We know that putting in the effort to conserve species is important. We also know that protecting predators has positive effects on their entire ecosystem and the other species that live within it alongside them.
Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, the United States has been able to bring back many species that were on the brink of extinction.
But what does recovery actually look like?
Let’s check out a brief history of wolf reintroduction:
Wolves have been victims of targeted hunting for a long time. We can date it back to the 1600s, but it really ramped up in the 1800s. In 1926, the last wolf pack in Yellowstone was killed and by the 1960s, wolf population numbers were at their lowest.1&2 This isn’t a surprise, as wolves had a bigger target on their backs than any other animal in U.S. history.3
What came next?
1967: Timber Wolves and Red Wolves are listed as endangered
1974: Gray Wolves are protected due to the Endangered Species Act
1976: Mexican Gray Wolves follow suit and are protected under the ESA
1995: Gray Wolf reintroduction begins in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park1&4
Action needed to be taken not just because wolf numbers were plummeting, but because without them, destruction was left behind. Elk numbers rose drastically and they destroyed the landscapes, caused erosion, and their eating habits made things more difficult for other animals, like beavers.3&5
For reintroduction, wolves were brought in from Canada. At Yellowstone, enclosures were created for them to stay in for a few weeks so they wouldn’t immediately head back up to Canada once released.3 These wolves had very limited contact with humans, although they were observed to check their health. They were also radio-collared so biologists could keep track of them once they were released.2
Wolves brought balance back to their environment and benefits could be seen for vegetation, water, birds, beavers, bears and more.5 Reintroduction was so successful that the process didn’t have to be repeated as many times as initially planned.2
Wolves have been delisted and relisted several times in different states over the years. In November 2020, the US Fish & Wildlife Service officially took protections away from gray wolves, although still maintain them for both Mexican Gray Wolves and Red Wolves.6 At least 300 wolves and 30 breeding pairs needed to be present in recovery areas over a timespan of 3 years in order to be removed from the list.2
It’s no secret that here at the Wolf Center, wolves are important to us. We hope that they’re important to you, too. They’re fascinating animals that are integral to the environment, and yet they’ve really had to fight against the bad reputation that follows them around.
We help show the truth about wolves because it’s important. Honest information about wildlife is the key to coexisting with it, respecting it, and not acting out of fear toward it.
Your support helps us bring resources to students everywhere, combat the myths of our carnivores, develop educational resources that are accessible online, and more.