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Are Wolves Endangered?

The wolf in the contiguous 48 United States has been placed on the federal government's list of endangered species, which includes both threatened (it may become endangered) and endangered (a species, subspecies or population in danger of extinction) populations. In Minnesota, the wolf is considered by the federal government to be threatened, whereas elsewhere in the 48 states it is considered fully endangered.

Classifying the status of animals is a judgment call. In some cases, the judgment is easy. For example, with California condors, of which there are fewer than a dozen, there is not a question but that they are endangered. With other species, the problem is far more complex. The wolf fits into this category.

Worldwide, wolves were once distributed everywhere north of about 20 degrees N. latitude which runs through Mexico City and southern India. However, they have been exterminated over perhaps half of their former range. In many countries, the wolf has long been gone. However, there are still some 50,000 wolves in Eurasia, and about 50,000 in Canada, and about 4,000-6,000 in Alaska. Mexico has less than a dozen.

In the 48 contiguous states, Minnesota supports a population of 1,550 to 1,750, and as of 1992, wolves seem to be increasing both in their numbers and distribution. There are 40-50 wolves in Wisconsin and 6-10 in mainland Michigan. Isle Royale has 12 (spring 1992). Montana supports about 30 wolves, and Idaho, perhaps a half dozen. The state of Washington currently has a few known breeding packs, which were discovered in 1990.

So, how should the wolf be classified in the 48 states? People saying the present classification is correct cite the following:

  1. In the the 48 states, the wolf currently occupies only about 3% of its former range.
  2. Most of the wolf's former habitat in the 48 states is unsuitable for wolves and probably never will be suitable.
  3. Public attitudes toward wolves are mixed, with many residents of wolf range being strongly anti-wolf.
  4. The long-term trend in land use is such that most current or potential wolf range will continue to be developed and thus rendered unsuitable, even in Minnesota.
  5. It was only after given protection by the Endangered Species Act that wolf populations in the U.S. began to increase.

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

  1. There are over 1,500 wolves in Minnesota alone, and their numbers are stable or increasing.
  2. Even if all the wolves were exterminated from the 48 contiguous states, there are plenty in Canada and Alaska and elsewhere.
  3. Inclusion of wolves on the Endangered Species list precludes public havesting of wolves and thus cost the government control program over $100,000 per year to minimize wolf damage to livestock. Some of this money might be saved if wolves could be legally hunted and trapped.
  4. Endangered Species money spent on wolves could be used to help save other, less charismatic endangered species.

So on and on the debate and controversy about the wolf continues to rage, with knowledgeable people on both sides of the issue.

What do you think?


(760) 248-7818

Wolf Mountain Sanctuary
A Non-Profit 501.C.3 Organization
PO Box 385
Lucerne Valley, CA 92356

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