The Plight of Wolves in America

Gray wolf protections were restored in most western states and the Great Lakes region on Feb. 10, 2022, but not in the Northern Rockies, where hunters and trappers remain in a full killing frenzy. Idaho and Montana have each reported killing hundreds of wolves yearly since 2021. But their official numbers are barely worth tracking, as scientists estimate that unreported, illegal kills abound and any decrease in kill numbers over time may indicate a collapsing population. Even worse, in Feb. 2024 USFWS decided to ingore the best available science and failed to relist wolves under the Endangered Species Act. Protection for wolves in the Northern Rockies is imperative.

Photos of wolves, call for science-based course-correction

A Brief History

Gray wolves were rescued from the brink of extinction in the 1970s, but remain "unrecovered" according to top scientists. Disregarding the science, the federal government began stripping Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections in 2011 and transferring management to the states. More History

This ESA "delisting" led to hunters and trappers killing over 8,000 wolves in seven states between 2011-2019 and all federal protections being removed in 2020. We conservatively estimate at least 2,000 more wolves have since been killed. The multi-state killing frenzy kicked into high gear in 2021, when Wisconsin slaughtered 216 wolves in 3 days and Montana and Idaho passed laws allowing them to kill 85-90 percent, respectively. Montana and Idaho continue to move full speed ahead toward that goal. We have spoken out since the start, working with scientists and activists urging a full emergency ESA relisting.

Appallingly, on Feb. 2, 2024, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced it would not relist wolves. In response we have joined forces with other conservation groups to force a science-based course correction. Together we will sue USFWS for ignoring the best available science, using flawed population models, and not relisting wolves under the Endangered Species Act. You can help power our actions by donating to support our work.

A Chronology of Events Leading to USFWS's Flawed Decision

On Sept. 15, 2021 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced that they found our collective petitions urging emergency relisting of wolves under the ESA substantive and credible. But their comprehensive review wasn't due until until mid-2022 and still hadn't been announced as of January 2023. So we joined with six advocacy groups to announce plans to sue.

Meanwhile, wolves' need for protection increases by the day. On September 27, 2021 the National Park Service announced that three Yellowstone wolves had already been killed by hunters in Montana. By early March 2022, at least 25 Yellowstone wolves had been officially reported killed, but 64 wolves have been reported as killed near the park border, which means the number of park wolves killed may be higher. All Yellowstone wolves are at risk, due to the heinous wolf policies of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, which border the park. Montana's 2021 legislation allows the slaughter of up to 85 percent of their wolves, while Idaho's allows for the killing of 90 percent. Wyoming has been killing wolves with abandon for some time. To make matters worse, over a third of the boundary Yellowstone shares with Montana is within a mile of private property where baiting is now allowed. (Wolves sense of smell can extend for miles!)

Given that wolves don't understand invisible boundary lines--and the fact that hunters and trappers are literally waiting for them to step out of the park--we saw that Yellowstone's entire wolf population could be destroyed before USFWS finished its review. As an emergency measure, on Oct. 27, 2021 we urged the U.S. Forest Service to establish a 5-mile wolf hunting and trapping setback around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. This is part of an effort we helped facilitate with Footloose Montana. Over three dozen organizations and individuals have signed on and we encourage you to join in.

On Oct. 28, 2021 more than 20 U.S. senators sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging immediate emergency protections for wolves in U.S. West, to shield them for the next 240 days while true ESA relisting protections are considered. The Senators' letter is one of the pressure campaigns we've been working on with other groups behind the scenes. We are very grateful to Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) for hearing all our voices and taking the lead in the Senate by standing up for wolves in this way. Read AP news story

On Dec. 15, 2021, a bipartisan group of 78 U.S. Representatives, led by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), also urged Sec. Haaland to immediately issue an emergency ESA relisting. Read press release |Signed MOC letter

Growing increasingly concerned about Sec. Haaland's lack of action to protect wolves, Rep. DeFazio spoke with her by phone on Jan. 19, 2022 to clarify the dire need for emergency protections. He was gravely disapopinted by her refusal to commit and issued an official statement after the call. "There is simply no reason for Secretary Haaland to continue a Trump-era policy that threatens the existence of a species," DeFazio said. "I am disappointed she has chosen to delay this vital action to stop the slaughter. It has taken decades to bring this species back from near extinction. Their survival depends on her immediate action. If the Administration fails to act now, we may not have another chance to save the gray wolf.” Read press release | News story We highly applaud DeFazio's persistence and courage. He has long been the undisputed champion for wolves in the U.S. Congress and we will greatly miss him when he retires later in 2022.

On Feb. 8, 2022 Sec. Haaland responded with an op-ed in USA Today. She hit all the right notes, describing her respect for science, law and Native American culture. But, alarmingly, she appears ready to defer to USFWS and the alleged "best available science" and data they claim to respect. It is far from that. See details in our updated sample letter to Sec. Haaland and send her a message today.

Partially good news came on Feb. 10, 2022, when a federal judge restored protections for wolves in parts of the West, but not in the Northern Rockies, where functional extinction is well underway. Wolves in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, eastern Oregon, and eastern Washington remain in dire need of protection.

On Feb. 15, 2022 Rep. Defazio again urged Sec. Haaland to relist wolves in the Northern Rockies. Read press release

Regardless of all pressure exerted, we continued to wait for the Interior Department and USFWS to release the review decision due in September 2022 on relisting gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as for the establishment of a no-hunting buffer around Yellowstone National Park. Their delay was both unlawful and devastating for wolves. In hopes of prompting action, we joined with six advocacy groups in January 2023 to give these agencies a 60-day Notice of Intent (NOI) to sue if they ultimately announced they would not relist wolves. On Feb. 7, 2024 we joined with other conservation groups suing to force a science-based course correction. Read press release

Top Wolf News & Opinions

The History: Removal from Federal Endangered Species List in 2011 Spelled Doom for American Wolves

Wolves were rescued from the brink of extinction in the 1970s when they gained federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. But on April 15, 2011, when President Obama signed the federal budget into law, he also signed the death warrants for thousands of wolves in the Lower 48. This happened because Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) added a last-minute wolf-killing rider that removed wolves from the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in states that had managed to establish significant populations.

The reality was wolves had barely managed to gain a toehold and reoccupy territory from which they'd been recently extirpated by ranching and agricultural interests. They were not "recovered" by ESA standards. They did not occupy a significant portion of their historial range, and they did not meet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's own conservation principles for recovery--the 3 Rs, which include resiliency, redundancy and representation across of range of ecological contexts. Tester's rider also prohibited further judicial review, which meant conservation interests were no longer able to legally intervene.

This 2011 "delisting" turned management of these majestic animals over to state wildlife agencies. State managers moved quickly to open hunting seasons on wolves in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In subsequent years over 8,000 wolves have been senselessly slaughtered by sport hunters and trappers alone in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan--1,141 were killed during the 2012-13 season alone. These kill numbers do not include the scores of wolves slaughtered by poachers and federal and state predator control programs. Nor do these numbers include Alaska, which is a whole different ball of wax, with a killing frenzy that has raged unabated for decades.

Never in the history of the Endangered Species Act had a species been delisted because of politics. Wildlife management and politics hit a new low and established a dangerous precedent. Wolf management has swung full circle in 50 years from extermination to recovery, and back again. Free roaming packs of wolves in America will be lucky to survive, much less thrive, anywhere outside of the national parks, where they are protected.  Hunters and trappers also gained access to wolves by lying in wait for them when they cross the park boundaries, as has happened in Montana.

Please read the following for more details:

Independent Peer Review Panel Determined Government's Wolf Delisting Proposal Was Based on Outdated and Flawed Science

In early 2014 we had a special reason reason for hope that conservation science, not political science, would determine the future of America's imperiled gray wolves--that they would be able to continue to recover and expand their range into land the species once roamed and called home.

The reason for hope was two-fold: Not only did USFWS receive over a million comments on their ill-advised proposal to remove protections for wolves nationwide, but in February 2014 a scientific peer review panel rejected their proposal. 

What happened was USFWS canceled the first peer review in the wake of a scandal exposing their biased methodologies. Then the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at U.C. Santa Barbara took over peer review of the delisting proposal and provided a fair, professional, and scientific analysis. The reviewers in this independent panel unanimously decided that wolf delisting was not supported by the best available science and that removing protections would be premature. The NCEAS peer review report exposed the shoddy work and bias toward hunting and livestock interests behind the USFWS delisting proposal.

As a result, USFWS opened an additional 45-day public comment period that ran February 10-March 27, 2014. Countless people submitted comments, telling USFWS they knew their initial study was flawed and taking them to task for not operating in good faith with the public by willfully ignoring, discounting, and in some cases misrepresenting the best available science.

Watch Our Film, "The Imperiled American Wolf"


Our 2012 film, "The Imperiled American Wolf," explains the reasons wolves cannot be successfully managed by state wildlife agencies: not only do their methods ignore the core biology of how wolves hunt and breed, but their funding depends on hunting and trapping fees. In fact, current wolf management may actually lead to wolves' demise. Predator Defense and this film make a bold call for federal relisting of these important apex predators as endangered species.

The war being waged against wolves is senseless and tragic, and it is up to all of us to speak out now on their behalf (details below).

Inspiring Letters from Citizens, Scientists and Members of Congress

We believe you may find inspiration in some of the letters below:

Petitions to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland via USFWS, Urging Emergency ESA Relisting for Western Wolves

We are one of 70 groups who filed a formal petition on July 29, 2021 (see below) urging emergency ESA relisting to stop Idaho, Montana, and other western states' plans to kill as many wolves as possible. We also support the earlier petition filed on May 26, 2021.

USFWS Deemed Our Petitions Substantive & Credible; Then They Failed

On Sept. 15, 2021, the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced they'd reviewed our collective petitions (see previous section), found them substantive and credible, and would perform a comprehensive review on restoring wolf protections in the Western U.S.

Alas, USFWS failed to acknowledge the best-available science and used flawed population models in their review. On Feb. 2, 2024 they announced they would not protect Western wolves under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Help Us Hold USFWS Accountable in Lawsuit to Protect Wolves

We continue to urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to course-correct to stop the ongoing wolf slaughter in the Northern Rockies. In February 2024 we were one of 10 groups who joined forces to sue USFWS for ignoring the best available science, using flawed population models, and not relisting wolves under the Endangered Species Act. You can help power our actions by donating to support our work. Any amount helps our work for wolves and is greatly appreciated.