Wolves

The gray wolf

9--wolfe-oGray wolves (Canis lupus) are apex predators found in the Great Lakes Region of the United States and Canada, as well as in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

In Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin, the gray wolf is referred to as the eastern timber wolf.  In the Northern Rockies and Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, the gray wolf is known as the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf. These last packs are likely a mixture of a reintroduced population of Canadian wolves and the remaining “original” wolves (Canis lupus irremotus).

Researchers at Stanford University published a report in 2009 stating that certain modern wolves exhibit characteristics spread from inter-breeding with domestic dogs. The researchers note that the introduction of dog genetics back into wild wolf populations may have occurred as long as 10,000 years ago, from dogs brought by aboriginal immigrants coming from Asia.

Gray wolves in North America can grow as long as 5 feet in length, and stand 3 feet at the shoulder. Weights can vary to 120 pounds, though some Northern individual gray wolves from Canada and Alaska have weighed as much as 179 pounds in the past.

Wolves are adaptive predators, feeding on ungulates (moose, deer, and elk), bison, beaver, rabbits and livestock (horses, cattle, and sheep). Wolves also scavenge available wildlife carrion when discovered.

Wolf populations were depleted uniformly across the United States with the western migrations of hunters and settlers who competed for game, and hunted wolves that preyed upon their livestock. Additional methods of wolf control programs included depredation hunting, trapping, poisoning of carcasses and the termination of wolf pups found in den sites.

Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on June 4, 1973. Due to a debate regarding taxonomical classifications, all species of wolves in the lower 48 states, save those in Minnesota, were classified as endangered on March 8, 1978.  Wolves in Minnesota were listed as threatened, due to the size of the remnant population in the state. With the federal listing, wolf management by state level programs came under the purview of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Wolf Damage Management Program.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service monitors and controls wolves demonstrated to have killed livestock. Since listing under the ESA, the majority of wolf mortalities from human interaction are due to management control efforts, though a number of illegal mortalities are also recorded by U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Law Enforcement.

After notice and public comment meetings, gray wolf reintroduction was established on November 22, 1994. Wolves were to be reintroduced in a remote area of Idaho, as well as Yellowstone National Park, under the ESA, Section 10(j) nonessential/experimental categorization.

The original plan called for 30 Canadian gray wolves to be introduced separately from an area where breeding and interaction with “native” Rocky Mountain gray wolves were not known to be occurring.

Over the life of the wolf reintroduction and recovery program, wolf populations have increased in both the Rocky Mountain and Great Lakes regions to the point that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had published notices of delisting wolves under the ESA, despite significant wolf management efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service personnel.

The Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves were ultimately delisted from the ESA in 2011 over environmentalist’s active opposition.

The controversies regarding wolf depredation on livestock, as well as the above referenced depredation on ungulates favored by hunters (up to 30% reductions according to the Wolf Recovery Program estimates), have plagued the recovery program since gray wolf re-introduction in the 10(j) area.

Similar controversies related to livestock and domestic dog depredation also exist in the Eastern Timber Wolf management areas in the Great Lakes Region.

Like the grizzly bear, the gray wolf has been known to scavenge and environmental activist have alleged that the gray wolf may be subject to lead poisoning from hunted carrion left in the field.  Hunt for Truth is monitoring efforts to expand lead ammunition bans due to the gray wolf, comparable to California’s AB 821 lead ammunition ban in the California condor ranges.

The Mexican wolf

Mexican wolves (Canis lupis bailey), is a subspecies of wolf native to Arizona, New Mexico and Northern Mexico.

Mexican wolves can reach shoulder heights as much as 32 inches, grow as long from nose to tip of tail as 5 ½ feet, and can weigh as much as 80 pounds. Mexican wolves can live as long as 15 years in captivity.

Mexican wolves prey primarily on wild ungulates (deer, elk, and antelope) as well as opportunistically feeding on small mammals, rodents, and possibly livestock such as sheep and cattle. As such, sustainable use policies in Mexican wolf habitat can lead to reduced hunting quotas for big game species, so as to assure that there is sufficient game for the recovery of the Mexican wolf population across its historical range.

Currently only 50 or so Mexican wolves are thought to exist in the wild, predominantly in Eastern Arizona and Western New Mexico.

The Mexican wolf is currently listed as endangered, under the Endangered Species Act and is the subject of a captive breeding program involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a variety of non-governmental program partners carrying out captive breeding in the United States. A recent reintroduction of Mexican wolves from Mexico may allow increased numbers of Mexican wolves to be released in a manner not subject to U.S. public comment and input as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.  Livestock and hunting interests may need to be concerned with the additional effects of these wolves “dispersing” from Mexico on wild ungulate and livestock populations.

The “purity” of the Mexican wolf strain has been questioned at times, with Mexican wolves found in captivity to have a percentage of domestic dog genes. A number of Mexican wolves within the Mexican wolf captive breeding program have been euthanized because of hybridization with domestic dogs.

Like the gray wolf, the Mexican wolf has been known to scavenge, and environmental activists contend that the potential for lead poisoning from hunter’s game left in the field calls for additional lead ammunition bans.  Hunt for Truth is monitoring the Mexican wolf recovery program and its participants.