Are wolves endangered?

The gray wolf in the contiguous 48 United States had long been on the federal government’s list of endangered species, which includes both threatened and endangered populations. In October of 2020, wolves were removed from the Endangered Species Act across the contiguous U.S. In Alaska the gray wolf thrives in such numbers that it is neither threatened nor endangered.

What were the arguments for and against delisting wolves from the ESA? This post aims to answer that question.

Classifying the status of animals is a judgment call. In some cases, the judgment is easy. For example, the California condor population includes only a few remaining members and is clearly endangered. With other species, such as the gray wolf, the situation is far more complex.

Worldwide, wolves once lived everywhere north of about 20 degrees north latitude, a parallel that runs through Mexico City and southern India.

In the 48 contiguous states, wolf populations are scattered. Minnesota supports about 2,655 wolves. This population seems to be increasing in numbers and in distribution. About 1,000 wolves live in Wisconsin and around 600 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Isle Royale holds about 15. With the government-sponsored reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and also into Central Idaho 1995 and 1996, the Greater Yellowstone Area now supports over 1,700 wolves. Wolves are also now in Washington, Oregon and, to a lesser extent, California. In addition, Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced into Arizona and New Mexico in 1998 and the wild population is slowly increasing. There are about 130 Mexican gray wolves in the area now.

How should the gray wolf be classified in the 48 states? People who contend that the currently-used endangered classification is correct, cite the following reasons:

  1. In the contiguous 48 states, the gray wolf currently occupies only about 10 percent of its former range.
  2. Most of the gray wolf’s former habitat in these 48 states is unsuitable for wolves, and probably never will be suitable, due mainly to human encroachment.
  3. Public attitudes toward wolves are mixed, with many residents of the gray wolf’s range holding strong anti-wolf opinions.
  4. The long-term trends in land use suggest that much of the current or potential wolf range will continue to be developed and, thus, rendered unsuitable for wolves, even in Minnesota.
  5. It was only after gray wolves were given protection by the Endangered Species Act that wolf populations in the United States began to increase.

Opponents of the endangered species classification for the gray wolf in the contiguous 48 states counter with these arguments:

  1. Over 4,000 gray wolves live in the Great Lakes Area, where their numbers are stable.
  2. Even if all the gray wolves were exterminated from the 48 contiguous states, Alaska, Canada and several other nations support viable populations.
  3. Inclusion of gray wolves on the Endangered Species List precludes public harvesting of gray wolves and, thus, costs the government control program over $200,000 per year to control gray wolves and the MN Department of Agriculture spends over $75,000 per year compensating farmers for verified wolf damage to livestock. Money might be saved if gray wolves could be legally hunted and trapped.
  4. Endangered species money spent on gray wolves could be used to help save other, more endangered species.

The debate and controversy about the gray wolf continues to rage among knowledgeable people on both sides of the issue. What do you think?