Does the Gray Wolf Population Need Protection?
(Page 128 of the Dragonfly Book)

Feds Reconsider Status of Gray Wolf
The federal government is preparing to announce that the gray wolf, which was once nearly extinct in the United States, is abundant enough in some states that it no longer needs the strict protection required under the Endangered Species Act. The change would mean that wolves that pose a threat to human affairs could be chased away or legally shot by government agents.

Wolves were once widely distributed around the world, occupying almost every habitat except tropical jungles. Today, however, wolves occupy only a fraction of their former range. In 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed by the United States Congress to protect declining populations of gray wolves from becoming extinct. At the time, there were only about 400 wolves in the lower 48 states. By 1999, the population had swelled to an estimated 3500 individuals scattered mostly throughout the Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes areas.

Classifying the status of animals is a judgment call. In some cases, the judgment is easy. For instance, the California condor population now includes only a few remaining members and is clearly in great danger. With other species, such as the gray wolf, the situation is much more complex. How should the gray wolf be classified—and therefore managed— in the United States?

The Viewpoints

Keep the Endangered Classification

People who want to keep the gray wolf's status as an endangered species say that most of its former habitat in the 48 contiguous states is unsuitable due to human encroachment. Proponents of this view cite the fact that only after wolves were given protection under the Endangered Species Act did the wolf population in the United States begin to increase. There is concern that human persecution and loss of habitat will restrict gray wolves to more remote areas, or reduce their habitat even further, unless federal protection continues.

Reclassify the Wolf and Remove Federal Protection

Opponents of the endangered species classification counter that in states like Minnesota, the gray wolf population is growing at a rate of 4 to 5 percent each year. These people are confident that, because the populations are increasing at a healthy rate, the wolves no longer need federal protection. Ranchers are concerned that, at the current growth rate, wolves will encroach on their livestock. Many feel strongly that landowners should have the right to protect themselves from potential losses. The protection of wolves currently costs the United States government over $200,000 per year. If the wolves could be legally hunted and trapped, the money that would be saved could be used to help protect other, more endangered species.

You Decide

  1. Defining the Issue

    In your own words, explain the issues surrounding the classification and management of the gray wolf in the United States.

  2. Analyzing the Viewpoints

    List the pros and cons of each option as they relate to both humans and wolves. Consider the different perspectives of landowners, conservationists, and other stakeholders.

  3. Forming Your Opinion

    Should the federal status of the gray wolf change? Why or why not?