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Gray wolf (Eastern DPS)

The eastern gray wolf (Canis lupis pop.), previously considered a distinct population segment, once occurred throughout most of the region between Georgia and Maine, and between the Atlantic and the Great Plains [1]. Today eastern gray wolves are found only in the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota [2]. They remain extirpated from the rest of the eastern United States [2]. Gray wolves in the conterminous states are listed as endangered, except in Minnesota where the gray wolf is listed as threatened [1].

Because wolves were blamed for livestock losses, gray wolves were relentlessly hunted and targeted by predator eradication programs through the early 20th century [2]. Bounty programs initiated in the 19th Century continued through as late as 1965 [2]. As a result of this persecution, the gray wolf was driven to near extinction. The eastern gray wolf population was the only wild population to survive these eradication attempts [2]. In 1974, when the gray wolf became one of the first species listed under the 1973 Endangered Species Act, it was found in the wild only in extreme northeastern Minnesota where a few hundred wolves remained and on Isle Royal, Michigan where there were a small number left [2]. Today, the total Great Lakes population has increased to around 3,880 wolves [3].

Minnesota: Prior to listing, gray wolf numbers in Minnesota were estimated at between 500 and 1,000 individuals [4]. By 1978, numbers appeared to have increased slightly and the USFWS proposed downlisting the Minnesota gray wolf to “threatened” so that “problem” wolves could be killed [5]. A 1988-89 winter survey produced an estimate of 1,500 to 1,750 wolves and in 1998, surveys estimated that there were over 2,400 individual wolves in Minnesota [4]. Since late winter 2004-05, there have been roughly 3,000 gray wolves (485 packs) in Minnesota [6]. In addition, over the last three decades, wolves have increased their range in the north-central and central parts of Minnesota [4].

Wisconsin: From 1960 to 1975 there were no breeding wolves in Wisconsin [4]. As populations in Minnesota expanded after listing however, wolves apparently dispersed into the state. In 1980, 25 wolves inhabited Wisconsin; by 1995 the number had increased to 83 wolves comprising 18 packs, and by 2004 there were 373 wolves comprising 109 packs [4]. As of early 2005, there were about 425 gray wolves in Wisconsin [6], and now there are about 700.

Michigan: In 1995, 80 wolves were counted in Michigan, up from a small number of individuals found on Isle Royale and none on the mainland at the time of listing [4]. By 2000, this number had increased to 216 [4], and as of late winter 2004-05, there were roughly 435 gray wolves in the state: 405 (87 packs) on the Upper Peninsula and 30 (3 packs) on the Isle Royale [6]. Now there are approximately 700 wolves in the state.

[1] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2005. Oregon District Court Rules Against Gray Wolf Reclassification. Website <http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/esa-status/or-court-rule.htm> accessed 3/2006.
[2] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2004. Gray Wolf (Canis lupis) Biologue, updated May, 2004. Available at <http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/biology/biologue.htm>.
[3] International Wolf Center. 2005. Gray Wolf Population Trends in the Contiguous United States. Updated September, 2005. (www.wolf.org)
[4] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2004. Gray Wolf Recovery in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Available at <http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/recovery/r3wolfct.htm>.
[5] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1978. Reclassification of the Gray Wolf in the United States and Mexico, with Determination of Critical Habitat in Michigan and Minnesota. Federal Register (43:9607-9615).
[6] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2005. Questions and Answers about gray wolf recovery in North America. Website <http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/recovery/namerica.htm> accessed 3/2006.

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