike most other species listed under ESA, wolves pose a serious threat to wildlife, humans and private property, especially livestock.
"It's time to turn management over to the states," George said. "Wolf depredation of livestock is increasing to untenable levels in areas where wolves are still protected. We were given relief in Wyoming when it was finally delisted here. It's only fair to allow all producers across the country that same relief."
FWS is also proposing to maintain protection and expand recovery efforts for the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) in the Southwest, where it remains endangered.
NCBA and PLC said Mexican wolves should also be delisted. PLC president Brice Lee, a rancher from Colorado, said wolves in the Southwest have recovered and do not warrant federal protection.
"The wolf population in Arizona and New Mexico has almost doubled in the last three years, thanks to the work of the state fish and game departments," Lee said. "We feel that, at a certain point, it's possible to over-study and over-capture these animals. It's time to stop with these government studies and allow them be truly wild, while the state departments continue their successful management."
The groups said FWS doesn't have the resources to continue managing the wolf as an endangered species. Lee said studies have shown that for every confirmed kill of livestock by a wolf, seven to eight go unconfirmed.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) added that, absent the delisting of the species, land managers and property owners "are handcuffed in their ability to encourage healthy wildlife populations and care for livestock herds."
She added that wolves no longer warrant federal protection.
"State wildlife officials have their hands tied anytime wolves are involved, and by delisting wolves, we will lift the federal burden of a bureaucratic system that doesn't work for our states. Wolf management decisions should be made at the state, not the federal, level," Heitkamp said.
FWS will open a 90-day comment period on both the gray wolf and Mexican wolf proposals seeking additional scientific, commercial and technical information from the public and other interested parties. The comment period will commence upon publication of the proposed rules in the Federal Register.
Relevant information received during this comment period will be reviewed and addressed in the service's final determination on these proposals, which will be made in 2014. FWS must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, within 45 days of publication in the Federal Register.
More details are available on the FWS wolf information page at www.fws.gov/graywolfrecovery062013.html.