Gray Wolves Just Got a Huge Victory on Their Long Road to Recovery

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In compliance with federal court orders, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has finally reinstated federal protections for the endangered gray wolf in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes region.

While this is great news, the long-winded “War on Wolves” isn’t over yet.

The U.S. House of Congress recently introduced two bills that would once again strip wolves of their endangered species protections. If the bills pass a vote in congress and are signed into law by the president, they will override the judge’s ruling.

Tracy Brooks/USFWS

Tracy Brooks/USFWS


The USFWS, tasked with protecting the gray wolf and other threatened species, believes it should be up to state governments to regulate wolf populations.


Before Europeans settled North America, there were an estimated two million wolves roaming virtually every tract of the modern-day United States. By the 1960s, wolf populations in the contiguous U.S. dropped below 1,000 individuals, all of whom were confined to a small portion of Minnesota and the Isle Royal National Park.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge/USFWS

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge/USFWS

Then, in December of 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) into law. The ESA designates the USFWS with the task of conserving land species that have been deemed endangered or threatened “throughout all or a significant portion of their range.”


“Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.” -President Richard Nixon, December 28, 1973


The gray wolf, which was once a keystone predator across all of the continental U.S., is a prime example of a species that has all-but disappeared in its native habitat. It received federal protections with the ESA, and subsequently underwent a slow recovery.

That is until 2011, when in an unprecedented move the U.S. Congress usurped the ESA and introduced a measure that would delist gray wolves in the northwest U.S. as an attachment to the government’s federal budget.

John & Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS

John & Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS

Later in 2011 USFWS, whose duty is to use the best available science to make decisions regarding wildlife protections, issued a decision to remove gray wolf protections in the western Great Lakes.

Since then, over 2,800 wolves have been killed by hunting, trapping, and aerial sharpshooting, leaving less than 5,500 individuals still alive today in the lower 48 states.


In the four years without federal protections, over one-third of gray wolves in the contiguous United States were decimated.


USGrayWolfHabitat_03-22-2013

Current Gray Wolf Range, via BiologicalDiversity.org

In 2013, USFWS offered a proposal that would officially remove gray wolves from ESA protections. A peer review panel determined that the proposal did not rely the best scientific evidence to draw its conclusions, and that there simply was not enough evidence to strip wolves of protections.

Supporters of removing federal protections for gray wolves cite concerns over wolf attacks on livestock and domesticated animals, but many pragmatic farmers and ranchers have learned to non-violently co-exist with these essential members of our ecosystem.

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Matthew M. Sullivan holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Grand Valley State University, with emphases in fiction and nonfiction. He lives smack-dab between some railroad tracks and Grand Rapids Michigan's third-busiest road, and spends his time studying film and literary fiction.