By Alyssa Premo
The gray wolf’s (Canis lupus) ancestry dates back millions of years where their evolution began in Asia. Although their ancient ancestors evolved in North America over 5 million years ago, the gray wolf evolved in Asia. It is believed that the gray wolf came back to the Americas by crossing a land bridge connecting Alaska and Russia roughly 700,000 years ago (“Episode 109: Howl for the Grey Wolf”). At the time, the main predator of North America was the dire wolf; a 130 to 150-pound wolf that was massive in comparison to the average 100-pound gray wolf. However, the dire wolf became extinct by the end of the last ice age leaving a niche open for the gray wolves to inhabit.
Gray wolves were once among the most widely distributed wild mammals in North America. However, due to the destruction of their habitat and lethal interactions with humans, “they now occupy only about two-thirds of their former range worldwide, and about 10 percent of their historic range in the continental 48 United States” (Wolf Conservation Center). This has led the federal government and many states to list the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act.
As of April 2020, there are 158 wolves in the state of Oregon and 145 Wolves in the state of Washington. As of July 2020, there is a single pack of 14 wolves in California (Wolf Conservation Center). The wolves in California, Western Oregon, and Western Washington are currently under federal protection. However, the wolves in Eastern Oregon were removed from the state’s Endangered Species Act on November 9, 2015. In March 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed rule to delist the gray wolf in all remaining areas of the United States except for the range of the Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico.
“Episode 109: Howl for the Grey Wolf.” All Creatures Podcast, All Creatures Podcast, 20 Aug. 2019, www.allcreaturespod.com/episodes/episode-109-howl-for-the-grey-wolf/.
Wolf Conservation Center. “How Many Wild Wolves Are in the United States?” Wolf Conservation Center, Wolf Conservation Center, 2020, nywolf.org/learn/u-s-wolf-populations/.