Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Perhaps comparing the wolf with Kirtland's warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) would be instructive. Kirtland's warbler, a tiny bird of little notice to most people, became endangered when its habitat was destroyed incidentally to other human activities. Kirtland's warbler occupied a very narrow niche in that it needed a certain age of jack pine forest in which to nest. When placed on the endangered species list, Kirtland's warbler numbered only a few individuals, and the species was not inimical to human activities.
The wolf, on the other hand, was exterminated deliberately because of its depredations on livestock. These depredations fostered a general fear and loathing towards the wolf that resulted in the animal being controlled, persecuted, and wiped out even in areas where it was not doing damage to livestock, such as Yellowstone National Park and other parts of the western wilderness (Young and Goldman 1944). Furthermore, the wolf was familiar to the public, although most people knew the animal primarily through myths, legends, and fairy tales. When the wolf was placed on the endangered species list, that endowed the animal with a new image.
The Endangered Species Act (Endangered Species Act 1973) came at a time when the public was first becoming widely aware of environmental concerns, a period so profoundly important that I have often called it the Environmental Revolution (Mech 1995a). To the public newly imbued with environmentalism, the wolf became a symbol of endangered species.
However, not all endangered species were equal in their degree of endangerment. Whereas species such as Kirtland's warbler were endangered worldwide and therefore were truly on their last legs, the wolf was endangered only locally. Some 100,000 to 200,000 still lived in Canada, Europe, and Asia. This distinction was lost by many people and ignored by others, who saw treatment of the wolf as symbolic of the human assault on the earth.