Then: Only 300 wolves survived deep within the woods of Wisconsin and Minnesota, according to a 1960 count Now: 5,443 wolves residing in the lower 48 states, as of a 2013 count It is estimated that more than 2 million gray wolves once roamed the United States before humans deemed them threatening, waging war on the species. On the brink of extinction and cornered in dense forests of the Great Lakes region, the species was finally afforded protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1974.
In the 40 years that followed, the population has grown substantially, and gray wolves have been reintroduced into habitats where they were previously plentiful (such as Yellowstone National Park in 1995).
Though some gray wolf populations have been delisted due to recovery in 2011 and 2012, the opinion that the species has made a significant recovery is extremely controversial, as the wolves only occupy 15 percent of their historic range. Currently, battles over whether or not the entire species will remain eligible for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act are being fought in the court system.
Gray wolves are a case study on the enormous importance of one species within their habitat. As apex predators, they directly influence evolution and population control within their ecosystems. Rebounding wolf populations have been followed by the reappearance of aspen and willow trees, as well as growth in beaver and red fox numbers.
Innumerable animals provide similar benefits to other species, making it crucial for humans to remember that the harm done to one species ripples outward and negatively affects other plants, animals, and habitats. On the flip side, human efforts to save one species also ripple outward and help bring ecosystems back into balance.
Though these seven species have made profound comebacks, countless others still need our help. Stay up to date with the progress of species protected under the ESA and help with their recovery here.