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North Dakota's

Federally Listed Endangered, Threatened, and Candidate Species – 1995


Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

JPG -- species photo gif--species map

Official Status: Endangered
Endangered species are species that are in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range. It is unlawful to kill, harm, or harass endangered species.

Listed:
43 Federal Register 9612; March 9, 1978 (48 conterminous states except Minnesota)

Historical Status:
The gray wolf had the greatest distribution of any mammal other than man. The gray wolf was historically found throughout North America with the exception of parts of the southwest and southeast United States. In the southeast United States the gray wolf was replaced by the smaller red wolf. The gray wolf was historically present throughout North Dakota where it was known as the Plains wolf, the buffalo wolf, or the lobo wolf.

Present Status:
The gray wolf is extirpated from the lower 48 states with the exception of Minnesota and small populations in Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. However, there have been documented occurrences of gray wolves in North Dakota in 1985, 1990, and 1991(2). There have also been unconfirmed reports of gray wolves in the Turtle Mountains.

Habitat:
Historically, the gray wolf occupied almost all habitats in North America including the Great Plains. In modern times the gray wolf has been restricted to habitats with low densities of roads and people. Likely habitat for the gray wolf in North Dakota is the forested areas in north-central and north-east North Dakota, however, they may appear anywhere.

Life History:
Gray wolves generally do not breed until they are three years of age. Gray wolves breed in late winter. After a gestation period of 63 days an average litter of 6 pups is born in a den in the ground, rockpile, hollow log or other shelter. When the pups reach 8 weeks of age the adults may move them to another den. By October the pups will weigh about 60 pounds and travel with the adults. Young gray wolves usually stay with the adults for two years, forming a pack. At two years of age, gray wolves may disperse hundreds of miles from their original home. Gray wolves usually hunt large animals such as moose and deer although beaver and other smaller animals supplement their diet. Gray wolves are often more successful taking old, weak, or injured prey. Gray wolves are territorial and will keep other gray wolves and coyotes out of their 50-100 mile2 home range. Howling is a way for pack members to communicate.

Aid to identification:
Gray wolves can range in color from white to black although gray is the predominant color. Mature gray wolves generally weigh from 70-115 pounds and stand about 30" high at the shoulder. Coyotes are considerably smaller than gray wolves, usually weighing less than 35 pounds. A good field guide is that gray wolves will be larger than a typical German shepherd while coyotes will be smaller. The track of a gray wolf will be about 5" long compared to 3" for a coyote track. Some dogs such as Great Danes can have tracks as large as a gray wolf.

Reasons for decline:
Gray wolves have been exterminated by man throughout most of their original range. Shooting, trapping, and poisoning were often subsidized by the government. Illegal shooting continues to be a problem.

Recommendations:
Reports or sign of gray wolves should be reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Comments:
There are no known gray wolf attacks on humans in modern times in Nonh America. Gray wolves do take livestock although the occurrences are rare. In gray wolf range in Minnesota gray wolves take only 1 of every 2000 cattle. Most gray wolves avoid livestock. Some states have programs that reimburse livestock owners for wolf damage.

References:
Wolf! A Modern Look by Wolves in American Culture Committee, 1986.


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