The Wolf Numbers Game….


The deadline to file briefs in the wolf delisting lawsuit has ended. As we wait to see if Judge Molloy will hear oral arguments or rule without them, I reflected on what constitutes wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies? 2000, 4000, 6000 wolves? It occurred to me the numbers game has been the nail in the coffin for wolves ever since they were reintroduced to Yellowstone and Central Idaho in the mid-nineties. We’ve been stuck on numbers ever since. The number of breeding pairs, the number of pups, the number of packs, the number of livestock depredations. It’s always about numbers. But is it?

I challenge this paradigm. I believe wolf recovery has little to do with numbers. It’s the numbers game that’s betrayed gray wolves. The true test of recovery for wolves will be their ability to disperse across state lines, to achieve genetic connectivity among sub-populations, to overcome fragmentation and marginalization, in effect to repopulate their entire habitat that was lost to them when they were slaughtered by the federal government for agribusiness and eliminated from the West, without mercy. 

And something else. Wolf recovery is dependent upon humans finding a place in their hearts for wolves to dwell, only then will they have a chance.  

It wasn’t until the enactment of the Endangered Species Act that wolves began to stage a slow comeback. In the 1980’s, well before they were reintroduced to Yellowstone and Central Idaho, gray wolves dispersed on their own from Canada to Glacier National Park. They started to come home. 

In 1995 and 1996 sixty-six MacKenzie Valley wolves from Alberta, Canada were released into Yellowstone and Central Idaho. The official counting of wolves had begun and has never stopped.


The map shows part of their historic home range, wolves now occupy a tiny fraction of that in the lower forty eight. Click on the map to see their current range.

At one time, wolves were distributed over an immense part of the northern hemisphere. Certainly, wolves lived across most of the United States within the last two hundred years. (The only exception was in the Southeast, where the red wolf filled the gray wolf’s niche in the environment.) Even today, there are still a few wolves left in the extreme Southwest and Mexico. (The Mexican wolf is a subspecies of the gray wolf, and is considered extremely endangered.) Today the gray wolf is found in a few northern states in very low numbers. Only Minnesota is home to enough gray wolves for them to be considered in the threatened category. (“Threatened” is one step safer than “endangered.”
Instead of obsessing over numbers we should be concentrating on education to dispel myths that surround wolves. If the wolf is to survive the old attitudes and hates must end. If the wolf is to survive they must be able to move freely across state lines to expand their territory. Yet, a Utah senator recently introduced a bill that would bar wolves from entering that state, on pain of death or relocation, as if wolves can read road signs or understand state boundary lines. 
Colorado is not welcoming them. Wyoming is hostile to them, except for the tiny island of wolves, now numbering below 100, that find refuge in Yellowstone.  Yes, Canadian wolves have dispersed to Washington, which seems the most reasonable of all the states but even there a Lookout Pack pup was killed and then his killers attempted to ship his bloody pelt FedEx to Canada.   
How can the wolf ever hope to make a sustained recovery when they are so persecuted?

A major roadblock to wolf recovery is the livestock industry, who has a stranglehold on state politics, wolves don’t stand a chance until that changes. With the approval  of state “wolf managers”, Wildlife Services  acts  as the rancher’s personal wolf extermination service, courtesy of tax payer dollars.  Likewise state game agencies hamper wolf recovery because their coffers are filled by hunting and licensing fees. They cater to hunters that compete directly with the wolf for the same prey animals. Whose side do you think they will take, the hunter or the wolf ? There is no contest. The wolf loses every time.

We’ve come full circle. Wolves may be relisted by Judge Molloy, solely based on Wyoming’s recalcitrance,  since even the feds know Wyoming’s “management shoot on sight plan” will land wolves right back on the Endangered Species List. It’s an awful game that’s being played with the lives of a magnificent animal that has every right to exist on this earth.

The numbers game is responsible for much of wolf persecution because at some point that magic number will be reached, whether it’s 2000, 4000 or 6000 and the killing can begin again, just as it did in 2009, just as they were exterminated the first time around.  The numbers game says that wolves are living on borrowed time.  That they will always be in the crosshairs.  If we keep moving the numbers around,  how does that help wolves truly recover?

The fate of wolves hangs in the balance. Are we willing to open our hearts and minds to allow this vital apex predator, who is an integral part of a healthy ecosystem, to repopulate their historic habitat, not just a few marginalized pockets? Or will we continue to play the wolf numbers game? 


Legal fight over wolves in Northern Rockies a question of numbers

By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian | Posted: Wednesday, February 3, 2010 11:00 pm

Map: Courtesy of Siteline Institute

Posted in: gray wolf/canis lupus, howling for justice, wolf 2009 delisting, wolf recovery

Tags: wolf numbers game, delisting litigation, wolves in the crossfire

February 3, 2010


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The agreed number of wolves when they were reintroduced was minimum 100 individuals for five years for each state included in the program. The lingering ‘experimental non-essential’ classification, along with animosity from day one, should have been the tip off that the states should not have any private involvement with grey wolves.

    The ESA listing is also an argument that needs to be addressed. The grey wolf in these states is constantly under threat from numerous sources, all of which come from the continued negative attitude towards them. These beliefs such as the ‘Canadian wolf’ that weighs anywhere from 250 to 300lbs, the impact on [unguarded/unsupervised] livestock and ungulate herds and the threat these animals pose to human safety. The state agencies have done -nothing- to dispel these rumours and have even backed them where it is convenient (such as the regions where 26 packs were marked for death upon delisting). Idaho in particular has tried to bend the ESA to allow ‘flexibility’ to kill many wolves before delisting.

    So it is my personal belief that wolves should be removed from the Endangered Species List when the time is appropriate – and then immediately listed as a protected non-game species.


  2. Excellent article, Nabeki! So well written. Thanks for being here for the wolves. Hope many, many people read this!


    • Thank you Katerina. I really think as wolf advocates we have to start thinking outside the box because the present wolf recovery is not working. Wolves are persecuted more then ever. After fifteen years of wolf recovery it ends in wolves being slaughtered. Were they recovered to be subjected to this treatment? Ridiculous.

      Now Sweden wants to import wolves after killing them. What the heck is going on?

      For the wolves, For the wild ones,


  3. Another great article! Thank you for maintaining such a great blog.


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