Gray wolves currently number about 150,000 worldwide. Some 80% live in the circumpolar countries, although the number actually living in the Arctic is unknown. Wolf management practices reflect a long history of exploitation and predator control by humans. The high reproductive potential and dispersal behavior of wolves, however, contribute to their persistence in many areas and to their repopulation of historical range in others.
The total wolf population in Finland is estimated to be 100 animals, about 30 of which are shared with Russia. They are protected south of the reindeer areas, and subject to a five-month harvest season within the reindeer herding areas. The total kill ranges from 5-15 wolves per year. In winter 2000-2001, 29 animals were killed, which was about 25% of the total population. Sweden currently has about 50-70 wolves. Wolves have been protected throughout the country since 1966, but negative attitudes still persist. Norway has approximately 22-24 wolves. Wolves have been protected in Norway since 1973, although conflicts with livestock led to culling of nine wolves in early 2001. The wolf populations in the northern parts of all three countries are unstable, and consist mostly of animals wandering from other regions. Conflicts with reindeer herding complicate the protection of wolves in the CAFF region of Fennoscandia. A recently proposed policy would facilitate the dispersal of wolves from Finland and Russia to both Norway and Sweden.
Russia has between 40,000 and 50,000 wolves, found across three-quarters of the country. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however, wolf research and monitoring declined. Russia has no legal protection for wolves except in nature reserves. Hunting can occur throughout the year. An estimated 15,000 wolves are killed annually. Although wolf populations in most areas are thought to be stable or increasing, recent estimates in northwestern Russia (Kola and Karelia regions) show declines in the late 1990s.
While wolves are abundant in Alaska, northern Canada, and Russia, local overharvests may occur. Habitat loss continues to be a concern for wolf conservation, especially in areas with recovering wolf populations. Wolves are also regarded by many as a nuisance species, hampering management and recovery plans. The challenge continues to be the development and public acceptance of a flexible conservation plan that accommodates wolves in wilderness, but allows for local conflict management.
H. Dean Cluff, Northwest Territories Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. http://www.wolf.org. From the CAFF publication, Arctic Flora and Fauna, www.caff.is