Restoration of gray wolves (Canis lupus) and red wolves (C. rufus) to parts of their former ranges in the contiguous 48 states is in progress. Concern over effects of these restorations on livestock and other wildlife species is evident. Methods of restoration, management of restored populations, and perceptions and support for restoration are of concern.
The taxonomy of the gray wolf needs to be revised to determine the validity of the 24 subspecies. However, consideration of subspecies in assessing restoration of wolves to the designated recovery areas in the Northern Rocky Mountains is unnecessary if the source of wolves is from adjacent regions in Canada. The red wolf currently is considered to be a distinct species. Both species are highly social and occur in packs of 2 to >25 animals. New packs are formed by dispersing individuals that locate mates. Packs defend territories and maintain them by howling and scent marking. Lone, unmated wolves scent-mark rarely, whereas newly formed pairs scent-mark frequently. The occurrence of individual wolves outside the current breeding range is expected because dispersing individuals have been known to move over 700 km from their former home ranges. Recolonizing activities must involve mated pairs that reproduce and form packs, rather than isolated individuals.
Gray wolves currently inhabit the Lake Superior region, the northern Rocky Mountain region, and may be recolonizing northern Washington. The Minnesota wolf population is an extension of the Ontario population. Wolves have been colonizing Wisconsin since 1975 and may be colonizing Michigan. Since recolonization, the Isle Royale National Park wolf population currently is at an all-time low. Wolves are recolonizing in the Flathead River drainage in western Montana. All wolves in the contiguous 48 states are classified as endangered, except the Minnesota population, which is classified as threatened.
In Canada, 40 000–50 000 gray wolves occur in about 80% of their former range. In Alaska, 5200–6500 wolves occur on most of their original range on about 84% of the state’s land area. Wolves generally are classified as big game and furbearers in Canada and Alaska.
Mexican wolves (C. l. baileyi) may occur in the wild in only 3 areas in Mexico, but have not been observed in the United States since 1975. Red wolves have been reintroduced in eastern North Carolina, South Carolina, and Mississippi, and plans to restore them to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other areas are underway.
Estimates of wolf populations necessary for maintaining genetic variability and for avoiding inbreeding depression provide general guidelines. Detailed monitoring of reintroduced populations and isolated populations such as the one on Isle Royale will be needed to improve the estimates of minimum breeding populations.
The need to involve and inform the public about plans and progress in wolf restoration is critical. Enmity towards these species exists along with strong support. Public education must be factual and objective about wolves, exposing the myths and addressing the negative aspects of wolf relations with humans.
Reintroductions of wolves should occur in areas with an adequate prey base, sufficient size, and low levels of human activity. Retaining wolves less than 1-year-old in holding pens for up to 6 months and providing carcasses of prey that are of the intended prey species may be the most successful technique of restoring wolves.
Management of restored wolf populations requires substantial planning. Wolves in national parks or refuges where hunting is prohibited will pose fewer problems than wolves in areas used by livestock or where their prey base is hunted. Close coordination with interest groups whose activities are affected by the presence of wolves must be maintained for restoration to be successful.