Canis lupus    Linnaeus, 1758

Gray Wolf 

MN Status:
Federal Status:


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Canis lupus

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Canis lupus
Minnesota range map
Map Interpretation
North American range map
Map Interpretation


Canis lupus lycaon

  Basis for Former Listing

Prior to European settlement, the gray wolf, sometimes called the timber wolf, inhabited most of North America south to at least 20&deg latitude (Mech 1995). Human persecution, habitat deterioration, and the reduction of prey populations led to the decline of wolves. Wolves were almost completely eliminated from the western United States by the 1930s. In Wisconsin and Michigan, wolves were eliminated by the mid-1960s. At that time, only a small number of wolves survived in northeastern Minnesota and on Isle Royale in Michigan, although large populations remained in Canada and Alaska.

The first federal Endangered Species Preservation Act was passed in 1966, and in 1967 gray wolves were classified as endangered and provided limited protection. In 1974, four subspecies of gray wolves in the lower 48 states (Canis lupus irremotus, C. l. lycaon, C. l. bailey, and C. l. monstrabilis) were afforded full protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 (50 CFR 17.11(h)). In 1978, the gray wolf was relisted as endangered at the full species level (C. lupus) throughout the conterminous 48 States and Mexico, except for Minnesota where it was reclassified as threatened (50 CFR 17.11(h)). Under the federal protection provided by the ESA, it was illegal to kill a wolf, except in the defense of a human life. This protection allowed wolves the chance to repopulate portions of the Great Lakes region.

Wolves in Minnesota significantly increased and expanded their range (Fuller et al. 1992; Berg and Benson 1999), which led to the 1978 decision to reclassify them at the threatened level of federal protection. This reclassification allowed the federal government to kill problem wolves in response to livestock depredation. Gray wolves were originally state listed as threatened in Minnesota in 1984, but as wolf numbers continued to increase, they were reclassified as state special concern in 1996. In January 2012, wolves in the western Great Lakes population, including Minnesota, were completely removed from the federal Endangered Species List. On December 19, 2014, a federal judge issued a decision to immediately reinstate federal ESA protections for gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. In Minnesota, this ruling returned the wolf to threatened status under the federal ESA and returned management to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Learn more about wolf management in Minnesota.

  Basis for Delisting

The current density of the gray wolf is approximately 1 per 10 square miles. Alaska is the only U. S. state with a higher population of gray wolves than Minnesota. Minnesota's gray wolf range has expanded from a 12,000 square mile area in the 1950's to over 27,000 square miles. As of 2013, the population is estimated at 2,200, which exceeds the federal delisting goal of 1,250-1,400. Minnesota's gray wolf population has remained stable over the last 10 years, with most areas of suitable habitat in the state now occupied. These data suggest that the population has fully recovered and special concern status is no longer necessary. The gray wolf was removed from Minnesota special concern status in 2013.