America’s Gray Wolves
Few animals evoke the wild like wolves: Majestic, intelligent and highly social, they’re crucial in driving evolution and balancing ecosystems. Wolves once roamed freely throughout North America, in numbers estimated at some 2 million. But federal extermination programs reduced their numbers to the breaking point.
By the 1960s gray wolves were finally protected under what would become the Endangered Species Act. They had been exterminated from all the contiguous United States except for a portion of Minnesota and Isle Royale National Park in Michigan.
Trump is gearing up to strip protection from nearly every wolf in the lower 48.
We’re fighting back with Call of the Wild, a national grassroots campaign to save America’s wolves. Please join us.
A REMARKABLE COMEBACK, BUT A LONG ROAD TO RECOVERY
After receiving federal protection, gray wolves saw tremendous recovery in the western Great Lakes region. Their populations grew and expanded through Wisconsin and Michigan. Through natural migration from Canada and reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, wolves returned to the northern Rockies and are establishing a toehold in the West Coast states. Recovering populations exist in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon, with a few wolves beginning to range into California. In the Southwest Mexican gray wolves have also seen some recovery, but to a lesser degree. Just seven surviving Mexican gray wolves were captured between 1977 and 1980 and bred in captivity. Their progeny were reintroduced into Arizona and New Mexico, but this subspecies of gray wolf continues to struggle in the United States and Mexico.
Despite these substantial gains, the job of wolf recovery is far from over. Wolves need connected populations for genetic sustainability, and natural ecosystems need wolves to maintain a healthy balance of species — yet today wolves occupy less than 10 percent of their historic range and continue to face persecution. The Center has worked to save wolves since our inception, and we continue to defend them through science, the law and with our supporters’ help.
OUR WORK TO SAVE GRAY WOLVES NATIONWIDE
Since the Center's inception, we have campaigned for wolves, adapting our efforts as the opportunities for recovery changed. We have taken the long view, even while addressing short-term threats.
Our legal work led to the 1998 reintroduction of Mexican gray wolves into the Apache and Gila national forests. The Center, founded in the Gila in 1989 and maintaining staff in the reintroduction area to the present day, monitors wolf and habitat management. We have vigorously challenged federal shooting and trapping of Mexican wolves and are pushing for the resumption of wolf releases from captivity to the wild. We’ve petitioned and sued for changes in wolf management, development of a new, science-based Mexican wolf recovery plan, and listing of the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies. We help organize public pressure on agencies and elected officials to provide maximum protection for the beleaguered Mexican wolves.
In the northern Rocky Mountains, the Center was part of several successful lawsuits that delayed the removal of federal protections for wolves from April 2003, when first promulgated by the Bush administration, until May 2011, when protections were finally (though still prematurely) removed through an infamous congressional rider. Our legal efforts helped to allow the wolf population to grow by 1,000 animals during those eight years, from 761 to 1,774. Now that management has been turned over to state wildlife managers, we fight to protect wolves from trophy hunting and other exploitation.
We have also stood up for protection of the growing but still vulnerable population of wolves in the West Coast states of Washington, Oregon and California. In Oregon and Washington, we’re pushing state wildlife-management agencies to protect the recovering populations and use nonlethal methods to address any conflicts with the agriculture industry. In California our petition led to wolves receiving protection under the state Endangered Species Act. Because of the Center's successful state-listing petition, any wolves that disperse to California are now fully protected under state law, and harming, harassing or killing a wolf in California for any reason other than in defense of human life is illegal.
In the Midwest multiple lawsuits filed by the Center and allies have fought back against the feds’ efforts to prematurely remove their protections, allowing continued growth in the wolf population. And we’ve kept the pressure on state wildlife-management agencies dead set on killing wolves, including a challenge to Minnesota's first-ever regulated wolf-hunting season. Even with our successful lawsuits, wolves remain under attack in Congress, where anti-wolf legislators have continued to try to undo court rulings by attaching delisting riders to major federal budget bills. With the help of Center supporters making calls and sending emails to their members of Congress, we’ve been able to stop these efforts to permanently end Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes states.
The year 2019 brought an attack on wolves from the Trump administration, which proposed to remove protections from nearly every gray wolf in the lower 48 states. Our “Call of the Wild” campaign has held rallies and community hearings across the country and sent more than a million comments opposing the plan to strip wolf protections.
Since the original wolf recovery plans were written in the 1980s, we’ve learned much more about wolves’ behavior, ecology and needs. We know, for example, that returning wolves to ecosystems sets off a chain of events that benefits many species, including songbirds and beavers that gain from a return of streamside vegetation — which thrives in the absence of browsing elk that must move more often to avoid wolves — and pronghorn and foxes that are aided by wolves' control of coyote populations.