The Plight of Wolves in America

Gray wolf protections were restored in most western states and the Great Lakes region on Feb. 10, 2022, but not in the Northern Rockies, where hunters and trappers remain in a full killing frenzy. Idaho reported more than 495 wolves killed in 2021 and 396 in 2022. Montana reported 273 wolves killed in their 2021-22 season and 193 killed in the 2022-23 season as of Feb. 6, 2023. These numbers are quite misleading, however, as scientists estimate that unreported, illegal kills abound and any decrease in kill numbers over time may indicate a collapsing population. Equally horrifing, 25 wolves from Yellowstone National Park have officially been confirmed dead (20% of the park's population). Hunters in the neighboring states lie in wait, lure with bait, and pride themselves on killing park wolves. An immediate no-kill buffer zone around Yellowstone and emergency ESA relisting for wolves in the Northern Rockies are imperative. ACT NOW!

Photos of wolves, call for emergency ESA relisting

A Brief History

Gray wolves were rescued from the brink of extinction in the 1970s, but remain "unrecovered" according to top scientists. Disregarding the science, the federal government began stripping Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections in 2011 and transferring management to the states. More History

This ESA "delisting" led to hunters and trappers killing over 8,000 wolves in seven states between 2011-2019 and all federal protections being removed in 2020. We conservatively estimate at least 2,000 more wolves have since been killed. The multi-state killing frenzy kicked into high gear in 2021, when Wisconsin slaughtered 216 wolves in 3 days and Montana and Idaho passed laws allowing them to kill 85-90 percent, respectively. Montana and Idaho continue to move full speed ahead toward that goal.

We have spoken out since the start and are currently working with scientists and activists urging full emergency ESA relisting. Join us in taking a stand.

Status Updates - A Chronology of Recent Developments

On Sept. 15, 2021 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced that they found our collective petitions urging emergency relisting of wolves under the ESA substantive and credible. But their comprehensive review wasn't due until until mid-2022 and still hadn't been announced as of January 2023. So we joined with six advocacy groups to announce plans to sue.

Meanwhile, wolves' need for protection increases by the day. On September 27, 2021 the National Park Service announced that three Yellowstone wolves had already been killed by hunters in Montana. By early March 2022, at least 25 Yellowstone wolves had been officially reported killed, but 64 wolves have been reported as killed near the park border, which means the number of park wolves killed may be higher. All Yellowstone wolves are at risk, due to the heinous wolf policies of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, which border the park. Montana's 2021 legislation allows the slaughter of up to 85 percent of their wolves, while Idaho's allows for the killing of 90 percent. Wyoming has been killing wolves with abandon for some time. To make matters worse, over a third of the boundary Yellowstone shares with Montana is within a mile of private property where baiting is now allowed. (Wolves sense of smell can extend for miles!)

Given that wolves don't understand invisible boundary lines--and the fact that hunters and trappers are literally waiting for them to step out of the park--we saw that Yellowstone's entire wolf population could be destroyed before USFWS finished its review. As an emergency measure, on Oct. 27, 2021 we urged the U.S. Forest Service to establish a 5-mile wolf hunting and trapping setback around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. This is part of an effort we helped facilitate with Footloose Montana. Over three dozen organizations and individuals have signed on and we encourage you to join in.

On Oct. 28, 2021 more than 20 U.S. senators sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging immediate emergency protections for wolves in U.S. West, to shield them for the next 240 days while true ESA relisting protections are considered. The Senators' letter is one of the pressure campaigns we've been working on with other groups behind the scenes. We are very grateful to Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) for hearing all our voices and taking the lead in the Senate by standing up for wolves in this way. Read AP news story

On Dec. 15, 2021, a bipartisan group of 78 U.S. Representatives, led by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), also urged Sec. Haaland to immediately issue an emergency ESA relisting. Read press release |Signed MOC letter

Growing increasingly concerned about Sec. Haaland's lack of action to protect wolves, Rep. DeFazio spoke with her by phone on Jan. 19, 2022 to clarify the dire need for emergency protections. He was gravely disapopinted by her refusal to commit and issued an official statement after the call. "There is simply no reason for Secretary Haaland to continue a Trump-era policy that threatens the existence of a species," DeFazio said. "I am disappointed she has chosen to delay this vital action to stop the slaughter. It has taken decades to bring this species back from near extinction. Their survival depends on her immediate action. If the Administration fails to act now, we may not have another chance to save the gray wolf.” Read press release | News story We highly applaud DeFazio's persistence and courage. He has long been the undisputed champion for wolves in the U.S. Congress and we will greatly miss him when he retires later in 2022.

On Feb. 8, 2022 Sec. Haaland responded with an op-ed in USA Today. She hit all the right notes, describing her respect for science, law and Native American culture. But, alarmingly, she appears ready to defer to USFWS and the alleged "best available science" and data they claim to respect. It is far from that. See details in our updated sample letter to Sec. Haaland and send her a message today.

Partially good news came on Feb. 10, 2022, when a federal judge restored protections for wolves in parts of the West, but not in the Northern Rockies, where functional extinction is well underway. Wolves in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, eastern Oregon, and eastern Washington remain in dire need of protection.

On Feb. 15, 2022 Rep. Defazio again urged Sec. Haaland to relist wolves in the Northern Rockies. Read press release

Regardless of all pressure exerted, we continue to wait for the Interior Department and USFWS to release the review decision due in September 2022 on relisting gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as for the establishment of a no-hunting buffer around Yellowstone National Park. Their delay is both unlawful and devastating for wolves. In hopes of prompting action, we joined with six advocacy groups in January 2023 to give these agencies a 60-day Notice of Intent (NOI) to sue. And if they ultimately announce they will not relist wolves, we also plan to join litigation to force a science-based course correction.

Top Wolf News & Opinions

The History: Removal from Federal Endangered Species List in 2011 Spelled Doom for American Wolves

Wolves were rescued from the brink of extinction in the 1970s when they gained federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. But on April 15, 2011, when President Obama signed the federal budget into law, he also signed the death warrants for thousands of wolves in the Lower 48. This happened because Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) added a last-minute wolf-killing rider that removed wolves from the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in states that had managed to establish significant populations.

The reality was wolves had barely managed to gain a toehold and reoccupy territory from which they'd been recently extirpated by ranching and agricultural interests. They were not "recovered" by ESA standards. They did not occupy a significant portion of their historial range, and they did not meet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's own conservation principles for recovery--the 3 Rs, which include resiliency, redundancy and representation across of range of ecological contexts. Tester's rider also prohibited further judicial review, which meant conservation interests were no longer able to legally intervene.

This 2011 "delisting" turned management of these majestic animals over to state wildlife agencies. State managers moved quickly to open hunting seasons on wolves in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In subsequent years over 8,000 wolves have been senselessly slaughtered by sport hunters and trappers alone in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan--1,141 were killed during the 2012-13 season alone. These kill numbers do not include the scores of wolves slaughtered by poachers and federal and state predator control programs. Nor do these numbers include Alaska, which is a whole different ball of wax, with a killing frenzy that has raged unabated for decades.

Never in the history of the Endangered Species Act had a species been delisted because of politics. Wildlife management and politics hit a new low and established a dangerous precedent. Wolf management has swung full circle in 50 years from extermination to recovery, and back again. Free roaming packs of wolves in America will be lucky to survive, much less thrive, anywhere outside of the national parks, where they are protected.  Hunters and trappers also gained access to wolves by lying in wait for them when they cross the park boundaries, as has happened in Montana.

Please read the following for more details:

Independent Peer Review Panel Determined Government's Wolf Delisting Proposal Was Based on Outdated and Flawed Science

In early 2014 we had a special reason reason for hope that conservation science, not political science, would determine the future of America's imperiled gray wolves--that they would be able to continue to recover and expand their range into land the species once roamed and called home.

The reason for hope was two-fold: Not only did USFWS receive over a million comments on their ill-advised proposal to remove protections for wolves nationwide, but in February 2014 a scientific peer review panel rejected their proposal. 

What happened was USFWS canceled the first peer review in the wake of a scandal exposing their biased methodologies. Then the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at U.C. Santa Barbara took over peer review of the delisting proposal and provided a fair, professional, and scientific analysis. The reviewers in this independent panel unanimously decided that wolf delisting was not supported by the best available science and that removing protections would be premature. The NCEAS peer review report exposed the shoddy work and bias toward hunting and livestock interests behind the USFWS delisting proposal.

As a result, USFWS opened an additional 45-day public comment period that ran February 10-March 27, 2014. Countless people submitted comments, telling USFWS they knew their initial study was flawed and taking them to task for not operating in good faith with the public by willfully ignoring, discounting, and in some cases misrepresenting the best available science.

Watch Our Film, "The Imperiled American Wolf"


Our 2012 film, "The Imperiled American Wolf," explains the reasons wolves cannot be successfully managed by state wildlife agencies: not only do their methods ignore the core biology of how wolves hunt and breed, but their funding depends on hunting and trapping fees. In fact, current wolf management may actually lead to wolves' demise. Predator Defense and this film make a bold call for federal relisting of these important apex predators as endangered species.

The war being waged against wolves is senseless and tragic, and it is up to all of us to speak out now on their behalf (details below).

ACT NOW! Concrete Ways You Can Take a Stand for Wolves

We urge you to speak out for wolves today, requesting emergency reinstatement of federal ESA protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies. Here are actions you can take to help:

  • Contact The Honorable Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior. Call her at (202) 208-3100, email, or use the online form at bottom of page at For inspiration, we encourage you to copy/paste and/or embelish on our sample letter and adapt it for the other recipients below.
  • Contact Martha Williams, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) at (800) 344-9453, or write her at
  • Contact your federal representatives - Senate and House
  • Make a public comment in support of restoring wolf protections under ESA, emphasizing need for emergency relisting - TIP: A comment can express simple support or dissent for a regulatory action. But constructive, information-rich comments that clearly communicate and support their claims are more likely to have an impact on regulatory decision-making. Consider borrowing from our sample letter below. View official petitions & proposed rule | View comments to date | Submit your comment
  • Help boycott tourism in Idaho & Montana: Contact the tourism offices in both states. You can tell them you were planning to visit--to spend money on dine, lodge, recreate, and enjoy scenic views and wildlife in their state--but because of their horrifying laws to kill wolves you will be staying away and urging your friends to do the same. Or you could say you are a concerned citizen who is appalled by the barbaric slaughter of our vital apex predators under false pretenses and are urging all your connections to help boycott tourism in their states.
    - Contact Idaho Tourism Office
    - Contact Montana Office of Tourism
  • Expand our reach by making a contribution. Any amount truly helps and is greatly appreciated. Donate here

Sample Letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland & Others

We encourage you to copy/paste/personalize the letter below and email it to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland via Then adapt it as needed to send to USFWS Director Martha Williams via and other recipients (see suggestions in previous section). Keep in mind that unique messages are what get leaders' attention, so using your own words as much as possible will make the biggest impact.

NOTE: If you experience formatting issues when copying/pasting the sample letter below into an email, try one of the following solutions: (1) Right-click before pasting and choose a "text only" or "plain text" option; (2) Select all text in your email and use your menu options to remove formatting; or (3) Copy/paste into a Notepad or Text Edit program, then copy/paste into new email.

Dear Secretary Haaland,

[Please adapt for USFWS Director Martha Williams and others.]

Thank you for your op-ed in "USA Today" regarding the cultural and environmental importance of the gray wolf and your desire that they "survive and thrive in the wild based on science and law." In concert with that commitment, I encourage you to act immediately to stop the extinction-level assault on wolves underway in the Northern Rockies.

The officially reported population and kill numbers you are receiving from Idaho and Montana are woefully misleading (as detailed below). If hunters and trappers there have their way, Yellowstone National Park's globally adored wolf population will continue to be decimated, long-term research will be irreparably damaged, and state wolf populations will be functionally extinct by the time USFWS completes its official Endangered Species Act (ESA) relisting review in mid-2022.

I really don't think you want this to be your legacy. So I am writing to request two urgent actions to prevent the functional extinction of our most vital apex predator:

  • Please establish an immediate no-wolf-hunting buffer zone around Yellowstone National Park.
  • Please quickly reinstate ESA protections for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies using your emergency listing powers authorized under the ESA.

While the need for immediate action can already be seen in the mounting body count in Idaho and Montana, the officially reported numbers only tell part of the story. In 2021 alone over 495 wolves were officially killed in Idaho; their slaughter continues in 2022, but counts are not yet available. Montana reported 273 wolves had been killed as of March 15, 2022, at the end of their season. But it is vital to note that (a) well-esteemed scientists estimate the unreported, illegal kills may roughly double the total numbers of wolves killed, and (b) these states also overcount their live populations.

Combining these facts one can see that Idaho and Montana may be well on their way to achieve their goals of killing 85-90% of their wolves, respectively. Meanwhile, Wyoming is years ahead in its killing spree; they consider wolves vermin in 80 percent of the state and only report a small percentage of all kills.

Equally unacceptable, by early March 2022 at least 25 Yellowstone wolves had already been slaughtered (20% of the park population). But 64 wolves have been killed in Montana alone near the park border, which means the official Yellowstone kill count may be even higher. Yellowstone wolves know nothing of park boundary lines and are being lured into surrounding states by hunters and trappers using bait and lying in wait.

What this means is clear: Certain hunters and trappers are determined to kill as many wolves as possible before USFWS completes its review. They will undo decades of work toward wolf recovery, which will bring about functional extinction in the Northern Rockies. But these states' actions are not only unscientific, they are also inhumane.

Key pieces of science and fact being ignored by these states include:

  • Top scientists said the 2011 wolf delisting was flawed, as wolves were not recovered. They remain unrecovered to this day.
  • Killing wolves negates the vital role they play in healthy ecosystems. Wolves keep deer and elk on the move, which prevents overgrazing and allows the land to recover. They also take out sick, old and inferior deer and elk, while hunters do not. That is only the beginning of the services they provide.
  • Elk and deer populations are not declining due to wolves. In fact, in Idaho and Montana they've been thriving.
  • Wolves cause a statistically insignificant number of livestock deaths; most deaths are caused by weather, disease, and poor husbandry. In Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, where the majority of wolves live, predation is far less than one percent.
  • Wolves have exceptionally strong family bonds and depend on intact family units. Individuals matter. Each wolf has a different job. Killing of either alpha can destroy the pack, and pack disruption frequently leads to increased predation on livestock.
  • Wolves and other predators do not need to be "managed," as their populations are self-regulating for a myriad of evolutionary reasons.
  • Wolves bring in millions in vital tourism dollars. But due to the current slaughter-in-progress, Montana and Idaho wildlife tourism operators are already reporting an unsustainable downturn, due to boycotts. Protecting wolves is much more valuable to states in the long run.
  • The vast majority of Americans are not OK with bringing wolves back from near extinction only to kill them all over again.

I sincerely hope the USFWS’ official review will result in the relisting of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies as endangered. I hope it will also reestablish the science-based "3R" criteria of Resiliency, Redundancy and Representation—the essential attributes for a self-sustaining species that can be considered recovered—for future delisting. But I must reiterate that any decision a few months from now will be too late.

Please enact a generous no-kill buffer zone around Yellowstone National Park and issue an emergency ESA relisting to restore federal protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies while USFWS completes its review.

Thank you very much for your attention to this vital issue.


[Your Name]

Inspiring Letters from Citizens, Scientists and Members of Congress

We believe you may find inspiration in some of the letters below:

Petitions to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland via USFWS, Urging Emergency ESA Relisting for Western Wolves

We are one of 70 groups who filed a formal petition on July 29, 2021 (see below) urging emergency ESA relisting to stop Idaho, Montana, and other western states' plans to kill as many wolves as possible. We also support the earlier petition filed on May 26, 2021.

USFWS Deems Our Petitions Substantive, Credible, and Will Review

On Sept. 15, 2021, the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced they'd reviewed our collective petitions (see previous section), found them substantive and credible, and will perform a comprehensive review on restoring wolf protections in the Western U.S. This is great news, but their review may take 12 months and wolves need help NOW!

Wolves Need Our Help Now, Not Someday Down the Line!

  • We must continue to urge USFWS to act now to stop the ongoing wolf slaughter in the Northern Rockies. Every day that passes without their action further destroys the species. Act now!
  • Donate to support our work. Any amount helps and is greatly appreciated