For almost two centuries, American gray wolves, vilified in fact as well as fiction, were the victims of vicious government extermination programs. By the time the Endangered Species Act was passed, in 1973, only a few hundred of these once-great predators were left in the lower 48 states. After numerous generations of people dedicated to killing wolves on the North American continent, one generation devoted itself to letting wolves live. The animals’ number has now risen to almost 5,500, thanks to their legal protection, but they still occupy less than 5 percent of their ancient home range.
Since 1995, the act has guided efforts to raise wolves in captivity, release them, and follow them in the wild. Twenty years ago this month, the first gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park.
But this fragile progress has been undermined. Since 2011, the federal government has moved to remove federal protection for gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains (Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) and in the western Great Lakes (Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan), the two population centers. Management of the species was turned over to these states, which responded with a zeal that looks like blood lust.