a description of gray wolves and a cost-benefit analysis of their conservation


The gray wolf (Canis lupus) is a keystone predator with a wide range of habitats that include temperate forests, mountains, tundra, taiga and grasslands (5). As keystone predators, they play a unique and crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions by helping to control the distribution and population of large numbers of prey species (2). There is an estimated population of between 7,000 and 11,000 wolves in Alaska and 5,000 in the contiguous United States. Globally there are an estimated 200,000 wolves in 57 countries, although in earlier times there were approximately 2 million (7). Wolves are generalists that require only ungulate [hooved] prey and non-excessive human caused mortality to thrive. Beavers are their smallest important prey, although they will hunt birds, fish and other small prey, as well as scavenge when necessary (2).

An average wolf pack has between 4 and 7 members. The packs consist of the alphas which are the mother and father wolves, their young and several other subordinate animals. The alphas choose the den site, track and hunt the prey, and establish the territory. They are extremely social animals that display affection for one another and have very complex communication system that has a wide range of whines, howls, growls and barks.   However, each pack is autonomous and will defend their territory which can range from 65 to 3,885 km2. The size of the territory is relative to the density of prey. Both males and females disperse at equal rates and distances which can be greater than 950 km (7).

Wolves typically mate in January or February. They begin mating as yearlings. The gestation period is 63 days. Pups are born in litters ranging from 1 to 10 pups with the average being 5. When they are born they are blind and completely helpless. They stay with the pack for approximately one year (5). The average adult is between 70 and 80 cm in height and 140 to 200 cm in length. They weigh between 25 and 59 kg and the males are typically larger than the females. In the wild the animals typically live until 7 or 8 years of age. Their colors range from grizzled gray to white or all black (7).

The most common cause of death for wolves is conflict with humans over livestock losses – despite the fact that wolf predation of livestock is relatively uncommon. There are also issues with habitat loss due to rapidly expanding human presence. As the size of the territories decrease, so does the amount of prey available (7). The gray wolf was classified as an endangered species in 1978 throughout the contiguous United States and Mexico with the exception of the Minnesota population which was listed as threatened. Since then the gray wolf has been delisted as endangered in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Western Great Lakes due to population recovery. It has been proposed that the wolf be delisted in several other areas including California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah and Washington (5).

In Canada, there is a population of between 53,000 and 58,000 wolves.  The gray wolf is classified as a game species.  In Asia, the population is estimated between 89,000 and 105,000.  There are no protections on the species.  In Europe, there are approximately 13,000 wolves.  However, that number is a rough estimation because of insufficient research in several countries.  Wolves remain protected in some countries and are considered a game species in others.  Poaching is considered a problem in some areas.  The minimal population of gray wolves in Africa is located in Egypt and Ethiopia.  The last wild wolves in Mexico were captured in 1980.  Efforts at reintroduction have been made, but humans have illegally killed animals that have been released in an any attempt at repopulation (1).

The question then becomes: is the protection of wolves worth the economic investment?

Gray Wolf [Canis lupus]

Category Item Quantity Price ($) Total ($)
  Government Payments to Farmers 1,000 12,000 12,000,000
Loss of Head of Cattle and Calves 2,500 750 1,875,000
Loss of Head of Sheep 3,000 500 1,500,000
Public Education 20 25,000 500,000
PopulationMonitoring & Research 20 100,000 2,000,000
Depredation 20 200,000 4,000,000
Professional Staff 40 160,000 6,400,000
Enforcement 30 180,000 5,400,000
TOTAL 33,675,000
  Wolf Specific Tourism Trips 400 1,500 600,000
National Park Entrance Fees 1,500,000 35 52,500,000
Special Permits[1] 750,000 25 18,750,000
Discretionary Vacation Spending in Local Economy 7,000,000 300 2,100,000,000
Wildlife Club Memberships
  Sierra Club 100,000 20 2,000,000
Defenders of Wildlife 75,000 30 2,250,000
Humane Society 40,000 35 1,400,000
Other 200,000 25 5,000,000
Private Donations
  Direct gifts 250,000 23 5,750,000
Estate gifts 1000 1,000 1,000,000
TOTAL 2,189,250,000


Final Values:

Benefits                       $2,189,250,000

Costs                                 $34,050,000


Difference              $2,155,200,000 



The benefit of wolves in the natural ecosystem is 64 times greater than that of their imposed costs. Therefore, protection efforts and maintained status as an endangered species is highly recommended in order to benefit the environment and enhance the human relationship with wildlife. Funding earned with tourism should be reinvested in educational programs to reduce the societal stigma associated with wolves. Furthermore, non-lethal population control methods should be publically funded in an effort to help reduce the tension between ranchers, farmers, and wolves.


  • Membership figures are based on the overall membership statistics of the clubs.
  • Tourism figures are based on information supplied by the National Park Service for the Yellowstone National Park and a document produced by the Sierra Club advocating for non-lethal management techniques. When tourists were asked about their interests regarding parks visits, 50 percent of visitors noted that they were specifically interested in seeing wolves. There were more than 3 million visitors in 2012 (1).
  • Management estimates are based on an assessment of the potential and actual economic impact of wolves in Utah and expanded to account for the larger populations of wolves in other states, such as Minnesota.
  • Discretionary spending in the local economy by tourists is based on estimates provided by Utah State University in an effort to assess the projected economic value of wolves for the local economy if conservation efforts were to be implemented (6).

[1] Boating, camping, etc.


1. Club, S. (n.d.). Wolves and Economics.

2. Geographic, N. (n.d.). Keystone Species. Retrieved from National Geographic Education http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/encyclopedia/keystone-species/?ar_a=1

3. http://www.wolf.org/wow/world/

4. Service, N. P. (2014, May 29). Visitation Statistics. Retrieved from National Park Service

5. Service, U. F. (2014, May 28). Gray wolf (Canis lupus). Retrieved from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=A00D

6. Switaliski, T. A., Simmons, T., Duncan, S. L., Chavez, A. S., & Schmidt, R. H. (2002, 1 1). Economic aspects of wolf colonization in Utah. Natural Resources and Environmental Issues.

7. Wildlife, D. o. (2014). Fact Sheet: Grey Wolf. http://www.defenders.org/gray-wolf/basic-facts

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