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The Gray Wolf Is in Danger... Again

45 years after the gray wolf was officially listed as endangered, the species is still on the brink of extinction with the government working on stripping all protections.

Picture Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently fighting to strip all protections from the gray wolf throughout the entire country.

The gray wolf was officially listed as endangered in 1974 (one year after the Endangered Species Act became a reality), a move that laid the foundation for future conservation of an endangered species for organisms across the globe. Since then, efforts–such as the famous effort to reintroduce the wolf to Yellowstone National Park–have increased the gray wolf population in the United States, but this iconic animal is still in grave danger from poaching, and, most disheartening, legal hunting–including efforts by local and federal governments to sanction completely legal culls and hunts.

The Gray Wolf's Territory: Historic vs Today

In the lower 48 today, the gray wolf occupies only about 15 percent of its historic range.

The wolf is no longer endangered, according to much of the United States; yet there are only an estimated 5,500 individuals in the lower 48, with 10,000 in Alaska–a far, far cry from its original widespread population across all of North America in the 1800s. 

We can't know for sure what their numbers were before human intervention, because no one was counting them. But they've lost over 85 percent of their natural territory in the US alone–and much of that to hunting and trapping for their fur (historically), because they were considered "pests," or for trophies and bragging rights (currently). (For a full breakdown of the gray wolf population estimate updated in 2017, see here). The wolf has been completely extirpated from most states, and even entire countries, such as Japan, which also extermination the now-extinct Japanese wolf.

In 2003, the gray wolf was declassified as threatened; today federal protections for the species have been stripped in various states.

Now then, Fish and Wildlife Services under Trump's administration are seeking to strip ALL protection from the species across the entire country in one fell swoop, a move that will allow future hunting and trapping to become legal, even for the protected, collated wolves in Yellowstone–which are constantly being illegally poached, since the most famous wolf ever, Yellowstone alpha female "006" (832F) was shot and killed in 2012. As of April 2019, there are only about 80 wolves left in Yellowstone.

Wolves are both the most hated and loved animals in the United States.

Little red riding hood, one of the first fear stories children are exposed to, thus priming them to fear wolves as adults

For everyone passionate about protecting wolves, there are at least as many passionate about killing them. Wolves are considered simply too dangerous to let repopulate; yet wolves, as with most wild animals, pose almost no danger to humans when left alone (obviously, any large, strong animal can hurt a human if it must–but gray wolves today would much rather avoid humans altogether). According to Yellowstone, an outside study concluded that only about thirty wolf attacks have occurred in the last one hundred years–and of the only three that were fatal, and all these were due to rabies. Compare that to 433 deaths by domestic dogs in only thirteen years (2005 to 2017).

In 1995, the gray wolf was reintroduced into Yellowstone, and scientists discovered something earth-shattering.

Wolves are a keystone species, meaning they have a massive beneficial effect on every level of the trophic system (the food chain).

When the wolf was reintroduced to Yellowstone, something amazing happened–a trophic cascade. Every level of the ecosystem, from plants to other predators, was almost immediately transformed. The beavers, which had been struggling, suddenly flourished, and rebuilt their dams; the willows and aspens regrew; the elk population became healthier; and other predators, such as coyotes, became healthier, too.

Not only do wolves eat deer afflicted by chronic wasting disease, thereby preventing the disease from spreading down the genetic line, their simple existence changes how the elk and deer act. Instead of staying in one place and over-grazing flora to the point of decimation, they move–like they're naturally supposed to–and don't have any more babies than the biome can sustain. Coyote populations decrease to a sustainable level in the presence of wolves, giving their prey–mice, voles, squirrels, birds, and etc.–a chance to take back their territories. As well, coyote overpopulation (due to the absence of competitors) leads to urban encroachment; although they prefer their natural prey, coyotes are opportunistic and fantastic survivors, meaning they will prey on easy meals, such as people's free-roaming cats and chained dogs.

There aren't many bad effects of reintroducing wolves to their natural environment. Livestock predation is rare, and can be prevented by nonlethal deterrents, such as reinforcing fences, putting up visual markers such as red flags across farm borders, and other ways of marking your borders. 

According to, a study revealed: 

"The 7-year study covered grazing involving between 10,000 and 22,000 sheep across nearly 1,000 square miles of public land also inhabited by wolves. A total of 30 sheep were lost due to wolves during the entire period – 3.5 times fewer losses than adjacent grazing areas that depended more on killing wolves than these methods to coexist with them."

Not only are nonlethal wolf deterrent methods possible, but they're effective–even more effective–than simply killing wolves.

Wolves are both deified and vilified; in western culture, they represent spirituality, the wilds, and the inner soul. But because of fear and hate, the wolf has been turned into a childhood villain that must be destroyed. 

Yet wolves are crucial to a well-functioning ecosystem. They're not only beautiful, but fascinating. Wolf packs do not rule by dominance and violence as the widespread myth says, but by respect and love–a pack is comprised of a mated pair (the alphas) and their young, who spend most of their day socializing and walking in search of prey, and have individual jobs just like human families. Killing one wolf, even if it isn't the alpha, can destroy an entire pack's dynamic with the force of the trauma. 

The war on wolves has waged since Europeans colonized America, and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight.

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