Though isolated populations have rebounded since the 1970s, the once ubiquitous species is far from fully recovered.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today finalized a rule that strips gray wolves of their federal endangered species protections in the Lower 48 states, excluding one small population of Mexican wolves in the Southwest.
“You cannot have a national wolf recovery without putting forward a national wolf recovery plan,” says Sylvia Fallon, senior director of NRDC’s wildlife division. “This still has not happened, so eliminating federal protections for gray wolves is a huge setback in recovery efforts. Wolves are still missing from much of their remaining habitat in the West and throughout the Northeast.”
Gray wolves once roamed nearly all of the contiguous United States, from California to Maine. But the wolf’s threat to livestock (which can be resolved with nonlethal methods), as well as its perceived danger to humans, made it a perpetual target.
By the middle of the 20th century, the species’ numbers had plummeted as a result of a coordinated, government-funded extermination program, leaving only a few hundred wolves left in remote Minnesota and Michigan.
Though the federal government recognized the species as endangered in 1973, FWS never developed a complete national recovery plan, as is required under the Endangered Species Act. Instead, the agency has continued to focus on just three gray wolf populations: those in the Northern Rockies, western Great Lakes, and the Southwest.
In fact, there is still plenty of suitable habitat left in areas such as the southern Rockies, parts of California and the Pacific Northwest, and, notably, the Northeast, where the wolves have struggled to gain hold.
“Decision makers are prioritizing politics over science,” Fallon says. “As we face a biodiversity crisis of global proportions, it is imperative for us to recognize that this isn’t just about wolves. The fate of humanity is intertwined with the fate of species and healthy ecosystems. Now is the time to restore species to the landscape—not dial back efforts. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has decided on the exact opposite.”