Are you curious about the gray wolf (Canis lupus) population in America? As one of the most iconic wild animals on the continent, gray wolves have been subject to a variety of conservation efforts throughout US states. We’ll explore the gray wolf population by state, how it has changed over time, and what contributes to the differences in the gray wolf population between each state and different regions of the country.
Let’s learn more about these majestic creatures and how their populations have shifted over the years.
U.S. States with Gray Wolf Populations
Here, we outline the population and habitat of gray wolves across each US state. We also provide some insights into facts about these canids in each specific state. By exploring this information, you have the chance to uncover unique details that are particular to certain areas.
Before diving into the states in which the gray wolf is present, let us first identify the regions it does not occupy, as well as why. The gray wolf has been absent from 38 of the 50 U.S. states since 1974 when conservation and recovery strategies were launched. It is thought their current range only constitutes around 10% of what was once occupied. At the time of writing this article, most gray wolf populations in the United States are considered endangered.
38 states that do not have gray wolf populations:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
For centuries, the gray wolf was recognized as a sacred animal by Native Americans, and they roamed through every state except for Hawaii. While they were sometimes viewed as ferocious or thieving, wolves were often included in Native American rituals and legends, and for the most part the two coexisted without population disturbance. As was the case for many animals, this began to rapidly change with the arrival and expansion of European settlers. Wolves were hated and feared, mainly due to their hunting of livestock. As bison, elk and other prey species began to be over hunted, the wolves turned to hunting livestock even more, creating a vicious circle. Before long even the US government was involved in an eradication campaign that very nearly exterminated all gray wolves in the country by the 1950s.
As greater understanding of natural ecosystems began to grow in the 1960’s, wolves were viewed differently as a keystone species and part of a healthy and thriving natural system. In the mid 1970’s wolves finally got official government protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Wolf Population in 12 U.S. States
It is not known when the last gray wolf in Alabama disappeared, but there are currently no gray wolf populations in Alabama. The last viable gray wolf population in the state is believed to have gone extinct in the 1950s, as a result of habitat destruction and hunting.
While other states such as Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan still maintain strong populations of gray wolves, Alabama’s current lack of suitable habitat has meant that reintroduction efforts have failed thus far. Despite concerted conservation efforts, the prospects of a return of gray wolves in Alabama are grim, although some conservationists remain hopeful for a potential reintroduction in the future.
The gray wolf population in Alaska is thriving. According to recent surveys, there are anywhere from 7,000-11,000 wolves within the state. This makes Alaska home to the largest gray wolf population of any US state. The wide estimate is due to the difficulty of accurately counting wolves in the vast and remote areas they inhabit.
Even with human encroachment, Alaska is one of the few states to still host a healthy population of gray wolves. The wolf population contributes significantly to the natural balance of its environment—keeping prey populations such as deer and elk in check. Unlike many regions in the lower 48 states, where wolf populations have declined drastically due to hunting and habitat loss, Alaska has been successful in protecting and conserving its wolf population.
The gray wolf population in Arizona has steadily declined since the early 2000s when there were around 200 wolves living in the state. However, today that number has dropped dramatically and there are now only an estimated 84 individuals left. There was an increase in the gray wolf population from 2021 to 2022, but there are still a lot of threats to the overall population, including habitat loss, poaching, and competition with other predators such as coyotes.
In order to protect the gray wolves, Arizona has implemented various conservation programs, such as reintroducing wolves into certain areas and closely monitoring population numbers. There are also efforts underway to educate and inform people about the importance of protecting this species. Arizona became home to wolves once again after the 1982 reintroduction of the Mexican Gray Wolf in the Blue Range area.
The last gray wolf in Arkansas was officially killed by a government trapper in 1942. Since then, no gray wolves have inhabited the state. The possibility of reintroducing them has been discussed, but as of now, no plans have been made to return them to the area.
Compared to other states in the U.S. that have gray wolves, the population in California is relatively small. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, there are currently only three packs known to exist within the state, each with fewer than 10 members. This is an increase from previous years when no confirmed sightings were reported; however, it still pales in comparison to other states in the contiguous U.S. like Minnesota and Wisconsin, which have hundreds of wolves.
The last gray wolf in Colorado was killed in Conejos County in the 1940s. Since then, the wolves have not been reintroduced in the state. Despite this, some packs of gray wolves have migrated south from Wyoming and Idaho at times. However, the population of wolves in Colorado at any given time has been negligible and gray wolves have failed to re-establish themselves in Colorado naturally up to this point.
Unlike many states, where wolf populations suffered a great decline in the mid-1900s, the gray wolf population in Connecticut seems to have disappeared as early as 1742, the last wolf having been killed by a young farmer. There have been no confirmed sightings of wolves in the state since then.
It is unknown when the last wolf in Delaware was killed, but it is known that wolves once inhabited the state. As of now, there are no reported sightings of wolves in Delaware and it is unlikely that the population of wolves will ever return, particularly because there are no gray wolf populations in nearby states.
Gray wolves once roamed even in the sunshine state of Florida, yet their population was successfully eliminated by the mid-1900s. Unfortunately, presently there are no gray wolf packs to be found in Florida, and there seem to be no imminent plans for re-introduction either.
Years ago, the gray wolf population in Georgia was entirely wiped out in the mid-1900s due to predator eradication programs. Since then, no confirmed sightings have been established. Re-establishing their presence in this state is not impossible, but no plans are currently known.
Hawaii is the one state where there were never any gray wolves to begin with. The islands have unique wildlife due to their isolation, and due to their isolation, gray wolves were never able to establish themselves in Hawaii.
The gray wolf population in Idaho has seen a steady increase since its reintroduction in 1995. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, there were approximately 1,654 wolves in 2018 – an increase of 696% compared to the 1994 population of just 221. This growth can be attributed to successful conservation efforts and protection implemented by the state and federal governments.
The gray wolf population in Idaho has been a contentious issue among local communities and stakeholders, many of whom have raised concerns about their impact on livestock and wild game populations. The state’s wolf management plan outlines specific strategies to manage the species, including hunting quotas and other methods of control aimed at maintaining healthy populations while minimizing their impact on local wildlife.
There are no gray wolves currently living in Illinois, and there haven’t been since the early 1900s. However, it seems that wolves from nearby states may be prone to wander at times, as the first gray wolf since the early 1900s was spotted in Illinois in 2015 when a man shot it unknowingly.
Indiana followed the same path as Illinois: gray wolves were purged from its landscape in the first half of the twentieth century. A Wisconsin pack’s wolf was sadly shot and killed in Indiana back in 2003, yet there have been no reports that any have taken up residence since then.
Iowa, too, has seen a resurgence in visiting wolves, with two gray wolves shot and killed in 2016 from established packs. While there has been no actual evidence of a permanent population- the last gray wolf considered to live in Iowa was killed in 1971-the state is still home to a number of wolf-like creatures such as coyotes, making it easier to mistake a gray wolf for a coyote on the extremely rare occasion the state receives a visit from a gray wolf.
The last gray wolf killed in Kansas was killed some time in 1938 or 1939. Since then, there have been no confirmed sightings of gray wolves in the state. While it is possible that a passing wolf may have gone undetected, a sustainable population has not established itself.
Gray wolves no longer exist in Kentucky, which was the last stop in a wave of extermination of gray wolves across the continent-with their last confirmed wolf being killed in 1945. Despite the fact that numerous conservation efforts have been undertaken across the U.S., there is no sign that gray wolves will be re-introduced to Kentucky anytime soon. However, like many other states where the gray wolf has been extirpated, Kentucky has had sightings of the gray wolf as recently as 2013.
The gray wolf has been absent from Louisiana since the 1930s when the last gray wolf was eliminated. Nevertheless, a couple recently faced charges in Lafayette for owning one. No government officials have taken steps to reintroduce these animals into their former habitat.
While gray wolves were killed off in Maine as early as the 1890s, sightings have reoccurred once in the 1990s and again in 2020, when wolf scat was discovered in Maine. This finding renewed the pressure on the state government for increased conservation efforts and protections for wolves.
Gray wolves were extirpated from Maryland in the late-1800s. There are currently no plans to reintroduce gray wolves into the state, and there have been no recorded sightings of gray wolves in Maryland since they were extirpated.
The gray wolf was extirpated from Massachusetts in the mid-1800s. However, there have been sightings of the gray wolf in the Northeast since 1993 and a sighting in Massachusetts, specifically, in 2007 suggesting that gray wolves may be trying to establish a population in the region or are migrating through the state.
The gray wolf population in Michigan has experienced a resurgence after being nearly wiped out due to overhunting and habitat loss. In 1974, the species was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which provided it with protection from hunting or trapping.
Since then, the population has grown exponentially and at the time of the publication of this article, there were an estimated 695 wolves living in the state. The population is now considered healthy and stable, with the majority of the wolves inhabiting areas surrounding Isle Royale National Park and the Upper Peninsula.
The gray wolf population in Minnesota is of particular interest due to the species’ long history there. Home to the largest known population of gray wolves in the Lower 48 states, Minnesota has an estimated 2,696 gray wolves living within its borders as of 2023. This is due in large part to a federal reintroduction program that began in 1998, releasing wolves into the state’s northern region.
It is unsurprising that gray wolf conservation and protection is an issue close to the heart of Minnesota, given that gray wolves were living solely in Minnesota when their population numbers were at their lowest in 1974. In the years since, wolves have successfully repopulated much of their former range across the US- but repopulation efforts could not have succeeded without the wolves that survived in northern Minnesota.
The last gray wolf that was known to be killed in Mississippi was shot in Claibourne County in 1946. No known re-establishment of the gray wolf population has occurred since then and there have been no confirmed sightings of gray wolves in Mississippi since. Additionally, the state has not taken any steps to reintroduce gray wolves.
Although the exact date of when Missouri’s last gray wolf was exterminated is unknown, it most likely happened in the mid-1950s when these animals were being widely hunted. For more than seven decades since then, occasional sightings have been reported and a few wolves killed in this state. However, they never managed to establish a permanent presence there.
The gray wolf population in Montana has been increasing over the past few decades due to conservation efforts with a current population of 833 wolves. Through a combination of conservation and reintroduction efforts as well as controlled hunting, the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department prides itself on keeping the population of gray wolves in the state stable.
Montana has managed its gray wolf population well since they were reintroduced in the 1980s, ensuring that the wolf population is kept healthy and in balance with other wildlife and livestock. The majority of these wolves live in two of the most remote areas of Montana—the Northern Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone National Park.
There are currently no gray wolf populations living in Nebraska, and the last gray wolves were killed in the mid-1900s at the height of the persecution of wolves as dangerous predators. While gray wolves have not taken up residence in Nebraska again, they occasionally visit. As recently as 2021, a gray wolf was shot and killed in Nebraska.
Despite Nevada’s proximity to states that harbor wolfpacks, the gray wolf has not been spotted in Nevada since the last gray wolf in the state was killed over a century ago. However, Nevada is unique from some other states in that it has set aside designated land for protected gray wolf habitat in case gray wolves ever found their way into Nevada on their own.
29. New Hampshire
Wolves have a unique extirpation story in New Hampshire, with the last two gray wolves in New Hampshire being killed for a price in 1985- notably later than any of the wolves that were killed as a part of the crusade to eradicate these apex predators in the mid-1900s. At present, there are no gray wolf populations in New Hampshire, and no apparent efforts to restore the gray wolf population to the state.
30. New Jersey
The extirpation process of gray wolves from New Jersey is not precisely documented, but it is reasonable to conclude that gray wolves in New Jersey were driven out by the late-1800s, similar to gray wolves in the rest of the East Coast states, also the first land to be settled by Europeans. It is possible that the last gray wolf in New Jersey was not killed until the early to mid-1900s.
While there have been gray wolf sightings in the northeast, there have not been any specific sightings in New Jersey or attempts to re-introduce gray wolves.
31. New Mexico
The Mexican gray wolf population in New Mexico has continued to grow since it was re-introduced in 1998 when eleven captive wolves were released on the Blue Range in New Mexico. This powerful subspecies of the gray wolf is native to the Southwestern United States, and its population had dwindled to near extinction due to overhunting and habitat destruction.
With the state now home to nearly 120 wolves, the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program has been deemed a success. Much of the success of the wolf recovery program is due to extensive education and outreach programs throughout New Mexico.
The state also has a management plan that includes continuous monitoring, habitat conservation, and education to ensure the continued growth of the Mexican gray wolf population in New Mexico. As the population continues to expand, so does the potential for conflict between wolves and humans.
32. New York
Gray wolves have been spotted in New York as recently as 2021, with the fatal shooting of a gray wolf. Extirpated from New York in the early 1900s, the last gray wolf was killed in 1904. The recent spotting of a gray wolf in New York keeps with the spottings across the greater Northeast and may have greater implications for the future of the gray wolf in the Northeast region.
33. North Carolina
Gray wolves were thought to have been eradicated from North Carolina in 1887, with the last wolf living in Haywood County. They have not been reported living in North Carolina since. However, North Carolina is home to the only red wolf preservation in the United States, which is located in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The red wolf is a smaller and less aggressive predator than its gray wolf cousin.
34. North Dakota
For nearly a century, North Dakota has been sans gray wolves, as none have been seen since the 1920s. Despite sighting reports throughout the state, they haven’t established themselves and there are no current plans to reintroduce them.
By 1842, gray wolves had been completely wiped out in Ohio with no reported sightings since. Consequently, there are currently not any plans to restore their numbers despite mixed wolf-dog and coyote hybrids being spotted occasionally.
Oklahoma has not had any documented sightings of gray wolves in nearly one hundred years. The last recorded sighting of a gray wolf in Oklahoma occurred in the 1930s at the Witchita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, with evidence suggesting that the state’s population of gray wolves had been extirpated by then.
The gray wolf population in Oregon is estimated to be around 175, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. This population has been slowly increasing since wolves were reintroduced into the state in 2009, but unsurprisingly, it still lags behind other Western states like Idaho and Montana, where there are more robust wolf populations.
Oregon’s wolf population is spread out across the state, with wolf packs located in the northeast corner of Oregon and in the Cascade Mountains. The wolves are monitored and managed by the state’s Wolf Plan, which was created to help protect the wolves from threats like poaching and habitat loss.
The gray wolf was last spotted in Pennsylvania in 1882 and is considered to be extirpated from the state. Recent reports of gray wolves in Pennsylvania have been unsubstantiated, but there is evidence to suggest that there may be a few hybrid wolves living in the state.
39. Rhode Island
In Rhode Island, the gray wolf population is believed to be extinct. None have been spotted since the early 1800s- aside from a gray wolf held in captivity in 1972, although what happened to this wolf is unclear.
There has been some speculation that hybrid wolves may still exist in the state, but there is no current evidence to support this theory. As such, the Rhode Island Department of Fishing and Wildlife has not taken any action to reintroduce wolves back into the state.
40. South Carolina
South Carolina hasn’t been lucky enough to spot a gray wolf in centuries – the last sighting having occurred an estimated two hundred years ago. Unfortunately, no initiatives are underway that would reintroduce these majestic creatures into our state, and no current programs or regulations exist surrounding them either.
41. South Dakota
South Dakota has not seen a gray wolf for nearly a century, with the last wolves killed in the 1920s and 1930s. While hybrid wolves have been spotted in the state, there is no current plan to reintroduce gray wolves.
The last recorded sighting of a gray wolf in Tennessee occurred in 1897, though hybrid wolves have been spotted occasionally and have actually been intentionally bred in the state. There are no initiatives to reintroduce the species back into Tennessee.
The gray wolf is considered extirpated from Texas, as the last recorded sighting occurred around the turn of the 20th century. Texas Parks and Wildlife has a Gray Wolf Management Plan in place, but that plan currently encompasses an intentional lack of action around the re-introduction of wolves to the state and relocation plans for any gray wolves that may end up in Texas.
Due to their eradication in the 1930s, there are no established packs in Utah. However, due to wolves living in the Northern Rockies in close proximity to Utah, biologists annually report a high number of lone or migratory gray wolves throughout Utah.
Sightings of gray wolves have been absent in Vermont since the late 1800s, though hybrid wolf sightings have occasionally been reported. At this time, there are no initiatives to bring back the species into the state’s borders.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, gray wolves had been wiped out in Virginia and, so far, no evidence has emerged indicating their return. The government of Virginia has no plans to bring gray wolves back into the state.
The gray wolf population in Washington is rapidly increasing due to conservation efforts. In the early 2000s, there were only about 25 wolves living in the state, mostly concentrated near the northeast corner of Washington.
Now, the population has grown to an estimated 200 wolves across 33 packs. A multi-year plan to protect the species, including monitoring wolf populations and increasing public education, has been implemented by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
48. West Virginia
With the last recorded gray wolf killed for bounty in 1900, the gray wolf has been absent from West Virginia due to hunting for more than a century. This species is among three endemic creatures in the region that have been wiped out, yet no measures have been taken by West Virginia to restore it.
The gray wolf population in Wisconsin is a topic of great interest to ecologists, wildlife conservationists, and the public alike. In 2014, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources estimated that there were around 800-900 wolves living across the state.
This estimate was based on surveys of wolves and their tracks that had been conducted over the previous three years. Since then, the gray wolf population in Wisconsin has grown significantly. In 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported that there were an estimated 1,034-1,040 wolves living across the state.
This includes both established packs and lone dispersing wolves. That estimate remains true at the time of publication of this article.
Once abundant in the state, by the mid-1900s the gray wolf population had drastically declined due to overhunting. In 1973, gray wolves were added to the endangered species list, providing some protection for them.
In 1995, the US Fish and Wildlife Service began a program of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park, resulting in a population boom. As of 2019, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department estimates that there are approximately 300 gray wolves living in Wyoming, most of which inhabit an area west of the Continental Divide.
However, this population is not without its own detractors. Ranchers and farmers have long argued that wolves are a threat to their livestock, while hunters argue that they reduce the number of elk and deer available for hunting. As such, Wyoming’s wolf population remains controversial, with groups on both sides of the debate advocating for their own positions.
A Quick Look At Gray Wolves
Gray wolves, also known as timber wolves, are a species of large canine native to North America, Europe, and Asia. In the United States, they are found primarily in the northernmost states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Montana. Wolves once roamed throughout the United States but were nearly eradicated by hunters in the 1940s and 1950s.
Since then, their population has slowly grown due to conservation efforts. Today, there are an estimated 6800 gray wolves in the contiguous United States and 7,000-11,000 in Alaska. The wolf is an important part of North American ecosystems and plays a key role in controlling deer and elk populations.
Wolves also have an indirect effect on vegetation because deer and elk damage trees when foraging for food. As a result, wolves can help to restore balance in ecosystems by keeping overabundant herbivores in check.
Reintroduction of gray wolves in the United States has been met with some controversy due to their predatory nature. While they can and do prey on livestock and domestic animals, their overall impact on human populations is negligible.
Gray wolves are the largest of all wild canids, ranging from 66 to 79 inches in body length and weighing between 43 and 70 kg. Wolves have wide pointed ears and a long bushy tail which makes them easily recognizable in the wild. Males tend to be larger than females, with males measuring up to two feet taller at their shoulders than females.
With a thick double coat, gray wolves can range in color from white to black, but some shades of gray are the most common. The fur on the neck, chest, and back is usually darker in color than that of other parts of the body. Their large size makes them effective hunters, with their powerful legs and jaws enabling them to take down large prey.
As an apex predator, the gray wolf typically feeds on large game animals like deer, elk, moose, and caribou. However, they are also known to eat smaller prey such as rodents, beavers, rabbits, and birds. Like all animals, the gray wolf tends to vary its diet depending on habitat and season.
Preferring a habitat that is mostly undisturbed and remote, the gray wolf can be found in forested areas, wetlands, and grasslands– anywhere large enough to hunt and den. Gray wolves are known to be adaptable when it comes to habitats. They will use abandoned farms and buildings for shelter if necessary.
These animals typically mate for life, with the pair remaining together until one of them dies. The mating ritual begins in midwinter when a single female will attract several males to compete for her affection. An elaborate courtship display follows that may include howling, scent marking, and chasing each other.
When a male successfully wins over a female, the pair will spend several days together, copulating frequently. After mating, the female will construct a den where she will remain alone for the duration of her pregnancy. The average litter size is four to six pups.
Both parents help to raise and protect the young until they are old enough to join the pack. Gray wolves are fiercely monogamous and form strong bonds with their mates due to the long-term nature of their pairing.
The close family ties found in wolf packs allow for successful parenting, which is essential for the survival of the species. By remaining together, wolves have a better chance of providing protection against predators.
Subspecies of Gray Wolves
- Arctic Wolf (Canis lupus arctos)- This subspecies of gray wolf is the largest of its kind, and boasts a thick white coat to protect it from the frigid temperatures found in North American and Greenlandic Arctic regions.
- Great Plains Wolf (Canis lupus nubilis)- This particular subspecies of gray wolf can be found inhabiting the expansive grasslands of North America, and distinctly stands out due to its glossy reddish-brown coat that is smaller than the Arctic variety.
- Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)-The gray-brown coat of this subspecies, the smallest wolf in all of North America, is found amongst the deserts and mountains.
- Eastern Timber Wolf (Canis lupus lycaon)- The gray wolf, commonly found throughout the forests of North America and what most people refer to when they mention this species, is characterized by its gray coat. It’s one of the more common subspecies in the United States.
- Northwestern Wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis) -This subspecies of gray wolf, found roaming the wooded areas of western Canada and the Pacific Northwest, is about as large as its eastern relative but has a deeper gray coat.