Timeline of the Gray Wolf in America

Wolves and Indigenous peoples live in peaceful and respectful coexistence.

1620

The Mayflower lands in Plymouth, Massachusetts

European colonists bring the Old World cultural fear and hatred of wolves to America. As the nation is colonized, wolves are hunted down in a war that lasts for centuries, and leaves the species essentially extinct in the lower 48 states.
Photo courtesy of Panzer Gnauck

"Little Red Riding Hood" is published

Folklore, fairy tales, and fables promote the myth of the Big Bad Wolf. Passed on from generation to generation, the stories instill a fear of wolves that remains prevalent today.
Photo by INTERFOTO/History/Alamy Stock

1697

1800s

Westward expansion

As the western U.S. is settled by European Americans, wolves are shot, poisoned, trapped, burned, and strangled. Pups are excavated from dens and killed. Bounty hunters known as "wolfers" make a living by hunting wolves. By the mid 1880s, wolf bounties are awarded in most states for dead wolves.

Grabill, J. C. H., photographer. (1887) "Roping gray wolf," Cowboys take in a gray wolf on "Round up," in Wyoming. Wyoming, 1887. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/99613918/.

Yellowstone National Park

U.S. Congress establishes the world's first national park. The natural landscape of more than 2 million wilderness acres are preserved for public use. Gray wolves have roamed the area for many years and reside within the park boundary.
Photo courtesy of Panzer Gnauck

1872

1926

Wolves are extirpated from Yellowstone

A Yellowstone ranger is seen with wolf pups pulled from their den and brought to park headquarters in Mammoth. Shortly after the photo is taken, the pups are killed. Between 1914-26, at least 136 Yellowstone wolves are killed, the victims of a U.S. government-sponsored campaign to eradicate wolves from all federal lands. In 1926, the park's last known wild wolf pups are trapped and killed by rangers in Lamar Valley.
Photographer unknown; approximately 1922/NPS

A proposal to restore wolves

Early in Aldo Leopold's career as a U.S. forester, he is an advocate for wolf extirpation. However, after shooting a mother wolf and watching her die, he begins to question his own views. After observing the wilderness without wolves, Leopold recognizes their impact on ecosystem health. He advocates for the restoration of wolves to national parks, such as Yellowstone.

"We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then and have known ever since that there was something new to me in those eyes, something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."
—Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949
Photo courtesy of Panzer Gnauck

1944

1960

Gray wolves are nearly extinct

Fewer than 1,000 gray wolves remain in the lower 48 states, surviving only in the remote forests of northern Minnesota and on Isle Royale, where they are out of reach of humans. While the historic range of the gray wolf once covered over two-thirds of the continental U.S., the species occupies less than 5% of its ancestral homeland.
Photo of the Canyon Alpha Female, aka White Lady, and her mate 712M courtesy of Pete Bengeyfield

Endangered Species Act

After wolves vanished from the landscape, scientists begin to recognize their vital role as an apex predator and keystone species in a healthy and balanced ecosystem. A shift in public attitude in favor of wolf conservation leads to the passage of the Endangered Species Act, which is signed into law by President Richard Nixon on Dec. 28. With the survival of the gray wolf in question, the species was one of the first to be listed. This monumental reversal of government policy from eradication to restoration rescues wolves from the brink of extinction by granting them federal protection and enabling them a slow recovery.
Photo of Canyon Pack alpha male 712M by Free Roaming Photography — Mike Cavaroc

1973

1986

Wolves from Canada naturally recolonize northwestern Montana

Fifty years after government-sanctioned predator control killed off the last wolves in Glacier National Park, members of Canada's Magic pack venture into northwestern Montana, den inside the park, and produce a litter.
Photo by Colleen Gara/Getty Images

1987

Red wolf reintroduction

Listed as extinct in the wild by 1980, the last 14 remaining wild red wolves are captured and become the founding members of a captive breeding program. From 1987-94, the red wolf species is reintroduced back to the wild in a portion of its former range. The successful Red Wolf Recovery Program becomes a model for the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone in 1995 and 1996, and for Mexican gray wolves to Arizona and New Mexico beginning in 1998.
Red wolf portrait by B. Bartel/USFWS

A reintroduction of gray wolves from Canada is approved

The natural recovery of wolves has not occurred as far south as Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. A reintroduction of wolves is officially endorsed by the Clinton administration to help accelerate wolf restoration.
Photo courtesy of Panzer Gnauck

1994

The historic return of wolves!

A total of 29 wolves are captured in Alberta, Canada: 14 wolves are transported to Yellowstone National Park and 15 wolves are transported to a wilderness area in central Idaho. The Idaho-bound wolves are freed into the wilderness immediately, while wolves going to Yellowstone (3 family groups) will be held in acclimation pens until late March.

Pictured: After almost a 70-year absence, wolves arrive to Yellowstone. On Jan. 12, the white truck carrying the first eight wolves of the reintroduction passes under the Roosevelt Arch into Yellowstone. The truck is destined for Lamar Valley, where the wolves will acclimate to their new home before being released into the park. 

"Every time we stopped, visitors would come up and ask if they could pose next to the trailer. You couldn't even see the wolves in there, but people wanted photos. That's the magic that wolves have, and that's the first time we all felt that."

—Doug Smith, Senior Wildlife Biologist of the Yellowstone Wolf Project
Photo by Diane Papineau/NPS

1995

1995

Yellowstone wolves are carried acclimation pens

"This is the day the wolves are coming home, and the day Yellowstone will be a complete ecosystem again."

—Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior, 1993-2001

Pictured: The first wolf (alpha female 5F) is carried into the Crystal Creek acclimation pen by Mike Phillips-YNP Wolf Project Leader, Jim Evanoff-YNP, Mollie Beattie-Director of USFWS, Mike Finley-Supt. of YNP, and Bruce Babbitt-Sec. of the Interior.
Photo by Jim Peaco; January 12, 1995/NPS

Thoughts from the field: Mollie Beattie

"The wolves and I finally got to Yellowstone in January. What I did there was lift the handle of a metal box that encased the first wolf to be in the park in sixty years. I carried my corner of the box fifty yards up a hill and set it down in a moment of silent gratitude to all those who had worked for twenty years to get this far. Then, I put a finger up to one of the ventilation holes in the box and felt the gray fur and a little rib underneath it. Unexplainably, I am prouder of that short carry than many other of my life’s achievements, and I was as moved by the feel of the inch circle of fur and flesh as by any deep mystery of the earth seen in its fullness. When I put the box down, I turned to look over the Lamar Valley. What I can only call an instinct of the rightness that wolves were here now swept over me."

—Mollie Beattie,
as Director of USFWS, 1993-96, she was instrumental in restoring wolves. Excerpt from Phillips, M. K., & Smith, D. W. (1996). The wolves of Yellowstone. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, (p. 52).

Pictured: Wolf 7F (aka Rosie) in her shipping crate looking out at her new home.
Photo by Jim Peaco; January 1995/NPS

1995

1995

The fist wolf exits an acclimation pen in Yellowstone

On March 24, biologists see 10M standing outside of the Rose Creek acclimation pen — he is a free wolf in Yellowstone. Tragically, after surviving only 34 days in the wild, 10M is illegally shot and killed by a trophy hunter. His mate finds his headless and skinless body, and lies down beside him. She gives birth to eight pups fathered by 10M. His legacy will live on through his sons and daughters, the first wild wolf pups to be born in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 70 years!

Pictured: 10M at the Rose Creek acclimation pen.
Photo by Barry O'Neill; 1995/NPS

A wolf pack naturally forms in Yellowstone

In late January, 7F of the Rose Creek pack and 2M of the Crystal Creek pack naturally pair in the wild. In honor of Aldo Leopold, the conservationist who first envisioned restoring wolves to Yellowstone, the pack they found is named the Leopold pack.

Pictured: 7F (aka Rosie) in the Rose Creek acclimation pen.
Photo by Jim Peaco; 1995/NPS

1996

1996

Gray wolf reintroduction continues

For year two, a total of 37 wolves are captured in British Columbia, Canada: 17 wolves (4 family groups) are transported to Yellowstone National Park and 20 wolves are transported to Idaho.

Pictured: 40F, the future Druid Peak pack alpha female and mother of 06, exiting a shipping crate into the Rose Creek acclimation pen.
Photo by Jim Peaco; January 26, 1996/NPS

Wild wolf pups are released in Yellowstone

Lethal control action is taken against a wild wolf pack in northeast Montana, leaving 10 pups orphaned. Likely to perish if left on their own, the pups are relocated to Yellowstone and released into the park. Their addition extends the reintroduction into 1997 and furthers the genetic diversity of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem wolf population. Pictured: Sawtooth wolf pup
Photo by Jim Peaco; January 1997/NPS

1997

2003

USFWS begins the process of removing federal ESA protections for gray wolves

In April, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) identifies three large geographical Distinct Population Segments (DPSs) for gray wolves. Although the gray wolf remains absent from 95% of its historic range, USFWS downlists wolves in the Eastern and Western DPSs from endangered to threatened. Wolves in the Southwestern DPS remain endangered. The downlisting and DPSs are challenged by conservation groups through litigation. The courts rule the actions are a violation of the ESA and gray wolves regain their endangered status.
Photo Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

2007-08

USFWS attempts to delist wolves again in smaller DPSs

USFWS identifies the gray wolf in the Western Great Lakes as a DPS and removes the DPS from the list of threatened and endangered species effective March 12, 2007. The DPS encompasses all of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, as well as the eastern halves of North Dakota and South Dakota, the northern half of Iowa, northern portions of Illinois and Indiana, and the northwestern portion of Ohio.

In February 2008, USFWS identifies the gray wolf in the Northern Rocky Mountains as a DPS and removes the DPS from the list of threatened and endangered species. The DPS encompasses all of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, as well as the eastern one-third of Oregon and Washington, and the northwestern portion of Utah. One of the first wolves killed in Wyoming is a member of Yellowstone's Druid Peak pack — 253M, also known as Limpy. He is shot on the very day it becomes legal to shoot wolves in Wyoming's so-called "Predator Zone".

Both delistings are challenged by conservation groups and overturned by the courts. Federal ESA protections are reinstated for both wolf populations.
Photos source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

2009-10

USFWS tries again — this time delisting wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS, except for Wyoming, as well as the Western Great Lakes DPS

Effective May 4, 2009, USFWS delists wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS, except in Wyoming — which is excluded because the state's proposed management plan allows wolves to be shot-on-sight across 85% of the state. The federal agency determines it will not delist Wyoming wolves until the state establishes a wolf management plan that ensures the continued recovery of the species. The delisting is challenged by conservation groups through litigation.

In April 2, 2009, USFWS delists wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS. The delisting is challenged by conservation groups through litigation and in July 2009, pursuant to a settlement agreement, USFWS withdraws the delisting. Federal ESA protections are restored for gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS.

As a result of the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS delisting, Idaho and Montana authorize wolf hunting seasons. On Sept. 1, 2009, legal wolf hunting begins in two areas of Idaho and will expand through most of the state by the end of the month. On Sept. 9, a federal court ruling allows Idaho and Montana to continue with the regulated hunting of wolves. Montana's legal wolf hunt begins on September 15. Early in the Montana hunt, three members of Yellowstone's Cottonwood pack are shot and killed: alpha female 527F (Druid Peak pack lineage), her mate/alpha male, and daughter 716F. The pack dissolves. At least 257 wolves are killed by hunters in Idaho and Montana before the season ends. On Aug. 5, 2010, the delisting is overturned and federal ESA protections are restored for gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS.

2011

Congress legislatively delists wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS, except for Wyoming

A wolf delisting rider, sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), is added at the last minute to a must-pass Congressional federal budget bill. The rider orders USFWS to reissue the January 2009 rule delisting wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS, except for Wyoming. A rider is a provision added to a Congressional bill under consideration even though it may be unrelated to the bill to which it is attached, and may be used to pass unpopular provisions. In this case, wolf delisting is not related with the federal budget and hunting is unpopular with the American public at large. The bill is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, overturning the earlier court ruling that rejected the 2009 rule. This marks the first time Congress has removed ESA protections for a species in the Act's almost 40-year history. The rider states that the rule is not subject to judicial review, which means the courts are unable to change it.
Photo courtesy of Gypsy Jason Kladiva, Your Friend in Yellowstone

USFWS delists wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS

In December, USFWS delists wolves in the Western Great Lakes. Almost 1,600 wolves are killed by hunters and trappers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan before federal protections are restored.
Photo by Doug Steakley/Getty Images

2011

2012

USFWS delists wolves in Wyoming. The Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population is now fully delisted.

In a reversal of policy, USFWS accepts the previously rejected Wyoming wolf management plan, despite no new evidence to indicate wolves would be adequately protected. Wyoming wolves are delisted on September 30 and a wolf hunt begins on Oct. 1. On Nov. 11, 06s mate 754M is shot and killed in Wyoming. One month later, 06 herself is shot and killed. The Wyoming delisting is challenged by conservation groups through litigation.
Photo by Nick Garbutt; January 17, 2018/Alamy Stock

06 is shot and killed

On Dec. 6, 06 — the world's most famous wolf — is shot and killed in Wyoming by a trophy hunter. With her loss, the pack's social structure is disrupted and the pack fragments. All the females of the pack are daughters of the alpha male, which causes him to leave the pack in search of a mate. The once mighty Lamar Canyon pack — 13 strong before 06 was killed — will carry on with just two daughters who remain inside Yellowstone.
Photo of 06 courtesy of Kathy Schmidt, an avid Yellowstone wolf watcher; February 9, 2010

2012

2014

Federal ESA protections are restored for wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS and Wyoming

In September, a federal court nullifies the August 2012 Wyoming delisting. In December, a federal court nullifies the 2011 Western Great Lakes delisting. Federal ESA protections are reinstated for both populations.
Photo of 540F, the Hayden Valley Alpha Female, mother of White Lady and grandmother of the Wapiti Alpha Female, courtesy of Pete Bengeyfield.

Wolves are delisted in Wyoming

In March, a U.S. Court of Appeals reverses the September 2014 district court decision. On April 26, USFWS again delists wolves in the state of Wyoming.
Photo by William Krumpelman/iStock

2017

2020

Nearly all gray wolves in the lower 48 states are delisted

USFWS delists gray wolves across the continental U.S. effective Jan. 4, 2021, excluding a small population of Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico, which remain endangered. The delisting does not affect the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population — wolves in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Utah were already delisted by Congress in 2011, and wolves in Wyoming were delisted by USFWS in 2017. Conservation groups challenge the delisting through litigation.
Photo by Thomas Hanahoe/Alamy Stock

States are killing fields for wolves

In the 2021 legislative sessions in Montana and Idaho, legislators pass aggressive wolf hunting policies with the intent to reduce the statewide wolf population in Montana by as much as 85% and Idaho by as much as 90%.

In February, a wolf hunt in Wisconsin lasts fewer than three days before the season is closed by state wildlife managers. Hunters and trappers kill 218 wolves, far exceeding the statewide quota of 119. About 86% of the wolves are killed by hunters, using packs of unleashed hunting dogs to track down packs of wolves, and run them to exhaustion. Because the hunt occurs during gray wolf breeding season, the loss of pregnant females and pup production will impact the wolf population, possibly for years to come. Two lawsuits are filed to challenge a fall Wisconsin wolf hunt that is scheduled to begin on November 6. In one lawsuit, six tribes sue in violation of treaty rights and wildlife advocacy groups sue in the other. An injunction is issued in Wisconsin court two weeks prior to the hunt that blocks the hunt from happening.

On May 26, conservation groups file a petition to relist the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population, citing concerns about the threat of aggressive hunting policies to the decades of progress toward recovery.

On Sept. 15, the USFWS announces the concerns are credible and initiates a full status review.

On Dec. 16, Yellowstone National Park Supt. Cam Sholly sends a letter to Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte asking for the wolf quotas in areas near the park to be restored because the number of park wolves killed in the two management units exceeds the number of park wolves in those units in any other year.
Photo by Matthew Ferguson/iStock

2021

2022

Federal ESA protections are restored for gray wolves in much of the U.S.

In February, a federal court decision reverses the 2020 delisting. Federal ESA protections are reinstated for gray wolves across much of the U.S. However, wolves in the NRM are not affected and remain delisted, state-managed, and aggressively hunted.

Fortunately, wolves have advocates across America fighting to keep wolves safe!

On March 1, a second petition to relist the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population is submitted to the Sec. of the Interior acting through USFWS.

In August, a petition authored by the Center for Biological Diversity and signed by 27 conservation groups, including The 06 Legacy, calls on the USFWS to disqualify Montana and Idaho from receiving millions of dollars in federal conservation funds because of the aggressive anti-wolf legislation enacted by the states in 2021.

In August, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, and Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against USFWS for missing its deadline to decide whether gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains warrant federal protections under the ESA.

In August, the Center for Biological Diversity notified the USFWS of its intention to sue over the agency's failure to develop a national wolf recovery plan.

Gray wolves are not out of danger. They desperately need your help and your voice!

Several bills have been introduced in the U.S. Congress that aim to delist Western Great Lakes wolves, or even more broadly in all states. What happens to the bills depends on our U.S. legislators, including those elected in the upcoming Midterm Elections.
Photo by Nathan Hobbs/iStock

Nov. 8, 2022

Midterm Elections — You can be a voice for wolves!

By voting, you can help elect leaders in government who support protecting wolves. Help save wolves by electing pro-wolf candidates!
Photo by Dr K Kar/Getty Images

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