WASHINGTON — Recognizing that the national discussion around gray wolf management must look more comprehensively at conservation tools available to federal, state and Tribal governments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced a path to support a long term and durable approach to the conservation of gray wolves, to include a process to develop – for the first time – a National Recovery Plan under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for gray wolves in the lower 48 states. Today’s announcement does not make any changes to the legal status of gray wolves in the United States.
After an extensive peer-reviewed assessment using the best available science, the Service today announced a not warranted finding for two petitions to list gray wolves under the ESA in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Western United States. This finding is not action-forcing; the legal status of gray wolves does not change as a result of this finding.
The Service conducted a comprehensive analysis using robust modeling that incorporated the best available data from federal, state and Tribal sources, academic institutions and the public. The model assessed various threats, including human-caused mortality, existing regulatory mechanisms, and disease. The analysis indicates that wolves are not at risk of extinction in the Western United States now or in the foreseeable future.
Gray wolves are listed under the ESA as endangered in 44 states, threatened in Minnesota, and under state jurisdiction in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and portions of eastern Oregon and Washington. Based on the latest data as of the end of 2022, there were approximately 2,797 wolves distributed across at least 286 packs in seven states in the Western United States. This population size and widespread distribution contribute to the resiliency and redundancy of wolves in this region. The population maintains high genetic diversity and connectivity, further supporting their ability to adapt to future changes.
Next Steps in Gray Wolf Management
In a February 2022 op-ed, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland wrote: “I am committed to ensuring that wolves have the conservation they need to survive and thrive in the wild based on science and law… It is critical that we all recognize that our nation’s wolf populations are integral to the health of fragile ecosystems and hold significant cultural importance in our shared heritage.”
Debate over the management of wolves has included more than two decades of legislation, litigation and rulemaking. Wolf recovery to date has been construed around specific legal questions or science-driven exercises about predicted wolf population status. Courts have invalidated five out of six rules finalized by the Service on gray wolf status, citing at least in part a failure to consider how delisting any particular population of gray wolves affects their status and recovery nationwide.
To accomplish this and address the concern about nationwide recovery for gray wolves, the Service will undertake a process to develop a first-ever nationwide gray wolf recovery plan by December 12, 2025. Recovery plans provide a vision for species recovery that is connected to site-specific actions for reducing threats and conserving listed species and their ecosystems.
Facilitating a more durable and holistic approach to wolf recovery must go beyond the ESA. The Service also recently announced a new effort to create and foster a national dialogue around how communities can live with gray wolves to include conflict prevention, long-term stability and community security. These discussions, led by a third-party convenor, will help inform the Service’s policies and future rulemaking about wolves, and include those who live with wolves and those who do not but want to know they have a place on the landscape.
States and Tribes have been important partners in managing gray wolves and will remain integral to their long-term conservation and acceptance on the landscape. This is important because the federal government’s legal authority alone cannot address the variety of approaches to wolves that generate conflict. The states of Montana and Idaho recently adopted laws and regulations designed to substantially reduce the gray wolf populations in their states using means and measures that are at odds with modern professional wildlife management. The steps the Service is outlining today include continued work with state and Tribal partners, including nation-to-nation consultation, to create opportunities to craft enduring solutions that protect wolves and sustain human communities and livelihood.
More information is available on the Service’s website including the 12-month finding, Species Status Assessment, Species Assessment Form, and Frequently Asked Questions. The finding will be available in the coming days in the Federal Register at https://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-HQ-ES-2021-0106.
For additional updates, visit the gray wolf web page online.