History of Wolves in the U.S.

Most times when people think of wolves they think of the fairy-tales Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs, and those people believe that these stories are the main root of wolf hatred. However this is a false belief. The main reason for wolf hatred in the U.S. began when the first settlers came to the New World.


This map shows the current range of gray wolves in the world and the areas where their ranges once extended. And as indicated by this map, gray wolves once roamed all of North America.

When settlers first came to the New World both wolves and the settlers feared each other naturally. However as settlers began to gain a foothold in this new land they in turn began to bring cattle, pigs, and sheep over as well. These animals were vital to the small communities and it is understandable their fear and outrage when wolves began to take advantage of an easy meal. There are many reasons why they do this, all of which are explained in other sections of the blog.


This illustration depicts a practice that continued for decades and into more recent times. Dogs were used to hunt wolves and if a wolf were to be trapped the dogs were instructed to tear apart the wolf while still alive.

Regardless it did not take long for people to begin an actual campaign to eradicate wolves. They used methods of baiting and trapping wolves. This often ended in a brutal and torturous death for the wolf that had been ensnared.  This actually became something of a game to those who practiced this and later in the west it became an actual profession.

Those who profited from killing wolves moved from just trapping and baiting to more devastating methods. Approximately around 1877 these wolf bounty hunters began to poison carcasses and leave them out in the open for wolves to eat. Since no animal would pass up an easy meal, wolves and many other scavengers would eat these carcasses and in turn die from the poison. The animals that were killed for the express purpose of being a means of poisoning wolves were ungulates such as elk and bison. This act not only decimated wolf population; but it also caused declines for eagles, bears, and foxes as well as many more including those they killed for bait.

In the southwest settlers and hunters had been killing off an increasing amount of elk, bison, deer, and moose. These animals are the main natural prey item for wolves and this lack of resources resulted in an increase of wolves attacking and killing livestock. This all resulted in government agencies creating bounty programs that rewarded $20-$50 dollars for a wolf. These hunters used any and all means to hunt down wolves. They trapped, baited, poisoned, and even forced them from their dens with dogs. All this resulted in the near extermination of the species in the continental U.S.


This picture was taken in 1928 in Montana. This is one of the last of the wolves to be killed.

By the 19th century more government agencies got involved, including the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey. This agency mainly worked with birds and insects. However as ranchers demanded wolves to be eradicated from their lands the bureau was pulled into the mix and went to aid in the extermination. Now by the 20th century wolves were nearly completely eradicated from the continental U.S. However the bureau continued to produce anti-wolf posters into the 1940’s.

It was not until nearly two decades later when people had begun to become aware of the ecosystem and how important it is to have great deal of biodiversity. Biodiversity is having a wide range of both plants and animals. If a couple of the keystone or apex species are gone, then the ecosystem is not nearly as healthy and as a whole will not do well. This greater understanding eventually led wolves to be placed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. And later in 1995 and 1996 the first wolves were released back into Yellowstone National Park.


One thought on “History of Wolves in the U.S.

  1. It’s amazing to me that it took so long for America to realize what was going on with the wolves. We’re such a mart and enlightened country, or are we?


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