Wolves of the World

If you want to see wolves and can’t find them in Yellowstone, there are plenty of other places in the world to look.

Outside of Alaska and Yellowstone National Park, I don’t recall ever seeing a wolf in the wild. I have seen tracks and have heard their howls, but they continue to elude me. That doesn’t say much for my wildlife spotting skills as wolves were once one of the most widely distributed terrestrial mammals on the planet. Even today, according to the International Wolf Center (IWC), wolves still occupy two-thirds of the habitat, worldwide, that they once did.

For wolves to be so successful, they had to adapt to a variety of habitats and become specialists of sorts and maybe I am just too narrow in my searching. Today, there are large numbers of wolves in Alaska (two-thirds of the entire U.S. population), Canada, Russia, China, Mongolia, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India. Twenty-eight European countries support an estimated 12,000 wolves. Kazakhstan may have the most wolves per square mile with a stable population of about 30,000 wolves. About 2,000 wolves are killed there yearly for a $40 bounty. Kyrgyzstan has a stable population of 4,000 wolves, which are unprotected. I clearly have incentive for world travel.

Wolves are the biggest and baddest of the canid (dog) family which also includes coyotes, foxes, jackals and a bunch of wild dog species. Oddly, wolves are also the direct descendants of Man’s Best Friend, the domestic dog.

When I talk about wolves, I am thinking of gray wolves (Canis lupus) and red wolves (Canis rufus). There are other wolves worldwide such as the much smaller maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) of South America, which are not of the genus, Canis.

Given the worldwide distribution of gray wolves, it is clear that there are likely differences between gray wolves of Canada and gray wolves of Iran. Indeed, there are 24 sub-species across wolf ranges of the world. In North America, it was once thought that there were that many subspecies on this continent alone. However, according to IWC there are only five: “subspecies of gray wolves in North America including the Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos), northwestern wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis), Great Plains wolf (Canis lupus nubilus), Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) and the eastern timber wolf (Canis lupus lycaon).”

This is different from some other things you may hear about gray wolf subspecies, especially where it pertains to the wolves released in Yellowstone and Central Idaho. I found this on Wikipedia: “The subspecies native to the Yellowstone area prior to extirpation was the Northern Rocky Mountains wolf (Canis lupus irremotus), but the subspecies that was reintroduced was the Mackenzie Valley wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis), though both subspecies were similar and their range overlapped across the region.” This appears to be dated information with regard to the latest research and diminishes the argument that the transplanted wolves were not the same genetically as those extirpated almost 100 years ago.

The red wolf is a separate species, not a sub-species, and is critically endangered. There are fewer than 20 in the wilds of North Carolina’s coastal region. There are another 250 or so being raised in captivity to be released into the wild when appropriate. The red wolf is smaller and adapted to the dense forests of the Eastern US, mainly the Carolinas.

One worldwide trait that all wolves share is the need for room to roam and hunt. This habitat requirement is likely to be the one consistent threat to wolves worldwide. Room to roam requires substnatial habitat in all seasons of the year, not just during the summer months. That will mean that we will need to leave them room not only on the high summer ranges but also in lower country winter ranges where humans and wolves will always be in conflict.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho