Since the mythical Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome, to the very real domestication of wolves by our cave-dwelling ancestors, humankind has long had a relationship with wolves. In more recent times the relationship has been strained, as humans encroached onto the wolf’s range and sought to eradicate them - out of an often irrational fear for personal safety and a more cold-blooded desire to keep wolves away from livestock.
During the first half of the 20th century, millions of wolves were trapped, poisoned and shot in the U.S. Though wolves, as apex predators, are vital to maintaining a healthy ecosystem balance, the calculated persecution of wolves continued until they were nearly wiped out throughout the lower 48 states.
In the early 1970s in the U.S., humans started to recognize the importance of wolves, culminating in the listing of the first subspecies - the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf - under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1974. The listing of further subspecies followed and wolf numbers increased. Though still at a fraction of their original population, over 5,000 wolves in the lower 48 states nowoccupy a small portion of their historic range.
Without the protections provided by the ESA, wolves could not have begun to resume their critical ecological role in wild America. Although they are subjected even now to unwarranted and heavy-handed lethal management techniques, the return of wolves to Yellowstone, central Idaho, and elsewhere has been among America’s greatest conservation victories. Ironically, their growing numbers are being used as a reason to disqualify them from federal protection.
Due to expanding human populations, wolves now struggle to survive in fragmented habitats in close proximity with human settlements. This fragmentation puts wolf populations at risk of genetic bottlenecking due to inbreeding and human-wolf conflicts.