Written by Rachel Pierstorff, ESLLC 2015-2016
The story of gray wolves in the United States is one of near extinction stopped by successful management. Throughout the 19th and 20th century, wolves, seen as threats to livestock, were hunted for bounties. With only 500 estimated wolves in 1978, my home state, Minnesota, was home to the last remaining wolves in the continental United States. The gray wolf was thus added to the Endangered Species List, to be protected and managed by the Endangered Species Act. Such protection proved extremely successful. Only 20 years later, Minnesota had a population of over 2,500 wolves—and Wisconsin and northern Michigan again had wolf packs as well.
Recovery continued remarkably; so much so, that the gray wolf was removed from the endangered species list in 2012. As a result, their management was placed under state control and each of the three states’ Departments of Natural Resources organized hunting licenses for gray wolves. The hunting season was partially based in the need for population control, but also came from the demands of hunters and farmers who claimed that the increasing wolf population was negatively influencing game and livestock, respectively.
Minnesota had hunting seasons in both 2012 and 2013. During each, the target wolf harvest was generally met—yet, in 2014 a federal court repealed the decision to take the wolves off of the Endangered Species List and immediately returned them to the federal protection of the ESA. The ruling judge called the initial decision “arbitrary and capricious,” given how recently the wolves had been on the brink of extinction. Many wolf enthusiasts and animal protection advocates were thrilled with the decision, however, unsurprisingly, farmers complain of “heavy financial losses from wolf attacks on livestock.”
The future of wolves in the Great Lakes region, if history is any indication, is far from predictable. It may come down to what the public chooses to value the most—the ecological well-being of the wolf population and its role in the northern Midwest, or the financial livelihood of hunters and farmers. Balance must be found between the two.
Anderson, Dennis. “Chart: Minnesota Gray Wolf Timeline.” Star Tribune. N.p., 1 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Dec. 2015. <http://www.startribune.com/chart-minnesota-gray-wolf-timeline/181647671/>.
“Wolf Hunting Banned In Minnesota.” CBS Minnesota. CBS Local, 19 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2015. <http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2014/12/19/great-lakes-wolves-ordered-returned-to-endangered-list/>.
“Wolf Management.” Minnesota DNR. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Dec. 2015. <http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/wolves/mgmt.html>.