Gray Wolves: Back from the Brink, But Still Recovering

Gray Wolves - Gray Wolf in Winter

Surely the call of the wild is the howl of gray wolves.

The beautiful, gray wolf is rivaled in majesty by few other creatures. With a piercing gaze, massive paws, and cloudy-day coat, it’s no wonder wolves have inspired some of the most beloved characters in American literature and cinema, such as wolfdogs White Fang and Balto. In these timeless stories, both wolfdogs straddled the line between a spirited ancestry and a budding friendship with mankind. In the end, man and beast learned to trust each other and work together.

However, man’s real relationship with the gray wolf has been a bit more tumultuous.

According to biologist L. David Mech, “there was a time when, excluding our own species, the wolf was the most widely distributed land mammal in the world.”1 The number of gray wolves roaming across the 48 contiguous states is believed to have been anywhere from 250,000 to two million before European colonization.2

However, in the 19th century, the government began issuing wolf bounties. The carnivores had started eating livestock and sheep and were considered to a be a dangerous nuisance. However, wolves had started preying on livestock only because their natural prey, like bison and elk, had become depleted by settlers moving into the frontier. Nevertheless, even renowned environmentalist, President Theodore Roosevelt, called the wolf a “beast of waste and desolation.”3

Bounties on wolves were in place as late as 1965, ranging from $20 to $50 per wolf.4
By the time gray wolves were placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, they had been eradicated from every state, save a small part of Minnesota and the Isle Royale National Park in Michigan. Thankfully, once regulated killing had ceased and reintroduction initiatives were put in place, the gray wolves began to bounce back. Today, populations continue to recover in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, and Oregon.5

This is great news – not only because wolves are just awesome—but because they are also vital for biodiversity. Wolves keep deer and elk populations in check, which then benefits other species of plant and animal, thus creating a ripple of effect of good health throughout the ecosystem.6

Although gray wolves are doing better, with about 6,000 wolves now in the lower 48 states, they still only occupy about 10% of their former range, and much of their old habitat is no longer suitable for them7. But in light of the recovery they have made thus far, gray wolves were removed from the Endangered Species Act in October of 2020.8 This decision has been fraught with controversy and is still being hotly contested in courts.9

How many wolves are enough wolves? Well, that’s about like asking how many licks it takes to get to the center of Tootsie Pop.

Policy drama aside, the good news is these grizzled, gray beauties “are actually great candidates for population recovery because they can live anywhere and eat just about anything.  So as long as there’s enough food, the only real barrier to wolf recovery is us.” The hope is that even without federal protection, individual states—and people—will continue to allow wolves to establish populations (especially in light of research that shows these canids pose no more of a threat to livestock than domestic dogs).11

Gray wolves have managed to scrabble back from the brink of extinction, and while they’re still recovering, there’s certainly hope that their presence in North America will continue to grow, their moon-raised voices ever calling us back to the wild.

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Works Cited

Gray Wolves: Back from the Brink, But Still Recovering – Project Endangered Tigers

“America’s Gray Wolves: A Long Road to Recovery,” Center for Biological Diversity, accessed June 25, 2021, https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/gray_wolves/.

“Are Wolves Endangered?” International Wolf Center, accessed June 25, 2021, https://wolf.org/are-wolves-endangered/.

Burns, Jes, “When Have Wolves Made A ‘Recovery?’ Is Depends On Your Definition.” OPB, accessed June 25, 2021, https://www.opb.org/news/article/wolf-recovery-depends-on-your-definition/.

“Gray Wolf (Canis lupus),” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, accessed June 25, 2021, https://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/aboutwolves/biologue.htm.

“Gray Wolf (Canis lupus),” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, accessed June 25, 2021, https://www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery/.

“Gray Wolf,” Defenders of Wildlife, accessed June 25, 2021, https://defenders.org/wildlife/gray-wolf.

Hoffman, Austin D. “A Brief History of Wild Wolves,” Mission: Wolf, accessed June 25, 2021, https://missionwolf.org/wild-wolves/.

Parks, Bradley W. “Gray wolf to get its day in court after removal from endangered species list,” OPB, January 14, 2021, https://www.opb.org/article/2021/01/14/gray-wolves-lawsuit-endangered-species-list/.

 


 

1 Hoffman, Austin D. “A Brief History of Wild Wolves,” Mission: Wolf, accessed June 25, 2021, https://missionwolf.org/wild-wolves/
2 “America’s Gray Wolves: A Long Road to Recovery,” Center for Biological Diversity, accessed June 25, 2021, https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/gray_wolves/.
2 Hoffman, Austin D. “A Brief History of Wild Wolves,” Mission: Wolf, accessed June 25, 2021, https://missionwolf.org/wild-wolves/
4 “Gray Wolf (Canis lupus),” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, accessed June 25, 2021, https://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/aboutwolves/biologue.htm.
5 “America’s Gray Wolves: A Long Road to Recovery,” Center for Biological Diversity, accessed June 25, 2021, https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/gray_wolves/.
6 “Gray Wolf,” Defenders of Wildlife, accessed June 25, 2021, https://defenders.org/wildlife/gray-wolf.
7 “Are Wolves Endangered?” International Wolf Center, accessed June 25, 2021, https://wolf.org/are-wolves-endangered/.
8 “Gray Wolf (Canis lupus),” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, accessed June 25, 2021, https://www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery/.
9 Parks, Bradley W. “Gray wolf to get its day in court after removal from endangered species list,” OPB, January 14, 2021, https://www.opb.org/article/2021/01/14/gray-wolves-lawsuit-endangered-species-list/.
10 Burns, Jes, “When Have Wolves Made A ‘Recovery?’ Is Depends On Your Definition.” OPB, accessed June 25, 2021, https://www.opb.org/news/article/wolf-recovery-depends-on-your-definition/.
11 Hoffman, Austin D. “A Brief History of Wild Wolves,” Mission: Wolf, accessed June 25, 2021, https://missionwolf.org/wild-wolves/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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