Gray wolves in the United States have always been shrouded in the haze of human hunting. They once spread across North America, but were hunted to almost extinction in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was then protected under the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s. Although it was long overdue, this species was left behind.
But even under conservation laws, Americans hunt gray wolves for reasons including concern for livestock and general hostility to animals and other predators. Some deer and bear hunters also see wolves as competitors, or consider gray wolves a threat to their hunting dogs. These people can only be a minority, and the population of gray wolves is still increasing overall, but after October 2020, everything has changed.
The Trump administration has announced the removal of gray wolves from 48 U.S. states' endangered species lists. This has led directly to a surge in gray wolf hunting across U.S. states, reducing their overall numbers by a staggering 27 to 33 percent in a very short period of time. Six Native American tribes and environmental groups in northern Wisconsin have sued to reverse a decision to remove gray wolves from an endangered species.
To mitigate the rapid decline in gray wolf numbers, a team of researchers set out to determine which times of the year are most dangerous for wolves by analyzing how poaching rates change with weather and human activity to develop conservation plans. The team examined the number of recorded poaching deaths of gray wolves. It was a tough job because, even though most of the gray wolves had been fitted with locating transmitters, poachers would be cunning to destroy them, so the team had to risk counting in the wild.
After nearly a year of research, they found that poaching slowed down from mid-April to early July. Because the snow had melted by then, the gray wolf was not easy to spot. By contrast, poaching rates more than doubled in late winter to early spring. Because there is still snow on the ground at this time, the gray wolf has limited movement and is more likely to be chased. But when the snow season and hunting season overlap from late autumn to early winter, the poaching rate even rises by more than 650 percent. More would-be poachers may be roaming around this season, either because they are legally hunting other prey or because they are willing to use the hunting commotion as cover to poach grey wolves.
These results are valuable for documenting protected wolf mortality and poaching risk in relation to legal hunting seasons, as well as providing insights into the importance of developing policies and procedures. These results will serve as evidence that the gray wolves are back on the endangered list with more protection.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of Oakland, Calif., made a landmark decision on Thursday, February 10, 2022. In response to a lawsuit brought by a series of environmental and anti-hunting groups, White restored federal protections for gray wolves. The ruling overturns a 2020 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) under the Trump administration.
The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Wildlife Conservationists, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, the Humane Society of America, the National Park Conservancy and the Oregon Wildlife Society. Wolf populations in these organizational areas have declined rapidly.
In 2020, there are approximately 4,200 wolves in the U.S. Midwest and approximately 1,900 in the North, according to the reliable data available. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes these populations are adjacent to 12,000-14,000 wolves in eastern Canada and 15,000 wolves in western Canada. Since the two are adjacent, there is no need to be so separated, and the wolves will definitely expand rapidly. But no one knows what the fate of the gray wolf will be in the future.