Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Gray Wolves Rebound; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes to Reclassify, Delist Wolves in Much of United States

July 11, 2000


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

Robust wolf populations in the upper Great Lakes area and a successful wolf reintroduction program in the northern U.S. Rocky Mountains have prompted the Interior Departments U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to formally propose to reclassify the gray wolf from endangered to threatened in some parts of the country and remove the species from the Endangered Species list in other areas. The move by the Service would affect the status of gray wolves throughout most of the conterminous 48 states; however, Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest would remain endangered, as would red wolves (a separate wolf species) in the Southeast.

"Wolves are a living symbol of the regard Americans have for things wild," said Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. "We as a people have made the choice to do the right thing and bring these animals back from the brink of extinction. We have weighed the cost of saving an irreplaceable part of our world and found it to be worth our effort."

"The Endangered Species Act gave us the tools we needed to achieve this milestone," said Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "We used the laws protections and its flexibility to structure wolf recovery to meet the needs of the species and those of the people. This is truly an endangered species success story."

Gray wolves throughout the conterminous United States are currently listed as endangered, except in Minnesota where they are considered threatened. Wolves in Alaska are not protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the Services proposal, gray wolves in the conterminous 48 states would be divided into four distinct population segments (DPSs), each to be addressed individually:

  • Western Great Lakes population (includes states of Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin): Because of continued wolf population increases, wolves in these states would be reclassified from endangered to threatened, joining Minnesota wolves in this classification. As a result, all wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS would receive the same level of protection under the ESA. In addition, increased management flexibility would be permitted through the use of a special rule for control of wolves preying on domestic animals, as is currently the case for wolves in Minnesota.

  • Northeastern Population (includes states of Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont): Wolves in these four states would be reclassified from endangered to threatened. Despite the absence of documented wolf populations in the Northeast currently, the Service believes there is high potential for wolf recovery in these states, which fall within the gray wolfs historical range. A special rule accompanying the reclassification would facilitate any future restoration efforts.

  • Western Population (includes states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and portions of Arizona and New Mexico): These wolves would be reclassified from endangered to threatened. The non-essential, experimental status of wolves in the Yellowstone National Park area and central Idaho would remain, and a special rule would extend similar flexible conservation and control measures to the entire Western population.

  • Southwestern (Mexican gray wolf) Population (includes portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico): Wolves in these areas would retain their current status of endangered. This includes Mexican gray wolves reintroduced in 1998 and 1999 to reestablish a wild population; 22 Mexican wolves currently live in the wild.

  • Remainder of the Conterminous 48 States: All or portions of 30 states lie outside the four areas described above. Gray wolves are not believed to be present in those parts of the country, and their restoration in these areas is not necessary in order to achieve wolf recovery under the ESA. Therefore, the Service proposes to delist, or remove from ESA protection, any wolves that may occur there now or in the future.

Gray wolves once roamed most of the North American continent. In the United States, wolf populations began to decline as European settlers moved west. Although many wolves were killed by hunters and trappers, the advent of government-sponsored predator control programs and the widespread use of poisons during the 1800s spurred the elimination of wolves throughout much of their historical range. By the 1950s, wolves were virtually gone from the Lower 48 States except for a small population in northeastern Minnesota and on Isle Royale, Michigan. In 1967, gray wolves were listed under the first federal endangered species law; they gained additional protection in 1973 upon the passing of the current ESA. Endangered species are those considered likely to become extinct, while those listed as threatened are considered likely to become endangered.

The Services proposal to delist or reclassify gray wolves comes at a time when Eastern wolf populations in some areas have reached or exceeded the numerical goals needed for recovery. In Minnesota, where wolves were never completely extirpated, numbers climbed from less than 1,000 in the early 1970s to a 1997-98 estimate of 2,445 animals. Except for a small population on Michigans Isle Royale, wolves were completely eliminated from the other Great Lake states. Today wolves inhabit much of northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Wisconsin wolf population is currently estimated at 248, while Upper Michigan hosts 216 animals. Isle Royale National Park contains 29 wolves. These numbers exceed recovery goals for the eastern United States, as detailed in the 1992 revision of the 1978 Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan.

The Service intends to work closely with state, tribal and private partners to explore options for wolf recovery in the Northeast region. Some work has already been done to assess the capability of the habitat to sustain a wolf population and to identify roadblocks to recovery. The Service is particularly sensitive to the needs of private landowners, as their cooperation is essential if recovery is to occur. An education and information campaign will explain the implications of any recovery proposal considered.

"Since the passage of the Endangered Species Act, which extended protection to wolves in the early 1970s, wolves in the East have made a remarkable recovery," said Clark. "Our efforts in the eastern United States focused on the Minnesota population, as well as wolf expansion into Wisconsin and Michigan," Clark said. "However, there is also suitable wolf habitat available in the Northeast and a nearby source population of wolves in Canada, so our proposal would also offer federal protection for Northeastern wolves should states or tribes be interested in restoring the species there.

In the northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, progress toward wolf recovery has followed quickly on the heels of the Services historic reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995 and 1996. Those efforts re-established wolf populations in areas where the animals had been completely eliminated in the 1920s. Wolves in Yellowstone and central Idaho now number over 250. An additional population of naturally occurring gray wolves, numbering at least 63, live in northwestern Montana.

"The quick success in the northern Rocky Mountains means we can move forward to propose reclassifying those wolves to the less serious threatened status," Clark said. "This status allows biologists and other wolf professionals more flexibility to manage growing wolf populations and address the needs of people who live, ranch, and farm in wolf country."

The comeback of the wolf can be credited to efforts under the ESA that provided scientific research, conservation and management programs, and education efforts that helped increase public understanding of wolves. Re-introduction programs in the northern Rocky Mountains and southwestern U.S., along with restoration of native prey species such as elk and deer, have spurred recovery progress. Partnerships among federal agencies, Native American tribes, state conservation agencies, and private interest groups have also been instrumental in wolf recovery. The Services proposal, to be published in the Federal Register on July 13, begins a year-long process which includes soliciting information from the public on the status of gray wolves in the Lower 48 States. Public informational meetings will be held to gather input from states, Native American tribes, interest groups and members of the public. The Service will consider all information and comments received before making a final decision to change the status of the wolf. During that time, gray wolves will retain their current protection under the ESA.

Comments concerning this proposal may be mailed to: Content Analysis Enterprise Team, Wolf Comments, 200 East Broadway, PO Box 7669, Room 301, Missoula, Montana 59807. Comments also may be submitted by electronic mail to:">. The subject line of all electronic mail submissions must read: "Wolf Comments.Comments may also be submitted by facsimile to 406-329-3021, and should have the subject: "Wolf Comments.All comments must include the name of the submitter in order for us to consider them in our final decision. Comments must be received by November 10, 2000. All comments and materials received will be available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the address above and at other Service locations.

Public informational meetings and formal public hearings on the proposal will be held during the comment period at locations across the range of the gray wolf. Requests for formal public hearings must be made in writing and must be received no later than August 27, 2000. Hearing requests may be submitted by using any of the addresses for wolf information.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posts information about gray wolf populations at on the Internet. Individuals or groups wishing to be placed on the Services mailing list to obtain updates on the wolfs status also can write: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gray Wolf Review, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056 or use either the"> or address or by calling the Services gray wolf information line at 612-713-7337. Facsimile requests may be submitted at 612-713-5292. Additional information about the times and locations of public meetings can also be obtained from these sources.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Services manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System of more than 520 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices, 64 Fishery Resource Offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies. -FWS-