Historically, hundreds of thousands of gray wolves roamed wild throughout North America. During the 19th and 20th centuries, as the human population grew, people began to compete with wolves for game and habitat.
Wolves were also viewed as pests and vermin, and were slaughtered by the thousands. As a result, wolves nearly disappeared from the lower 48 states. Today, gray wolves are making a comeback in parts of the U.S., but many challenges prevent a full recovery for these majestic animals.
Conflict with Humans
Where wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act , the most common cause of death for wolves is conflict with people over livestock losses. While wolf predation on livestock is fairly uncommon, wolves that are suspected of preying on livestock are often killed, sometimes even entire packs. Where they are not protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, the most common cause of death for wolves is hunting and trapping.
Overall, the greatest threat to wolves is prejudice, fear and misunderstanding about the species. Many fairy tales and myths tend to misrepresent wolves as villainous, dangerous creatures. Anti-wolf extremists perpetuate these myths, and it is a slow process to undo decades of misinformation. Some hunters perceive wolves as a threat to hunting opportunities, while others understand that wolves tend to prey on weaker or diseased elk and deer instead of the ”trophy bulls” commonly targeted by hunters. By culling weaker animals from the herds, wolves help maintain the overall health of these animals.
Another serious threat is human encroachment into wolf habitat . This leads to habitat fragmentation, where wolves might have to travel across lands with varying degrees of protection, cross highways, through developed areas and across large portions of private land, potentially containing livestock. All of these increase the risks wolves must face. This makes it very difficult for wolves to adequately expand into all areas of suitable habitat, which is vital to sustainable recovery of wolves in the lower 48.
Wolves in the lower 48 states are in danger of losing the protections that they so desperately need. In 2011, in an unprecedented move by Congress, gray wolves across much of the Northern Rockies were stripped of their protections under the ESA. Since then, thousands of wolves have been killed in the region, and states have established alarmingly aggressive management plans for these animals. In the entire history of the Endangered Species Act, wolves are the only species to go from protected to hunted in a single day. Wolves in the Great Lakes region were also delisted in 2011.
Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to remove all ESA protection  for nearly all gray wolves across the remaining parts of the U.S. This decision could derail wolf recovery efforts in areas around the country where it has barely begun like the states of Oregon and Washington, and in states that possess some of the nation’s best unoccupied wolf habitat.