Canis lupus    Linnaeus, 1758

Gray Wolf 

MN Status:
Federal Status:


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Minnesota range map
Map Interpretation
North American range map
Map Interpretation

  Basis for Former Listing

Prior to European settlement, the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus), 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, though 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: Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf (Canis lupus irremotus), Eastern Wolf (C. l. lycaon), Mexican Wolf (C. l. bailey), and Texas Wolf (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 one per 10 square miles (one per 2.6 km²). 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 (31,000 km²) area in the 1950's to over 27,000 square miles (70,000 km²). 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.

  References and Additional Information

Berg, W., and S. Benson. 1999. Updated Wolf population estimate for Minnesota, 1997-1998. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Boitani, L. 2003. Wolf conservation and recovery. Pages 317- 340 in L. D. Mech and L. Boitani, editors. Wolves: behavior, ecology, and conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois.

Division of Ecological and Water Resources. 2012. Statement of need and reasonableness. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. St. Paul. 337 pp.

Erb, J. 2008. Distribution and abundance of Wolves in Minnesota, 2007-08. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Grand Rapids, Minnesota. 11 pp.

Fritts, S. H. 1983. Record dispersal by a Wolf from Minnesota. Journal of Mammalogy 64:166-167.

Fritts, S. H., and L. D. Mech. 1981. Dynamics, movements, and feeding ecology of a newly protected Wolf population in northwestern Minnesota. Wildlife Monograph No. 80. 79 pp.

Fritts, S. H., W. J. Paul, L. D. Mech, and D. P. Scott. 1992. Trends and management of wolf-livestock conflicts in Minnesota. United States Fish and Wildlife Service Resource Publication 181, Washington, D.C. 27 pp.

Fuller, T. K. 1989. Population dynamics of wolves in north-central Minnesota. The Wildlife Society Wildlife Monographs No. 105. 41 pp.

Fuller, T. K., W. E. Berg, G. L. Radde, M. S. Lenarz, and G. B. Joselyn. 1992. A history and current estimate of Wolf distribution and numbers in Minnesota. Wildlife Society Bulletin 20:42-55.

Harper, E. K., W. J. Paul, and L. D. Mech. 2005. Causes of Wolf depredation increase in Minnesota from 1979-1998. Wildlife Society Bulletin 33(3):888-896.

Kreeger, K. J. 2003. The Internal Wolf: Physiology, Pathology, and Pharmacology. Pages 192 - 217 in L. D. Mech and L. Boitani, editors. Wolves: behavior, ecology, and conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois.

Mech, L. D. 1970. The Wolf: the ecology and behavior of an endangered species. Natural History Press, Garden City, New York. 389 pp.

Mech, L. D. 1974. Canis lupus. American Society of Mammalogists, Mammalian Species No. 37. 6 pp.

Mech, L. D. 1977. Wolf-pack buffer zones as prey reservoirs. Science 198:320-321.

Mech, L. D. 1988. Longevity in wild wolves. Journal of Mammalogy 69(1):197-198.

Mech, L. D. 1995. The challenge and opportunity of recovering Wolf populations. Conservation Biology 9:270-278.

Mech, L. D. 2000. Wolf research in Minnesota. Pages 37-49 in L. D. Mech, editor. The wolves of Minnesota: howl in the heartland. Voyageur Press, Stillwater, Minnesota.

Mech, L. D. 2001. Managing Minnesota's recovered wolves. Wildlife Society Bulletin 29:70-77.

Mech, L. D., and E. K. Harper. 2002. Differential use of Wolf, Canis lupus, pack territory edge and core. Canadian Field Naturalist 116:315-316.

Mech, L. D., E. K. Harper, T. J. Meier, and W. J. Paul. 2000. Assessing factors that may predispose Minnesota farms to Wolf depredations on cattle. Wildlife Society Bulletin 28:623-629.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2001. Minnesota Wolf management plan. Division of Wildlife, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, St. Paul, Minnesota. 36 pp. + appendices.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2013. Distribution and abundance of wolves in Minnesota. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. St. Paul, Minnesota. 11 pp. + appendices.

Paul, W. J. 2000. Wolf depredation on livestock in Minnesota annual update of statistics 1999. United States Department of Agriculture, Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Treves, A., L. Naughton-Treves, E. Harper, D. J. Mladenoff, R. A. Rose, T. A. Sickley, and A. P. Wydeven. 2004. Predicting human-carnivore conflict: a spatial model derived from 25 years of data on Wolf predation on livestock. Conservation Biology 18:114-125.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 2003. Gray Wolf eastern distinct population segment. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Twin Cities, Minnesota.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1978. Recovery plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1992. Recovery plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Twin Cities, Minnesota. 73 pp.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2008. Post-delisting monitoring plan for the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment of the Gray Wolf. U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service, Twin Cities Field Office and Midwest Region. Bloomington, MN and Ft. Snelling, MN. 13 pp.

Young, S. P., and E. A. Goldman. 1944. The wolves of North America. The American Wildlife Institute, Washington, D.C. 636 pp.

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