Grey wolves were systematically eradicated in the lower 48 states following state wolf bounties and governmental extermination programs (including in Yellowstone National Park). By the 1960′s, wolves were confined to northeastern Minnesota and Isle Royale National Park, a small Michigan island in Lake Superior.
In the United States, grey wolves are currently listed and protected as an endangered species. In 1995 and 1996, wolves trapped in Canada were reintroduced to Yellowstone and Idaho in an attempt to restore wolves to parts of their historic range. Under federal protection, the wolf populations began to flourish. Visible shifts to wolf-inhabited ecosystems followed, studied mainly in Yellowstone, and emphasized the importance of restoring wolves to the american wilderness.
Since 1978 when grey wolves gained protection under the Endangered Species Act, wolf subspecies and populations have been divided and re-divided into ‘experimental populations’ and ‘distinct population segments’. This implicated different management schemes and protection status changes over the last several decades. The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the delisting of certain populations several times. In certain states, and wolf management was temporarily turned over to state wildlife agencies with approved management plans . State-controlled hunting and trapping seasons, lethal control following livestock depredation, and unknown levels of poaching coupled with widespread public misunderstanding exerted pressure on these newly restored wolf populations. Consequently, in late 2014, wolves in were returned to protected status in most of the states where state agencies had briefly managed wolves.
Moreover, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to delist wolves at the federal level in 2013. An independent scientific panel concluded that the request was not based on best available science and opposed the delisting. The issue is still pending.
Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) are an endangered subspecies of the grey wolf native to southwestern states and Mexico. Like red wolves, they will remain on the endangered species list even if grey wolves are delisted. There are less than 100 Mexican wolves in the wild, following the release of captive bred animals from a recovery initiative in 1998. They currently inhabit Arizona and New Mexico. To learn more about Mexican wolves, visit the Endangered Wolf Center’s page on Mexican wolves here.
The red wolf (Canis rufus) is listed as an endangered species. In 1980, they were designated a separate species from grey wolves as well as extinct in the wild. Currently there are only approximately 100 wild red wolves, and these wolves were released in North Carolina from a captive bred population. Red wolves will remain on the endangered species list if grey wolves are federally delisted in the United States. Click here to learn more about red wolves.
Eastern wolves are not unanimously considered a unique species by scientists and policy-makers in the United States. Eastern wolves may have lived in northeastern states prior to wolves being exterminated in much of the USA, alone or alongside grey wolves and/or red wolves. To learn more about eastern wolves in the USA, please visit the Northeast Wolf Coalition.