Wolves used to be very prevalent throughout the United States. Because of hunting and the destruction of wolves’ habitats, they are now very scarce. In 1974, gray wolves were put on the endangered species list. However, U.S. gray wolves are no longer considered endangered because of conservation efforts. Still, wolves only occupy about 10% of the land they did historically.
Only 13 states in the United States have wolf pack populations. Most of these are located in the country's northern half, with only a few exceptions. The wolves in all of these states total somewhere between 14,000 and 18,000.
Wolves are highly adaptable and can live in mountains, forests, grasslands, or deserts. They're also social animals who build dens that accommodate the whole pack.
While we can look at the wolf populations in specific states, this is not how wildlife biologists classify them. Instead, these scientists categorize wolf populations by their regions. The official populations are:
To look at these populations by state, the numbers come from data from the state’s Department of Natural Resources or Fish and Wildlife Department.
Alaska has the highest population of wolves in the country. There are about 7,000 to 11,000 wolves within the state. Wolves have thrived in Alaska because they haven’t experienced the threats or endangerment to which wolf packs in the lower states have been subjected. It is the only state where wolves have never been classified as endangered or threatened.
Arizona has been hosting wolves since the introduction of the 1982 Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan. However, the species is still endangered, with only about 84 Mexican wolves alive. Fortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched a new recovery program in 2014 to help ensure the continued existence of the Mexican Wolf.
California didn’t re-introduce gray wolves, but they have returned independently. There are currently about 20 wolves within the state. These wolves have established the Whaleback Pack, Lassen Pack, and Shasta Pack for breeding. The first litter of gray wolves was born in 2021 as part of the Whaleback pack.
Idaho has around 1,500 wolves within the state. Hunting of wolves is allowed as part of the state management program.
Wolves are protected under federal and state law in Michigan. Wolves were removed from the endangered list in 2021 but were re-listed in 2022. This will hopefully help to protect and support the growth of the approximately 700 wolves within the state.
Besides Alaska, Minnesota is the other state that has held a viable gray wolf population. Minnesota has made it a priority to protect wolves for many years. The states enforced the Endangered Species Act of 2014, which has increased the number of gray wolves. Their efforts have been successful, as there are about 2,700 wolves in the state.
Montana’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department says that controlled hunting has helped stabilize its wolf population for over a decade. There have been about 800 wolves throughout the state during these ten years.
New Mexico is another state that offers protection to wolf populations by state law. The 112 wolves within the state benefit from these protections.
Rare red wolves can only be found in North Carolina. The Red Wolf Recovery Area was established in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in 1987. The goal is to prevent the extinction of this endangered breed. There are 17 of these wolves in the state.
Oregon’s 175 wolves are safeguarded by state law. The state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan stresses the importance of non-lethal ways of dealing with encounters between humans and wolves.
Washington is home to about 33 packs. Nineteen of these packs have successfully bred. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has enforced laws to manage conflict with people over livestock predation by wolves. Because of these efforts, there are about 200 wolves in Washington.
It is illegal in Wisconsin to hunt wolves. Additionally, non-lethal methods must be used to control wolves. According to the Department of Natural Resources, the wolf population is still secure and healthy, with a population of around 1,000.
With about 300 wolves, Wyoming has a fairly stable wolf population. The state removed wolves from the endangered species list within the state in 2017.