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The Challenge and Opportunity of Recovering Wolf Populations


The gray wolf (Canis lupus) was one of the first highly visible animals to be included on the U. S. Endangered Species list. The creature now symbolizes endangered species and has become the cause célèbre of numerous animal-interest groups. Probably because of the affinity of the wolf to the dog (Canis lupus familiaris) and certainly because the species has historically been so persecuted (Young & Goldman 1944), a new mythology about the wolf has evolved; the vile wolf has been replaced by the unjustly persecuted wolf.

As this deification took place, remnant wolf populations were relegated to only the most pristine wilderness of North America and the least developed parts of the rest of the world. Thus, both laypeople and resource managers widely believed that wolves preferred wilderness. The animal came to symbolize wilderness, "for wolves and wilderness are inseparable . . ." (Theberge 1975:152).

However, the wolf survived only in wildernesses mostly because it was exterminated everywhere else. After the U. S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 protected the wolf in the 48 contiguous United States as of 1974 and public attitudes about wolves improved, wolves began to colonize a wide variety of habitats and to demonstrate that they did not require wilderness. The wolf has begun to recover in the northern U. S. and in several parts of Europe. The question of the next decade will not be how to save the wolf, but rather how best to manage the animal. This paper traces the history of the wolf's status and recovery and explores the dilemma of its management.

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