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Fish and Wildlife announces first-ever recovery plan for gray wolves; completion expected by 2025

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced the first-ever National Recovery Plan for gray wolves in the lower 48 on the heels of a recent not-warranted finding for two petitions to list the species under the Endangered Species Act.

A gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park. (Agnieszka Bacal/Shutterstock)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Federal wildlife officials are starting down a path to create the first-ever National Recovery Plan for gray wolves in the lower 48 states under the umbrella of the Endangered Species Act. 

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the recovery plan will be developed in a process intended to provide a vision for species recovery connected to site-specific actions for reducing threats and conserving listed species as well as their ecosystems. 

The plan is expected to be completed by the end of 2025 and seeks to address concerns raised during the decades-long debate over wolf management, in which courts have invalidated five out of six rules formerly finalized on gray wolf status, Fish and Wildlife says, adding that the rules were overturned on the premise that wildlife officials, in part, failed to consider how delisting any particular population affects the species’ status and recovery nationwide. 

Per Fish and Wildlife, the plan does not affect the legal status of gray wolves, but it does come on the heels of a not-warranted finding for two petitions to list Northern Rocky Mountain and Western United States gray wolf populations under the ESA. The finding was based on an analysis showing Western United States populations were not at risk of extinction then or in the foreseeable future. 

Gray wolves are listed under the ESA as endangered in 44 states, are threatened in Minnesota, and are under state jurisdiction in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, north-central Utah and portions of Washington and eastern Oregon, where an investigation is underway into the deaths surrounding three wolves discovered in Klamath County, per Fish and Wildlife. 

Based on the latest data from the end of 2022, over 2,700 gray wolves distributed across 286 packs have made their homes in several states in the western United States, Fish and Wildlife says. 

“This population size and widespread distribution contribute to the resiliency and redundancy of wolves in this region,” Fish and Wildlife said in a statement. “The population maintains high genetic diversity and connectivity, further supporting their ability to adapt to future changes.”

According to Fish and Wildlife, facilitating a more durable and holistic approach to wolf recovery must go beyond the ESA, with the service recently announcing a newly unveiled effort to create and foster a national dialogue around how communities can live with gray wolves. 

The discussions are led by a third-party convenor and are intended to help inform Fish and Wildlife policies and future rulemaking about wolves, per the service. 

To date, 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, Fish and Wildlife says. 

“This is important because the federal government’s legal authority alone cannot address the variety of approaches to wolves that generate conflict,” per Fish and Wildlife, which says Montana and Idaho recently adopted laws and regulations designed to substantially reduce the gray wolf populations in their states with methods outside professional wildlife management. 

Fish and Wildlife will continue to work with state and tribal partners to create opportunities to craft enduring solutions that protect wolves and sustain human communities and livelihood, according to a Feb. 2 release.