Questions and Answers about
Gray Wolves in North America


What is the historical range of the gray wolf in the contiguous United States?
Before the arrival of European settlers, wolves ranged widely across the continent, from coast to coast and from Canada into Mexico. Two species were found in North America: the gray wolf lived throughout most of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and the red wolf lived only in the southeastern United States.

What are the current population designations of the gray wolf in the United States?
The Fish and Wildlife Service currently manages the recovery of three distinct populations of gray wolf by addressing 3 recovery units (The Eastern, Northern Rocky Mountain, and Mexican gray wolf). The Eastern gray wolf population is centered in the western Great Lake States of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The population boundary of the Eastern gray wolf also stretches through virtually the entire East, however, wolf recovery is not considered feasible in most portions of this densely populated area. The Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population consists of two re-introduced populations of wolves in Wyoming (Yellowstone) and Idaho, and naturally-occurring wolves in Montana, and Northern Idaho and individuals in the North Cascades Mountains of Washington. The potential recovery boundary also includes Oregon, Washington, Utah, and Colorado. The Mexican gray wolf population, which was recently re-introduced into Arizona, includes most of southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico and west Texas within its potential recovery boundary. The Service is also considering the recovery potential of additional populations in the northeastern states that could include New York and Maine, and possibly Vermont and New Hampshire, as well the re-introduction of wolves to the Olympic Peninsula of Western Washington.

How many wild wolves are there currently in individual states?

Eastern Gray Wolf
Michigan - Upper Peninsula 140; Isle Royale 14
Minnesota over 2000
Wisconsin 180

Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf
Northwest Montana 75

Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf - Experimental Populations
Central Idaho 75
Yellowstone (Idaho/Wyoming Montana) 85

Mexican Gray Wolf - Experimental Population
Arizona 11 - released; 7 - current (6/98)

How are population estimates made for wolves?
Biologists monitor wolves and make population estimates using a combination of techniques. The primary methods are radio-telemetry, surveys for sign (tracks, scat, and snow urinations), and incidental observations. With radio telemetry, biologists attach a radio-signal transmitting collar to at least one individual in a pack. That wolf is subsequently located from an airplane or by a ground station; the number of wolves that are traveling with it are counted, and the pack's territory can be accurately mapped.

Because of the expense, it is not feasible to radio-collar a wolf in every pack, so population trend surveys are also conducted. Trend surveys are based on ground and aerial tracking for sign in snow; counting visits to scent stations; counting packs by simulating howling to get a response; interviewing hunters, trappers, and resource professionals; and studying and mapping trends in livestock depredations.

Because of the size and expanding distribution of the Minnesota population, the Minnesota DNR uses these techniques and a population model. Their population model used the 1988-89 survey results, new estimates of wolf range, recruitment, and mortality and provided the 1996 estimate of 2,000 to 2,200 wolves state-wide.

What is the status of wolf recovery for the Eastern gray wolf, the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf, and the Mexican gray wolf?
Naturally-occurring, wild gray wolf populations are found currently in the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and also in northwestern Montana and Northern Idaho. Reintroduced experimental populations occur in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Arizona.

The Service has reintroduced wolves into areas with the greatest potential to sustain wild wolves. The overall goal of Service recovery programs is to recover gray wolves to the extent that they are no longer threatened with extinction in the lower 48 States. Because of high human population densities in many states, particularly in the East, some states that historically supported wolf populations are no longer suitable for wolf recovery.

Eastern Gray Wolf

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates the state wolf population at greater than 2,000. That agency is currently repeating an extensive wolf survey that was conducted in 1989. The State is also developing a state wolf management plan that will dictate how the wolf will be managed in Minnesota if and when the wolf is delisted.

After extirpation, wolves re-established themselves in Wisconsin during the late 1970's as a result of wolves dispersing from Minnesota. The Wisconsin DNR has monitored the wolf population since 1979. During the mid-1980's wolf numbers in Wisconsin declined due to an epidemic of canine parvo virus. An experimental vaccine was developed, but it was never administered to wild wolves because the population apparently developed some degree of natural immunity. Wisconsin DNR has provided wolf population estimates (late winter counts) annually for 1995 through 1998. Counts of 83, 99, 148, and 180 wolves have been recorded comprising 18, 28, 32, and 47 packs, respectively. The Wisconsin DNR is preparing a state management plan for the wolf.

As wolves began re-establishing themselves in northern Wisconsin, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources began reporting single wolf occurrences at various locations in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In the late 1980's a wolf pair was verified and these wolves produced pups in 1991. Since that time wolf packs spread throughout the Upper Peninsula, with immigration from both Wisconsin and Ontario. The Michigan DNR annually monitors the wolf population and estimates that 80, 116, 112, and 140 wolves occurred in the Upper Peninsula during late winter counts in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998, respectively. The Michigan DNR completed a state wolf management plan that recommends maintaining an Upper Peninsula wolf population of at least 200 animals.

Isle Royale, also a part of Michigan, has had an isolated population of gray wolves for about 50 years. Wolves are believed to have walked across frozen Lake Superior to the island from the Canadian shoreline in the winter of 1948-49. Since then, their numbers have fluctuated greatly due to a variety of factors, such as disease, the availability of moose, their chief prey on the island, and possibly a high degree of inbreeding. Their numbers peaked at 50 in 1980 and had fallen to a low of 11 in 1982. In the late winter of 1997-98 there were 14 wolves on Isle Royale. Due to the isolated nature and small size of the population, it is not considered to be numerically significant to the recovery of the gray wolf.

The 1992 Recovery Plan for the eastern timberwolf (=eastern gray wolf) identified the Adirondack Park in upstate New York and two areas in New England as "areas with re-establishment possibilities." However, barriers such as the St. Lawrence River , separate Canadian wolf populations further north from suitable habitat in the northeastern states (Maine and New York) so that natural recolonization is unlikely. Defenders of Wildlife, a private conservation organization, has started an investigation of the biological potential and societal acceptance of restoring wolves to New York. Public opinion surveys are also on-going in Maine.

Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolves

Wolves are naturally recovering in northwestern Montana where there are about 75 wolves. Those wolves re-established themselves after natural emigration from Canada into Montana. There is also evidence of re-colonization of Northern Idaho and individual wolves in the North Cascades Mountain of Washington emigrating from Canada.

Additionally, wild-trapped Canadian gray wolves were first released as an experimental population in Yellowstone National Park and in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area in Idaho in 1995 and have done very well. Family groups of wolves were released in Yellowstone and individuals were released in central Idaho. An estimated 85 wolves now live in the Yellowstone area and about 75 wolves in central Idaho.

Mexican Gray Wolves

A captive breeding program has been established with 39 captive breeding facilities in the United States and Mexico contributing to recovery. Eleven wolves were transferred to remote sites in Apache National Forest beginning in January 1998. After undergoing acclimation in large enclosures for several weeks, the wolves were released in late March to disperse in a 7,000-square-mile recovery area. That area includes the Apache and Gila National Forests in Arizona and New Mexico. In early May one male wolf was shot and killed by a camper. The wolf's mate and two young females that dispersed from their packs have been returned to captivity. Seven Mexican wolves remain in the wild and more releases are planned.

What is happening with the idea of restoring gray wolves to the northeastern US?
The Northern Forest Ecosystem, a 26 million acre forested area from the Adirondack Mountains of New York east through most of Maine, contains suitable gray wolf habitat and lies within the historical range of the gray wolf. Although two animals believed to be wolves were found in Maine during the 1990's, no breeding wolf population is known to occur there today. Suitable wolf habitat exists in Maine and possibly in Adirondack Park in New York. A suitable donor population for re-stocking wolves in the northeast may exist in eastern Canada. Significant progress by private conservation groups have helped to develop interest in wolf recovery in those areas. This private effort includes a habitat suitability study that is assessing the feasibility of establishing a viable wolf population in the Northeast. The Service is considering options for a recovery strategy in that area, including the protection of naturally-occurring wolves that migrate from Canada.

What is happening with the idea of reintroducing wolves to the Olympic Peninsula?
The Service has been asked to consider the feasibility of reintroducing wolves to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Wolves were native to the area but were extirpated by the 1930's. Currently the Service, in cooperation with state, federal and tribal agencies in the area, is conducting scientific studies of the area to determine the feasibility of such an action.

What is the extent of wolf depredation*?

Michigan (1991 thru May 1998): 4 calves, 1 dog.

Wisconsin (1991 thru May 1998): 29 calves killed (plus 1 injured), 9 sheep, 140 turkeys, 2 chickens, and 19 dogs (plus 6 injured).

Minnesota (1991 thru 1997): 467 cattle, 6 horses, 3 pigs, 177 sheep, 4 goats, 7 geese, 2 ducks, 30 chickens, 4749 turkeys, 59 dogs and $242,040 in compensation paid.

Northwest Montana (1987 thru May 1998): 55 cattle, 42 sheep, 5 dogs and $30,820 paid.

Idaho (1995 thru May 1998): 5 cattle, 53 sheep, 4 dogs and $8,946 paid.

Yellowstone area (1995 thru May 1998): 6 cattle, 80 sheep, 4 dogs and $17,719 paid.

Arizona (1998): 1 miniature horse (attacked but not killed), 1 dog and $267 paid.

* For perspective to total livestock losses, the following information was taken from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Agricultural Statistics Board, U.S. Department of Agriculture:

- Approximately 4.3 million cattle and calves died from all causes in 1995.

- 4.2 million head were lost to weather, health, theft, poison, and other causes

- All predators accounted for 117,400 cattle or 2.7 percent of the total lost (most by coyote).

- Approximately 370,000 sheep and lambs were lost to predators or 40 percent of all losses (most by coyote).

- About 60 percent of all sheep and lamb losses were due to weather, health, theft and other causes.

Why are wolves killed to protect livestock when the species is endangered?
In Minnesota, the 1978 reclassification of the wolf from endangered to threatened allowed the publication of a special rule (under Section 4(d) of the Act) that allows lethal control of depredating wolves by authorized government trappers. In Wisconsin and Michigan, where wolves are listed as endangered, lethal control is not used. The wolves re-introduced in the northern Rockies and in Arizona are designated as non-essential, experimental populations which provides the flexibility to issue a special rule to deal with problem wolves. Additionally, problem wolves in northwest Montana are controlled according to a specific protocol under the authority of Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act. This program has been successful in promoting recovery and dealing with depredation.

Lethal control is used because it generally is difficult to successfully translocate a "problem" wolf. Such animals may resume their depredating habits at the new location, may return to their former home range, or may be killed by resident wolves at the translocation site. Additionally, euthanizing trapped wolves is significantly quicker and far less expensive than translocation, allowing depredation control activities to be carried out more quickly so other wolves do not learn to prey on livestock, and can be accomplished with a relatively small budget.

How is the Service considering gray wolf taxonomy in its review?
The Service's approach to listing and recovering the gray wolf has changed as knowledge and views about the taxonomy changed. Originally, four subspecies of gray wolf were listed as endangered in seven states. However, in 1978 that protection was broadened to list all gray wolves (at the full species level) in the conterminous 48 states and Mexico as endangered, except in Minnesota where they were reclassified to threatened status. Debate over wolf taxonomy continues in the scientific literature. The Service has determined that for purposes of wolf conservation under the ESA, a geographical focus for recovery purposes results in practical solutions for re-establishing wolf populations and is the proper focus for the Service's efforts.


Why were wolves added to the Federal Endangered Species list if there were large populations of them in Canada and Alaska?
The Endangered Species Act defines "species" as a species, subspecies, or distinct population segment of a vertebrate species. The ability to list and separately protect individual populations provides the flexibility to use the Act's conservation measures selectively for populations of a species that are currently in trouble while leaving other, healthy populations of the same species unregulated. The Service may recognize an international boundary for a population where a significant difference occurs in the management, status, or exploitation of a species. Avoiding the extirpation of significant local populations of a species is important because a series of such local extirpations frequently leads to endangerment of the species as a whole. Also populations can be important because of the aesthetic, ecological, recreational, and other values such populations provide in their localities. In the case of the gray wolf, the species was extirpated from all the "Lower 48 States", except for several hundred wolves in northeastern Minnesota, at the time it was listed as endangered.

What is the current Federal designation for gray wolves in the United States?
The species "gray wolf (Canis lupus)" is federally designated as threatened in Minnesota and endangered in the remaining lower 48 states. The gray wolf is also listed as endangered in Mexico. However, the re-introduced wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and in Arizona and New Mexico are designated as non-essential, experimental populations, which lessens some of the protections normally afforded to endangered animals. Wolves in northwest Montana and Northern Idaho have naturally immigrated from Canada and are fully protected as endangered.

What is the difference between "endangered" and "threatened" and "non-essential, experimental?"
The definitions of endangered and threatened are:

Endangered: Any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Threatened: Any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Non-essential, experimental: A reintroduced population believed not to be essential for the survival of the species, but important for its full recovery and eventual removal from the endangered and threatened list. These populations are treated as "threatened" species except that the Act's Section 7 regulations (requiring consultation to reduce adverse impacts from Federal actions) do not apply (except when the species occurs within National Parks or National Wildlife Refuges) and critical habitat cannot be designated.

The Endangered Species Act recognizes that "threatened" species may not need all the protections that "endangered" species do. Therefore, special rules can be developed for threatened species which allow greater flexibility in management, as long as the increased flexibility will promote the conservation of the species. This special rule process is authorized under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act. It is such a special rule that spells out the conditions under which Minnesota wolves preying on domestic animals may be controlled.

What are the Service's goals for the gray wolf?
The Service's goal for the gray wolf is to increase its numbers and distribution to the extent that protection of the Endangered Species Act is no longer necessary. Protection of the Act will no longer be needed when the conterminous U.S. populations of gray wolves are viable for the foreseeable future.

Current objectives for ensuring viable populations into the foreseeable future are identified in the recovery plans.

Eastern Timber Wolf (=Eastern Gray Wolf Population)

The Minnesota population must be stable or growing and its continued survival assured.

A second population outside of Minnesota and Isle Royale must be re-established, having at least 100 wolves in late winter if located within 100 miles of the Minnesota wolf population or having at least 200 wolves if located beyond that distance.

Maintain the above-mentioned population levels (in the population outside of Minnesota) for five consecutive years (that is, for six annual wolf surveys).

A Wisconsin-Michigan population of 100 is considered viable because continued immigration of Minnesota wolves will supplement it demographically and genetically for the foreseeable future.

Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf

Ten breeding pairs in each of three recovery areas for three years

The recovery areas are northwestern Montana, central Idaho, and the Yellowstone Ecosystem

Mexican gray wolf

Maintain the captive breeding program while establishing a self-sustaining wild population of at least 100 animals in the species' historic range. This recovery objective is currently under review.

What is a "viable population?"

Viable means that the population will continue to breed and maintain itself over time (i.e, the number of young produced is equal to or greater than the number that die). A viable population must be sufficiently large to prevent genetic problems such as inbreeding. The population must also be large enough and distributed across a large enough area that catastrophic events such as disease or severe weather will not likely eliminate the entire population.

What is meant by "recovery," "delisting," and "reclassification?"

Recovery is the goal of the Endangered Species Act. Recovery is a process of management and protection of a species so that its population(s) can increase and expand and/or the factors threatening it have been significantly reduced. When a species has been "recovered" it means that the species' population is strong enough that protection under the Endangered Species Act is no longer needed.

Delisting is taking a species off the list of threatened and endangered species when the population has recovered. Delisting is a formal rulemaking process that requires publication of a proposal to delist in the Federal Register, followed by a public comment period. Then information received during the public comment period is reviewed and a decision is made whether to delist, and the decision is published in the Federal Register.

Reclassification is a process of changing the status of a listed species from endangered to threatened or vice versa. It is a formal rulemaking process that requires that a proposal to reclassify be published in the Federal Register followed by a public comment period. Information received during the public comment is then evaluated and a determination on whether to reclassify, or not, is made and published.

How were the reclassification and recovery (i.e., delisting) criteria for the wolf developed?
Recovery criteria for the wolf were developed by members of each recovery team, who are wolf experts or representatives of agencies managing wolf habitat. The recovery teams considered many factors including: their personal knowledge of the species, the amount of habitat available, the quality of the habitat, whether populations are isolated, data on the population dynamics of the species, and data on minimum viable population size. Using this information, the team developed criteria that, when reached, would indicate that the species is healthy enough to be reclassified from endangered to threatened. They also developed recovery criteria that would indicate when protections of the Endangered Species Act are no longer needed. The wolf recovery criteria focus on numbers of wolves, numbers of populations, distribution of populations, and the likelihood of adequate future management capability. The Service will evaluate how well the wolf has met the recovery criteria, but also of critical importance, how the wolf's status currently relates to the five factors in section 4, which the ESA directs the Service to evaluate in making listing determinations.

What will happen when the wolf numbers and distribution meet the reclassification or delisting criteria identified in the recovery plan?
When a species approaches or achieves its reclassification or delisting criteria the Service begins a review of the species' biological status to determine if a change should be made in its federal protective status. The Service looks at the criteria in the recovery plan, as well as the five listing factors identified in the Endangered Species Act.

If the wolf has met reclassification and/or delisting criteria does the Service have to reclassify and/or delist ?
Reaching the reclassification and delisting criteria is a trigger for the Fish and Wildlife Service to evaluate whether reclassification or delisting of the wolf from endangered to threatened is appropriate. The action of reclassification and delisting is a formal process that includes publishing a proposal to reclassify or delist in the Federal Register, opening a public comment period, holding public hearings if requested, reviewing all data including any new data provided during the comment period, and then making a decision. The final decision is published in the Federal Register.

How will the Fish and Wildlife Service determine if reclassifying and/or delisting the wolf is appropriate?
The reclassification and delisting criteria spelled out in the recovery plan are a yardstick used to measure whether the species is no longer endangered or threatened. But those criteria are not the only yardstick. The Endangered Species Act identifies five factors that the Fish and Wildlife Service will consider to determine if listing, reclassification, and/or delisting is appropriate:

1. threats to, or actual destruction of, the habitat needed by the species;

2. threats from the over-use of the species for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;

3. threats from disease or predation;

4. the amount of protection of the species or its habitat provided by other laws and regulations; and

5. any other natural or manmade factors affecting the continued existence of the species.

In effect, the achievement of the Recovery Plan's delisting criteria triggers the Service to formally re-evaluate the species' in terms of these five factors. This evaluation includes an assessment of whether these factors are likely to increase and re-endanger the wolf if it is delisted.

How will the Service reclassify/delist the wolf?
The process by which a species is listed as endangered or threatened, and eventually reclassified or delisted, is called a rulemaking. The Federal rulemaking process is designed to promote public input into the decision-making process, and to provide an explanation of the decision when it is announced. For Endangered Species Act listings, reclassifications, and delistings, the rule-making process has a minimum of four steps:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) publishes a proposal in the Federal Register which describes the proposed change and the rationale behind it. This proposal is publicized in a variety of ways to ensure that all interested individuals and organizations are aware of it. It is the policy of the Service to solicit the expert opinion of independent specialists regarding the scientific or commercial data in proposed listings.

A subsequent public comment period of at least 60 days provides an opportunity for any interested party to provide data or other comments relevant to the proposed action. If requested, the Service will hold one or more public hearing to receive oral comments.

After the public comment period has closed the Service reviews all new data and comments received during the comment period and reconsiders the proposed action. Alternate actions or modifications of the proposal are also considered.

The final decision is published in the Federal Register, announcing the effective date of the action. In some cases the final decision may be to withdraw the proposed action or to adopt a modified version of the proposed action. A final decision on the wolf would be made within one year of the publication of the proposed rule.

What is a 4(d) rule for a threatened species, and how are such rules applied to the wolf?
Endangered species are provided the full protections of the Act (these protections are described in Section 9 of the Act). However, threatened species can be provided the full protections under Section 9 or the Service can develop special rules (under section 4(d) of the Act) that are less restrictive and allow for more flexibility in management, as long as there is a demonstrated conservation benefit. A 4(d) rule was published for the wolf in Minnesota that allows lethal control of depredating wolves by government personnel in most of Minnesota to reduce conflicts with domestic animals. This control program minimizes the number of wolves that would otherwise be illegally killed by individuals believing they have no recourse but to "take things into their own hands."

How will Native American Tribes be involved in the delisting process and in the management of wolves following delisting?
Native American Tribes will be contacted by the Service to discuss the strategy as the proposal is being developed, and will be contacted again following the proposal's publication in the Federal Register. The Service realizes that the wolf has a special place in the culture and traditions of many Native Americans, and we will consider those unique values during the delisting and reclassification process. Additionally, following delisting, a number of tribes will gain management authority for wolves within reservation boundaries, and also may want to become involved in wolf management on off-reservation treaty lands. The Service will be discussing these issues with the appropriate Native American leaders, as well.

How will the Service ensure a "viable" population after delisting?
A species cannot be removed from the list of Endangered Species until and unless the continued population viability of the species is ensured. If the Service proposes to delist the wolf, it will include an assessment of whether the five factors that cause endangerment are likely to increase their negative impacts and re-endanger the wolf if it is delisted.

For the wolf, "assurance of continued viability" means that each state with significant wolf numbers must have a management plan that ensures continued viability of its wolf population. It is the responsibility of the people of those states, usually through the State wildlife agencies, to decide exactly how they are going to manage their wolf population. Similarly, wolves on tribal lands will be managed under the authority of Native American tribal governments.

As a final insurance mechanism to protect species that might be mistakenly delisted prematurely, the Act requires that a species be monitored for a minimum of five years after delisting. If monitoring shows that the delisting was premature, the Service can relist the species. If necessary, the Service can even relist the species on an emergency basis, which protects the species as soon as the relisting proposal appears in the Federal Register.

What is the Service's schedule for reclassifying and delisting the eastern gray wolf?
Based upon a review of the recovery status of gray wolf populations in the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to develop and publish a proposed rule this winter. The proposed rule will receive extensive public review. Additionally, we are continuing to work closely with Native American tribes, the states, and other cooperators to determine the best course of action. Our preliminary review of the information shows that wolf populations are recovering and so we are committed to changing their classification as appropriate. The eastern gray wolf population is nearing the goal for delisting, therefore, the Service will consider proposing that this population be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species. The Northern Rocky Mountain endangered gray wolf population may be proposed for reclassification to threatened since the population is no longer in danger of extinction, and, to facilitate wolf restoration in the Northeast and protect naturally-occurring wolves, consideration will be given to retaining protection as a threatened species. Significant progress was achieved with the Mexican gray wolf earlier this year when it was reintroduced in Arizona, however, it is unlikely that a status change will be appropriate for this most endangered of the gray wolf groups for several years.

How will this proposal affect the current appeal of a Wyoming court decision which is before the 10th circuit regarding the experimental wolf populations in Yellowstone and Idaho?
This biologically based proposal is independent of the ongoing litigation that is before the 10th circuit in Denver, Colorado. This is a proposal to consider reclassifying threatened and endangered wolves and does not effect the legal status of the experimental wolves. Experimental wolves were classified under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act while this proposal is an action under Section 4. Each section has different legal requirements.

How will "problem wolves" (wolves that are killing livestock or dogs) be handled if a wolf population is delisted?
The States, through their state management plans, will determine how "problem wolves" will be handled. If requested to do so by a state, Wildlife Services personnel (of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) may continue to take the lead in controlling depredating wolves.

What happens if wolf populations decline after the species is delisted?
The delisted wolf populations will be monitored for five years after delisting. If circumstances should change such that the gray wolf appears to again be threatened or endangered, the species can be relisted under either the normal or the emergency listing process if the situation calls for urgent action. Alternatively, a distinct population segment of the gray wolf can be relisted.

How will wolf populations be monitored if it is "delisted?"
The Service will work the States and Native American Tribes to develop monitoring plans. The Endangered Species Act section 6 grants and recovery funding can be used to facilitate these efforts.

What about red wolf recovery?
(The red wolf is not affected by this current review process.) Before the arrival of European settlers, wolves ranged widely across the continent, from coast to coast and from Canada into Mexico. Two species were found in North America: the gray wolf lived throughout most of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and the red wolf lived only in the southeastern United States. A red wolf recovery plan has been prepared. Current numbers are:

Red Wolf - Southeast
North Carolina 60
Great Smoky Mountain National Park (Tennessee) 15

Red wolves - recovery summary
A captive breeding program has been established with 36 captive breeding facilities in the United States contributing to recovery. A total of 111 red wolves have been released since 1987 in North Carolina, and since 1991 in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At least 140 pups have been born in the wild in North Carolina since the reintroduction program began, including approximately 90% of the free-ranging wolves currently found there. Low pup survival is one of the main reason the Service is reevaluating the suitability of the Smoky Mountains Park as a release site.

Specific objectives for ensuring viable populations into the foreseeable future are identified in the recovery plan.

Red wolf: Maintain a captive population of approximately 330 animals while establishing a self-sustaining, disjunct wild population of approximately 220 animals.

How many wolves are there in Alaska?
Alaska (not protected by ESA) 6,000-8,000


What types of areas (habitat) do wolves use?
Second only to humans in its adaptation to climate extremes, the gray wolf was equally at home in the deserts of Israel, the deciduous forest of Virginia, and the frozen Arctic of Siberia. Within the Continental U.S., gray wolves formerly ranged from coast to coast and inhabited almost all habitat types; prairie, forest, mountains, and wetlands. Today, they are found in the more remote forested lands of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. However, the wolf has expanded in Minnesota and Wisconsin to areas that are a mix of forest and agriculture. Additionally, through natural emigration from Canada and reintroduction efforts, wolves now live in portions of the Rocky Mountains in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The Mexican gray wolf has been reintroduced into the mountains of the Apache National Forest in Arizona.

Do wolves need wilderness areas to survive?
It was thought that wolves were a wilderness species and could only survive there. But the expansion of wolves in Minnesota has shown that they are more adaptable and can tolerate more human disturbance than previously thought. Wolves are expanding into areas once thought incapable of supporting them. Wolves can survive anywhere that there is sufficient food and human tolerance to allow their existence.

Can wolves survive near urban areas?
Whether or not wolves can survive near urban areas is dependent on humans, not wolves. There are areas near and in urban centers that have a sufficient prey base to support wolves. However, wolves are predators and do kill livestock. Also, wolves view domestic dogs as competitors and may kill them. Thus, people may not allow wolves to live near urban areas.

How far do wolves travel?
Wolf packs usually hunt within a specific territory. Territories may be as large as 50 square miles or even extend to 1,000 square miles depending on food availability. Wolves often cover large areas to hunt, traveling as far as 30 miles a day. Although they trot along at 5 mph, wolves can attain speeds as high as 45 mph.

Most wolves disperse from the pack that they were born into by age 3. Dispersing wolves have traveled as far as 550 miles.

What do wolves eat?
Within the Great Lakes region, wolves eat mainly white-tailed deer but they also eat moose, beaver, snowshoe hare, and other animals. In the Rocky Mountains, wolves eat elk, mule deer, beaver, and other small mammals. Wolves even eat some insects, nuts, and berries. They may not eat for a week or more but are capable of eating 20 pounds of meat in a single meal.

How many deer do wolves kill?
Within the Great Lakes region, each wolf kills an average of 15 to 19 deer each year in addition to beaver, moose, and other prey.

If wolf numbers get too high will deer be eliminated?
No. The health of the wolf population is dependent on the health of its prey base. In the Great Lakes States, wolves are dependent on deer as their main prey item. If deer numbers go down for a prolonged period, wolf productivity (the number of young produced) and survival would also go down. Thus wolf numbers would decline before their prey could be eliminated.

How do wolves in an area affect deer hunting?
Over time, wolves help to maintain a healthy deer herd by removing old and sick animals. In general, this creates a good hunting environment because numbers of deer tend to stay at or near carrying capacity. However, when weather events occur that reduce the ability of the habitat to support deer (like high snowfalls, drought, etc.) then wolves will reduce their numbers even further. For example, since wolves have been protected in northern Minnesota, there has been a high and even increasing harvest of deer by hunters since the mid-1970's. But two consecutive hard winters (1995-96 and 1996-97) resulted in reducing the deer herd, which in turn resulted in much lower deer harvests. Likely, wolves were accountable for a portion of the lower deer numbers and, in turn, the lower deer harvest.

Do wolves really take the old, young, sick, and weak deer?
It is well documented that wolves tend to take mainly prey that are old, young, fat-depleted, starving, or injured. Hunting and killing can be dangerous work for a wolf, in the wild they cannot afford to be injured. So they go after the easiest animals to kill.

Does the presence of wolves affect numbers of animals other than deer?
Yellowstone has provided a good opportunity to document the effect that wolves have on an ecosystem. Within two years of the wolf reintroduction, researchers have found that the wolves have killed half the coyotes in the area, forced elk to become more vigilant and provided many opportunities for scavengers to share their kills. Because there are fewer coyotes, rodents are more plentiful, a boon for predators like hawks and bald eagles, and overall biodiversity has sharply increased.

Do wolves mate for life?
Sometimes. A wolf pair may mate until one dies and then the living mate will find another mate. If the surviving mate is old, it may be supplanted as the alpha animal by a younger wolf.

What is a pack?
The pack is an extended family unit that usually includes a dominant male and female. These animals are referred to as the alpha pair. The pack also has the young wolves that were born that year and sometimes a few older wolves that may or may not be related to the alpha pair.

How many wolves are in a pack?
Pack sizes vary considerably, depending on the size of the wolf population in a particular area and the amount of food available. In the Western Great Lakes, average pack size varies from 4 to 8 during winter with records of up to 16. Pack size can be as high as 30 or more in parts of Canada and Alaska.

What happens to a pack when the alpha male or female are killed?
In a study of a protected population, the death of one or both members of the alpha pair led to dissolution of the pack or the pack survived with existing pack members becoming alpha animals. Packs sometimes adopt unrelated dispersing wolves that can also become alpha members of the pack. When packs dissolved after the death of an alpha animal, new packs formed in those areas.

How long do wolves live?
Gray wolves are known to live up to 13 years in the wild and 15 years in captivity.

In protected populations, what kills wolves?
In natural situations wolves die from pup starvation and adults killing members of neighboring packs. Mortality of adults can also come from starvation if the prey base has is not adequate. Diseases, such as canine parvovirus and mange, also kill wolves.

Do wolves usually kill more than they can eat?
Sometimes deep snow or other conditions occur that allow wolves to kill more than they can eat. Even then, they tend to return to these kills. Conditions that allow wolves the opportunity to kill more than they can eat rarely occurs (eg., about 5% of the time in Minnesota).

Are wolves a threat to humans, especially small children?
Any wild animal can be dangerous if it is cornered, injured or sick, or has become habituated to humans through artificial feeding at campgrounds, etc. However, aggressive behavior from wild wolves towards humans is extremely rare. Wild wolves are generally shy of humans and avoid contact with them whenever possible. In contrast, several humans are killed by domestic dogs, pet wolves, and wolf-dog hybrids every year in North America. Wolves and wolf-dog hybrids kept as pets can be unpredictable and dangerous.

Is there any danger from wolves to my pets?
Pets should always be carefully monitored by their owners in areas such as national forests or parks where they may encounter native wildlife, to protect both pets and the wildlife. Unsupervised dogs who stray from their owner's homes or from their handlers into wolf territories are definitely at risk. Wolves will treat dogs as interlopers on their territories and may attack them.

How can I learn more about wolves and the things that are going on right now that will affect their future?
The Service has established a mailing list that will be used to alert interested parties of the status of the gray wolf and the progress being made to reclassify or delist it. Individuals and organizations can join this mailing list by either writing to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gray Wolf Review, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056, by e-mailing to , or calling the Gray Wolf Line at 612-713-7337.

In addition, the Service will post information on the wolf and potential changes in federal protection on the Web at the above Web URL. The Service also posts information on the various gray wolf populations at, and

There are also a number of organizations that are involved in various aspects of wolf recovery. You may want to join one or more organizations that promote viewpoints similar to your own.

Reprinted From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Endangered Species