Gray Wolves in North America

Natives of Eurasia, gray wolves (also known as timber wolves) spread to North America via the Bering land bridge during the Pleistocene Ice Age.  By the time European settlers reached our Continent, these hardy predators had spread throughout much of North America as they shared the range of their favored prey species (moose, elk and bison).

Decimated by hunting, gray wolves were nearly extirpated from the Lower 48 by the early 20th Century; only a small population remained in northern Minnesota.  Protection was initiated in the 1970s and gray wolves were added to the Endangered Species List in 1974; better yet, in 1995, wolves from Canada were reintroduced in Idaho and in Yellowstone National Park.  Since that time, others have wandered down from the north, appearing primarily in the Great Lakes Region and the Rocky Mountain corridor; isolated sightings (usually of solitary males) have occurred across the northern U.S. and the U.S. population of gray wolves will surely increase in the coming decades (especially in areas with large populations of moose, elk and deer).  Indeed, in light of their success, gray wolves have been removed from the Endangered Species List (a decision opposed by conservationists); currently, the Canadian population of gray wolves is estimated to be 60,000 while, in the U.S., it is near 10,000 (2/3 of which are in Alaska).

While there have been a few sightings of gray wolves in New England, most wolves in southeastern Canada and the northeastern U.S. are eastern wolves, a species native to North America that has heavily crossbred with coyotes.  Leaner and smaller than gray wolves, eastern wolves feed primarily on white-tailed deer.