Date of this Version
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (2003).
Gray wolves (Canis lupus) are thriving and expanding in number and distribution in Montana. This is because of natural emigration from Canada and a successful federal effort that reintroduced wolves into Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and the wilderness areas of central Idaho. There are probably more wild wolves in Montana now than at any time in the past 70 years. Since 1974, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has managed wolves in Montana, under the authority of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The biological recovery goal for the northern Rockies wolf population is a total of 30 or more breeding pairs for three years in the states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, with breeding pair being defined as a male and a female that raised at least two pups to December 31. The biological requirements for recovery were met at the end of 2002.
But before USFWS will propose to delist, federal managers must be confident that a secure, viable population of gray wolves will persist if the protections of the ESA are removed. To provide that assurance, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming must develop conservation and management plans and adopt other regulatory mechanisms in state law. Upon review and approval of the state plans, USFWS will propose to delist the gray wolf. Upon delisting, management authority for wolves will return to the state governments where wolves reside.
Purpose and Need for the Proposed Action
USFWS has managed wolves in Montana as endangered or as experimental, nonessential under the authority of ESA. In March 2003 USFWS down listed wolves in the Northwest Montana Recovery Area as threatened. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) proposes to prepare and adopt a wolf conservation and management plan so that management authority can be transferred to the State of Montana because the biological recovery goal has been met. If Idaho, Wyoming and Montana do not develop and adopt conservation and management plans, which in combination must assure the long-term security of wolves in the northern Rockies, USFWS will not delist the gray wolf. In that case, wolves in Montana will continue to be managed by the federal government.
USFWS anticipates the delisting process could begin in 2003 or 2004, if wolf management plans are completed by the three states and pass independent scientific peer review. The State of Montana would adopt a wolf conservation and management plan prior to USFWS’s proposal to delist wolves, but the plan would not be implemented until USFWS officially transfers legal authority to the state. Under Montana statute, FWP is the agency charged with conservation and management of resident wildlife.
FWP recognizes the gray wolf as a native species and is committed to recovery of the species within Montana. The purpose of the plan is to manage wolves consistent with Montana’s own state laws, policies, rules, and regulations. FWP intends to implement positive conservation and management strategies to make sure that all federal requirements are met, recovery is complete, and that wolves are integrated as a valuable part of Montana’s wildlife heritage.
FWP also recognizes that the long-term future of wolves in Montana depends on carefully balancing the complex biological, social, economic, and political aspects of wolf management. FWP will consider the wide spectrum of interests in designing and implementing a flexible program that is responsive and addresses the challenges faced by people directly affected by wolves.