Elk NetworkMinnesota, Oregon, South Dakota Weigh In on Gray Wolves Removed from Endangered Species List

General | January 6, 2021

On January 4, 2021, gray wolves officially came off the federal Endangered Species List. Below are news releases from the Minnesota, Department of Natural Resources, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation strongly supports the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, which places the primary role of wildlife management with state wildlife agencies. RMEF supports the management of wolves and other predators with regulations controlled by respective state agencies.


Although federal Endangered Species Act protections for wolves end on Jan. 4, Minnesota laws have and will continue to protect wolves and ensure the responsible stewardship of this important wildlife species.

Minnesota has the largest wolf population in the lower 48 states and is home to an estimated 2,700 wolves across nearly 40,000 square miles of northern and central Minnesota. Through the efforts of federal, state and tribal partners, the wolf population is well established in all parts of its suitable range.

“Our wolf population is a reflection of all the management efforts of federal, state and tribal partners, and includes a strong monitoring program here in Minnesota that enables us to make sound decisions,” said Dave Olfelt, Department of Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Division director.

Olfelt said changes in the wolf’s legal status have occurred multiple times since 2007, but the future of Minnesota’s wolf population is secure and the DNR commitment to active and effective wolf management will continue.

“Because of the success of wolf conservation in Minnesota and the fact that wolves and humans share the same landscape, there is also the potential for conflict,” Olfelt said. “Management balances a robust wolf population with effective tools for addressing conflicts with livestock and pets.”

On Jan. 4, per existing state law, Minnesota will recognize two management zones. Zone A, the northeastern part of the state, has more protections for wolves, while Zone B, which represents the southern two-thirds of the state, has more flexibility for people to manage wolves to protect livestock and pets.

In the core range (Zone A), state law allows owners of livestock, guard animals, or domestic animals to shoot or destroy wolves that pose an immediate threat to their animals, on property they own or lease, in accordance with local statutes. “Immediate threat” means the owner observed a wolf in the act of stalking, attacking, or killing livestock, a guard animal, or a domestic pet under the supervision of the owner.

In all cases, a person shooting or destroying a wolf under these provisions must protect all evidence, and report the taking to a DNR conservation officer within 48 hours. The wolf carcass must be surrendered to the conservation officer.

In the southern two-thirds of the state (Zone B), a person may shoot a wolf at any time to protect livestock, domestic animals or domestic pets on land they own, lease, or manage. The “immediate threat” circumstance does not apply. The owner must notify a DNR conservation officer within 48 hours of taking the wolf and must surrender the wolf carcass to the conservation officer. People in Zone B also may employ a state certified wolf predator controller to trap wolves on or within one mile of land they own, lease or manage.

State statute also allows harassment of wolves that are within 500 yards of people, buildings, livestock or domestic pets to discourage wolves from contacting people and domestic animals. Wolves cannot be attracted or searched out for purposes of harassment and harassment cannot result in physical harm to the wolf(ves).

Similar to federal regulations, state statute allows anyone to take a wolf to defend human life. Any wolves taken in the course of defending human life must be reported to a DNR conservation officer within 48 hours, and evidence must be protected. These details are available on the DNR wolf management page.

The DNR intends to complete its wolf plan update process before considering any adjustments to wolf management in Minnesota.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally removed most gray wolves in the lower 48 from the Endangered Species List, which turns management over to state fish and wildlife agencies including ODFW.

In Oregon, wolves west of Highways 395-78-95 had remained on the federal ESA when the area east of this boundary was delisted in 2011.

While U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was the lead agency in the western two thirds of the state, ODFW has always played a significant role in wolf conservation and management statewide since wolves began to re-establish themselves in Oregon in the 2000s.

Wolves in Oregon remain protected under the state’s Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (Plan). The Plan is the product of enormous public, stakeholder, and scientific input and has already led to substantial conservation accomplishments since it was first adopted in 2005.

Oregon’s known wolf count has grown from 14 wolves in 2009 to 158 at the end of 2019. The 2020 count is happening now and updated numbers will be available in Spring 2021.

How will wolf management change in Oregon?

Wolves remain protected throughout the state. Hunting and trapping of wolves remains prohibited statewide.

Under the state’s Plan, wolves in Oregon’s West Wolf Management Zone (west of Hwys 97-20-395) are in Phase 1, the conservation phase of recovery. (There are fewer than four breeding pairs of wolves in this Zone). Wolves east of that boundary (East Wolf Management Zone) are in Phase 3 of wolf recovery.

According to the 2019 minimum wolf count, there are 17 known wolves including three packs in the West Wolf Management Zone and 141 known wolves including 19 packs in the East Wolf Management Zone.

The major change from federal delisting is that under the state’s Wolf Plan, lethal control could be allowed in situations of chronic livestock depredation when non-lethal measures have been unsuccessful at eliminating conflict. However, a number of other criteria must also be met, see the rule for details.

The rules guiding lethal removal of wolves in Phase 1 are the outcome of a 2013 settlement agreement between Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, Center for Biological Diversity, ODFW and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.

Among other criteria, Phase 1 rules require ODFW to create an Area of Depredating Wolves (ADW) after a pack has depredated. This alerts livestock owners to focus non-lethal measures where there is the most risk to livestock. The agency also creates a Conflict Deterrence Plan, identifying appropriate tools area landowners can use to reduce conflict.

South Dakota

The gray wolf was delisted as a federally protected species following 45 years of protection under the Endangered Species Act. This action allows South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) to manage wolves as a predator as defined in state law.

Under GFP’s management authority, trappers, sportsmen and women, landowners and livestock producers will have the ability to harvest gray wolves across the state beginning on January 4, 2021. The same license requirements needed for coyotes are needed to harvest a wolf. These include a predator/varmint license, furbearer license or any resident or nonresident hunting license. To trap a wolf, a furbearer license is required. Landowners on their own land and youth under the age of 16 are exempt from the license requirement.

“Over the past several decades, South Dakota has had a handful of gray wolves killed on both sides of the Missouri River,” said Keith Fisk, program administrator with GFP. “The department suspects the gray wolves that have been present in South Dakota are likely transient animals that have dispersed from populations east and west of the state.”

To gather further information and a DNA sample, the department is requesting anyone who harvests a wolf in South Dakota notify a wildlife conservation officer within 24 hours and that the inspection and sampling by a GFP representative occur within 48 hours.

GFP does not support gray wolf expansion in South Dakota. For more information about South Dakota wolf management, go here.

(Photo source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)