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Feds Move To Delist Gray Wolf Under ESA, Mexican Wolf Remains ProtectedFeds Move To Delist Gray Wolf Under ESA, Mexican Wolf Remains Protected

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to remove the gray wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). But it has opted to leave the Mexican wolf protected, drawing protests from cattlemen.

Burt Rutherford

June 10, 2013

6 Min Read
Feds Move To Delist Gray Wolf Under ESA, Mexican Wolf Remains Protected

If you listen closely in portions of the country, you’ll hear two different kinds of howls—one from wolves, which the federal government has aggressively and successfully brought back into the ecosystem. The other is from a cadre of western lands users, including ranchers and sportsmen, who weren’t too sure that bringing wolves back into the biological picture was a good idea.

With recent wolfish developments now on the table, howls from the four-legged sector will continue, as will those from ranchers and sportsmen. But given the reality that wolves are now and will continue to be a part of the rural landscape, the human howling is more about who and how to manage the predators.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Friday, June 7 proposed to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the list of threatened and endangered species. The proposal comes after a comprehensive review confirmed its successful recovery following management actions undertaken by federal, state and local partners following the wolf’s listing under the Endangered Species Act over three decades ago. 

However, FWS is also proposing to maintain protection and expand recovery efforts for the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) in the Southwest, where they say it remains endangered.


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Under the proposal, state wildlife management agency professionals would resume responsibility for management and protection of gray wolves in states where wolves occur. The proposed rule is based on the best science available and incorporates new information about the gray wolf’s current and historical distribution in the contiguous U.S. and Mexico. It focuses the protection on the Mexican wolf, the only remaining entity that warrants protection under the Act, by designating the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies.

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 Western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segments were removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 2011 and 2012.

Cattlemen agree, sort of

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC) expressed support for the proposal to remove the gray wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species. The livestock associations added, however, that Mexican wolves in the Southwest should also be delisted.

The wolf has far surpassed FWS recovery goals across the country, according to NCBA President and Wyoming rancher, Scott George. He added that, unlike most other species listed under the ESA, wolves pose a serious threat to wildlife, humans and private property, especially livestock.

“It’s time to turn management over to the states,” said George. “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.”

PLC President Brice Lee, a rancher from Colorado, said that wolves in the Southwest have also 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.”

Lee stated that the FWS does not have the resources to continue managing the wolf as endangered, let alone compensate ranchers for their losses. Studies have shown, he said, that for every confirmed kill of livestock there are seven to eight that go unconfirmed.

“We appreciate FWS’ recognition that the gray wolf is recovered,” George stated. “But it’s also time to end the unwarranted listing of Mexican wolf. Wolf depredation threatens ranchers’ livelihoods and rural communities, as well as the economies relying on a profitable agricultural industry.”

Successful recovery

“From the moment a species requires the protection of the Endangered Species Act, our goal is to work with our partners to address the threats it faces and ensure its recovery,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “An exhaustive review of the latest scientific and taxonomic information shows that we have accomplished that goal with the gray wolf, allowing us to focus our work under the ESA on recovery of the Mexican wolf subspecies in the Southwest.”

The Service will open a 90-day comment period on both 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. The Service must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, within 45 days of the publication in the Federal Register. Information on how to provide comments will be made available in the Federal Register notices and on the Service’s wolf information page at www.fws.gov/graywolfrecovery062013.html.

The Service’s proposal is supported by governors and state wildlife agency leadership in each of the states with current wolf populations, as well as those that will assume responsibility for managing wolves dispersing into their states, such as Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and North Dakota.

In 2002 the Northern Rocky Mountain population exceeded the minimum recovery goals of 300 wolves for a third straight year, and they were successfully delisted in the Northern Rocky Mountains in 2012 and Western Great Lakes in 2011. Today, there are at least 6,100 gray wolves in the contiguous United States, with a current estimate of 1,674 in the Northern Rocky Mountains and 4,432 in the Western Great Lakes.

The number of Mexican wolves continues to increase within the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. During the 2012 annual year-end survey, the Mexican wolf Interagency Field Team counted a minimum of 75 Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, an increase over the 2011 minimum population count of 58 wolves known to exist in the wild.

In addition to listing the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies, the Service proposes to modify existing regulations governing the nonessential experimental population to allow captive raised wolves to be released throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in the Apache and Gila National Forests east central Arizona and west central New Mexico, and to disperse into the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area in the areas of Arizona and New Mexico located between I-40 and I-10.

Read what supporters of the Service proposal are saying at www.fws.gov/whatpeoplearesaying062013.html.

For more information on gray and Mexican wolves, including the proposed rules, visit www.fws.gov/graywolfrecovery062013.html.


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About the Author(s)

Burt Rutherford

Senior Editor, BEEF Magazine

Burt Rutherford is director of content and senior editor of BEEF. He has nearly 40 years’ experience communicating about the beef industry. A Colorado native and graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in agricultural journalism, he now works from his home base in Colorado. He worked as communications director for the North American Limousin Foundation and editor of the Western Livestock Journal before spending 21 years as communications director for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association. He works to keep BEEF readers informed of trends and production practices to bolster the bottom line.

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