Many Native American clans were identified
with animals, such as the bear or the eagle,
and almost always the wolf was a totem
animal. This meant members of the wolf
clan derived strength and gained protection
from the wolf, but that they could not kill
it. Many of the creation myths of the North
American Indian tribes focused on the
paradox that man has always seen in the
wolf; we feel a natural kinship with the
wolf as a social animal which looks after
its own in the pack, and a natural fear
(or is it admiration?) of the wolf as a
large and dangerous predator.
Wolves have long been regarded by
Native Americans as teachers and pathfinders.
They are fiercely loyal to their mates,
and have a strong sense of family while
In the following years, biologists captured
the few remaining red wolves and Mexican
gray wolves and put them into captive
breeding programs, with the intention of
increasing their numbers and eventually
releasing their descendents.
Protections were established for wild
wolves remaining in Minnesota. And plans
were hatched to return wolves to their
ancestral homes in the Southeast, Yellowstone
National Park, central Idaho and the Southwest.
Today more wolves inhabit the American
wilderness than have in decades. Yellowstone
is the place most famous for wolf recovery,
but it is not the only area where wolves
are making a comeback. Wolves have also
recolonized the region around Glacier
National Park in northwestern Montana and
northern Idaho, pushed into the mountains
of northern Washington State and spread
through parts of three Great Lakes states.
Red wolves, a separate species that once
roamed the Southeast, have been successfully
reintroduced in coastal North Carolina.
Gray wolves reintroduced in central Idaho
and Yellowstone are poised to disperse
into surrounding states including Colorado,
Oregon and Washington, and reintroduced
Mexican wolves in Arizona are free to roam
into New Mexico. In fact, rising numbers have
prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(FWS) to consider lessening or removing the
gray wolf's protection under the U.S.
Endangered Species Act (ESA) this year.
Wolves are currently listed as endangered
in the lower 48 states except in Minnesota,
where they are considered threatened.
Though wolves no longer exist in most states,
FWS has indicated it plans to reclassify
wolves currently deemed endangered to
threatened in all states except California
and Nevada, where for political reasons
they will be removed entirely from the
endangered species list.
In Minnesota, wolves would also be removed
from the list pending a state management plan
acceptable to FWS. The status of the gray
wolves reintroduced in Yellowstone Park,
central Idaho and Arizona, along with the
red wolves reintroduced in North Carolina,
would remain unchanged. These wolves are
classified as "nonessential, experimental"
populations under the ESA, which allows
landowners to kill wolves caught attacking
Any changes being considered would have no
effect on wolves in Alaska, the only state
where the species is not considered threatened
Yet wolves now roam only three to five
percent of their historic range in the lower
48 states, with a total population estimated
at slightly more than 3,000 -- all but 600
in Minnesota. Defenders of Wildlife, which
has led the wolf recovery battle for more
than two decades, is concerned that the
federal government is acting too hastily
to lessen ESA safeguards. "Just because the
protections are beginning to work doesn't
mean that FWS should rush to remove them,"
says Bob Ferris, Defenders of Wildlife's
director of species conservation. *Without
certain measures in place, removing or
lessening protection for wolves could endanger
them all over again -- especially when
only minimum population goals have been
The proposed plan may even block wolf
restoration to former habitat where wolves
could thrive if given the chance."