What you need to know about wolf conservation
2021 was a hard year for wolves.
Last October, the Trump administration yanked Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection away from every wolf in the Lower 48 states.1 This year, we faced the consequences: More hunting than we’ve seen in decades.
But hope isn’t lost for our magnificent gray wolves, their elusive red wolf cousins, or the unique lobos of the Southwest. Here’s your guide to the state of wolf conservation as 2021 comes to a close.
- Gray wolf conservation is in the hands of individual states while we work to get national protection reinstated. Supporters of Environmental Action have sent over 200,000 messages to decision makers urging them to protect wolves again as soon as possible.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering restoring ESA protection to the wolves of the Northern Rockies.2 Winning an ESA listing back for this population of wolves would be an important first step back toward national protection.
The Endangered Species Act protects vulnerable wildlife by making it illegal to kill or harm listed species or their habitat. Wolves in the Lower 48 states were first listed under the ESA in 1978, protecting their path to recovery — but that protection ended this year.
This transformed the landscape of wolf conservation into a patchwork — every state for itself. Devastating hunting was the result. When Wisconsin held a wolf hunt this past February, hunters killed 218 wolves in just 72 hours — nearly twice the maximum limit set by the state.3
The slaughter has finally captured the government’s attention. Right now, the FWS is seeking comments from the public as they decide whether or not to relist the wolves of the Northern Rockies — populations in states like Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana that have been hit particularly hard.
Relisting this population of wolves could be the first step to winning back protections nationwide — if we take action now.
- Fewer than 10 wolves are left in the wild, and poachers pose a deadly threat to those that are still alive. In a survey of the people living in the red wolves’ habitat, a small portion of respondents reported that they would kill any wolf they encountered.4
- The FWS has formally withdrawn a proposal that would have shrunk the wild red wolves’ protected area by 90%.5 Now, we are waiting for their updated plan, which the agency aims to complete in 2023.
With fewer than ten remaining in the wild in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, red wolves are some of the most critically endangered animals in the world.
Red wolves have been federally protected for decades, but inconsistent management is causing them to dwindle. The FWS once helped the number of wild red wolves soar to at least 120, but after the agency abandoned many of the proven techniques to foster growth, the population plummeted.
Red wolves still face many dangers — including the threat of poaching in their natural habitat. But luckily, hope is on the horizon. On top of reevaluating its management plan, the FWS has also announced plans to release 9 more red wolves to the wild this winter.
This could be the boost the wild red wolves’ population needs to grow healthily again — if the wolves the FWS releases are able to survive.
That’s why we’re taking action to urge the FWS to protect red wolves from poachers — and you can help by adding your name today.
- The FWS has proposed a new management plan for lobos that will enact stronger protections if it is passed.6 The plan will remove a 325-wolf population limit and outlaw three formerly-legal ways to “take” — that is, harm or kill — lobos.
- The wild population of lobos has grown to 186 individuals. This steady progress is exciting to see, but we still have a long way to go before their future is secure.
The Mexican gray wolf, or lobo, is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in America. Their population is growing, but it’s still too small to survive on its own, and lobos face many dangers — from vehicle strikes to getting caught in traps meant for other animals. With so few left, every individual wolf counts. Every death is a loss the population can’t afford.
That’s why the newly proposed FWS plan is so exciting. If enacted, the plan won’t just lift the cap on the number of lobos allowed to roam New Mexico and Arizona. It also calls for 22 lobos to be released to the wild between now and 2030, and it protects these precious new wolves by restricting the circumstances in which they can be removed or killed.
The plan isn’t perfect. We still have a long way to go before this critically endangered canine is safe for good. But right now, it will make lobos safer than they’ve ever been — if the FWS turns it from plan into reality.
- Darryl Fears, “Trump strips protections for endangered gray wolves,” The Washington Post, October 29, 2020.
- “Service to Initiate Status Review of Gray Wolf in the Western U.S.,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, September 15, 2021.
- Danielle Kaeding, “Dane County judge temporarily bars Wisconsin’s wolf hunt, orders DNR to set quota of zero wolves,” Wisconsin Public Radio, October 22, 2021.
- Valerie Yurk, “A few poachers could drive red wolves to extinction,” E&E News, September 28, 2021.
- Adam Wagner, “Federal agency withdraws plan that would all but end protection for red wolves in NC,” The News & Observer, November 14, 2021.
- “Service Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Changes to Mexican Wolf Management Rule,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, October 27, 2021.