Dear EarthTalk: Is the gray wolf still endangered in the United States, and how successful have reintoduction efforts been? -- Loren Renquist, Salem, Ore.
The gray wolf is still considered "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. But a June 2013 proposal by the Obama administration to "delist" the animals, save for a small struggling population of Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico, could change that if finalized this year.
Gray wolves were added to the Endangered Species List in 1975 after being wiped out across the contiguous 48 states by government-sponsored trapping and poisoning programs. Thanks to protections under the ESA, populations have since bounced back nicely in two out of the three regions where protections and reintroduction programs were initiated. In the Great Lakes, wolf populations rebounded from just a few hundred individuals in the 1970s to more than 5,000 today, expanding their range from Minnesota to Wisconsin and Michigan. In the Northern Rockies, natural migration from Canada and reintroductions in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho have resulted in some 1,700 gray wolves now roaming across Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon.
"Despite these substantial gains, the job of wolf recovery is far from over," reported the Center for Biological Diversity. "Wolves need connected populations for genetic sustainability, and natural ecosystems need wolves; yet today wolves occupy less than five percent of their historic range."
That's why CBD has joined a chorus of voices in urging the federal government to continue protecting gray wolves under the ESA.
The U.S. government had been scaling back wolf protections in recent years, so animal advocates weren't surprised to see the Obama administration's proposal.