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Center for Biological Diversity:
Restoring the Gray Wolf 

Mongabay, January 28, 2014

Over 2,500 wolves killed in U.S.'s lower 48 since 2011
By Jeremy Hance

Hunters and trappers have killed 2,567 gray wolves in the U.S.'s lower 48 states since 2011, according to recent data. Gray wolves (Canis lupus) were protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for nearly 40 years before being stripped of their protection status by a legislative rider in 2011. Last year total wolf populations were estimated at over 6,000 in the region. 

However, wolf advocates say the high numbers of wolves killed means that U.S. states are incapable of adequately protecting the country's wolves. 

"If this senseless slaughter doesn’t convince the Obama administration we need to reverse course on plans to drop wolf protections, the bloodbath will go on," said Amaroq Weiss with the Center for Biological Diversity. "States are making it very clear that they have no interest in managing wolf populations in a sustainable way." 

Gray wolves were almost entirely exterminated from the lower 48 states during the 19th Century when they were targeted as pests and competitors, but clung on in northern Minnesota. Their comeback began in 1978 when the U.S. Federal Government listed wolves as a protected species under the ESA. Since then Minnesota's wolf populations have expanded across to nearby Wisconsin and Michigan. Meanwhile, in the late 1990s, wolves returned to the U.S. Rocky Mountains via migrating populations out of Canada and reintroduction efforts in Yellowstone National Park. Since then the wolf has spread to Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming--all of which currently allow hunting. In more recent years, wolves have also expanded into Washington, Oregon, and California, though none of these states currently allow hunting. 

According to recent data, 912 wolves have been killed over the past two years in Idaho, 566 in Montana, 562 in Minnesota, 374 in Wisconsin, 130 in Wyoming, and 23 in Michigan, which recently closed its first wolf-hunting season. Minnesota has the most wolves of any state in the lower 48, but has seen the population drop dramatically in the past couple years. 

Since their rebound, wolves have garnered a lot of political enemies. They have been blamed widely for livestock kills, although many states have reimbursement programs and in some places livestock kills actually decreased due to less coyote presence since they were intimidated by the new kings on the block. The large canids have also been blamed for elk predation, which many hunters see as solely their purview. Views of wolves as savage, ruthless, and even dangerous have also reemerged, despite little evidence that healthy wolves pose much risk to people. 

Despite such prejudices, decades of research has shown that wolves, and other apex predators, are actually vital to thriving, biodiverse ecosystems. Wolves exert ecological influence by checking elk and deer populations as well as confining these populations to certain areas. For example, scientists studying the impact of reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone National Park found that new forests began to spring up after elks, which no longer felt free to roam and browse at will, took to more mature forests. The new forests brought greater biodiversity and ecosystem services. For example, new trees meant the return of another ecological standout: the beaver. Wolves also help maintain and control populations of meso-predators, such as coyotes. 

Last year, the U.S. Department of Interior proposed delisting wolves entirely from the ESA across the lower 48, except for a small population of Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi), a distinct subspecies. Worldwide, gray wolves are currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List and their population is considered stable. 


This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton