Though people nearly hunted wolves to extinction in the lower 48 states, northern gray wolves have returned to the Great Lakes, the northern Rockies, California and the Pacific Northwest. But just as the U.S. was making progress for gray wolves, protections were stripped. In 2011, Congress ended protections in the northern Rockies, and in 2020 the Trump administration stripped wolves of their critical ESA protections across the country. Anti-wolf legislators and extremists have been on the offensive ever since.
Wolves play a key role in keeping ecosystems healthy. They help keep deer and elk populations in check, which can benefit many other plant and animal species. The carcasses of their prey also help to redistribute nutrients and provide food for other wildlife species, like grizzly bears and scavengers. Scientists are just beginning to fully understand the positive ripple effects that wolves have on ecosystems.
The Trump administration’s premature decision to strip gray wolves of their federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections was nothing less than a betrayal of wildlife and of the advocates who have spent decades helping bring wolves back from the brink of extinction.
Thankfully on February 10, 2022, a judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) prematurely removed federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in most of the Lower 48 states. The decision restored protections for thousands of wolves.
You can be a part of the solution for endangered species: support our efforts to protect the wild!
Defenders is working with ranchers across the West to develop and implement nonlethal deterrents, better animal husbandry practices and other innovative tools that minimize conflict and build social acceptance for wolves. We’ve helped hundreds of ranchers purchase turbo-fladry and livestock guard dogs, hire range riders and deploy scare devices to keep wolves away from livestock.
We also monitor state and federal legislatures and wildlife agencies closely to track potential threats to wolf populations and recovery. Our experts and policy analysts engage with officials to discuss the problem and, where possible, offer scientifically-based and responsible solutions. If these measures fail, and laws are being violated by extreme wolf policies, we turn to the courts.
Wolves are threatened by conflict with humans and intolerance, and the loss of both habitat and protections under state and federal endangered species laws.
Endangered Species Act
IUCN Red List
Help us spread positive and accurate information about wolves. Speak up for wolves and ask the Biden administration to relist wolves on the U.S. Endangered Species Act. If you live in wolf habitat, practice coexistence techniques. Help us protect gray wolves.
The gray wolf’s range has been reduced to Canada, Alaska, the Great Lakes, northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest. Wolves require large areas of contiguous habitat that can include forests and mountainous terrain with access to prey, protection from excessive persecution and areas for denning and taking shelter.
There are an estimated 7,000 to 11,200 gray wolves in Alaska, 3,700 in the Great Lakes region, 2,700 in the Northern Rockies and 400 in the Pacific Northwest. In 2023, Colorado is expected to begin reintroducing 10-15 wolves from the Northern Rockies every winter for the next 3-5 years; currently, there are only two confirmed resident wolves in the state.
Wolves live, travel and hunt in packs of seven to eight animals on average. Packs include the mother and father wolves (called the alphas), their pups and older offspring. The alpha female and male are typically the pack leaders that track and hunt prey, choose den sites and establish the pack's territory.
Breeding season occurs once a year late January through March. Pups are born blind and defenseless. The pack cares for the pups until they fully mature at about 10 months of age when they can hunt on their own. Once grown, young wolves may disperse. Dispersing wolves have been known to travel 500 miles or more in search of a mate and new territory.
Mating Season: January or February.
Gestation: 63 days
Litter size: 4-7 pups
Wolves eat ungulates, or large hoofed mammals, like elk, deer, moose and caribou, as well as beaver, rabbits and other small prey. Wolves are also scavengers and often eat animals that have died due to other causes.