Grey wolf: non-detriment finding

Published 2008-12-18 - Revised 2014-02-17

Re: Canis lupus (Grey Wolf) Non-Detriment Finding for Canada

Summary of finding:

Export of legally obtained harvested grey wolf is considered non-detrimental.

  • Grey wolf is harvested as both a furbearer and game animal species under the authorization of trapping/hunting permits or licenses. Canadian export trade is primarily in whole pelts, taxidermy products and fur garments. Harvest of wolf (primarily of the northern grey wolf subspecies), occurs in all 10 range provinces and territories (Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador). In Canada, the grey wolf is found in 80% of its original range.

  • Wild Species 2010: The General Status of Species in Canada Canada classifies the grey wolf as Secure in Canada. Jurisdictions report stable or increasing populations and no acute widespread threats to the species have been identified. Canada has four subspecies of the grey wolf all of which have been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The eastern grey wolf Footnote1 is listed under the Canadian Species at Risk Act as a species of Special Concern and stricter measures are in place to manage this species accordingly. The northern and southern grey wolf subspecies are Not at Risk in Canada and the assessment of the arctic wolf will be completed when sufficient data is available.

  • Like all vertebrates in Canada, the wolf is legally protected through various provincial and territorial wildlife acts. Under these acts, certain uses of Canadian wildlife are allowed under specific regulations and only with the provision of licenses or permits. Generally, without such a license, the catch, possession, trade, sale, disturbance or destruction of wildlife is prohibited. Regulations also allow for removal of grey wolf for prey population management and human conflict control as necessary.

  • Provincial and territorial governments are responsible for the management of terrestrial wildlife. Grey wolf harvest activities in Canada occur under programs established for furbearers and/or game animals and management decisions are guided by planning processes, policy, legislation, trends in historical and recent use, and scientific information. Harvest is adjusted to ensure sustainable management of the wolf by season, geographical management unit, and/or harvest limit.

Supporting information:

Biological characteristics

The grey wolf is a social species, generally found in family groups or packs in all major wilderness habitats in Canada and is the principle predator of large mammals such as caribou, muskox, moose and deer in their range. As the population dynamics of wild ungulates and the grey wolf are closely linked, grey wolf populations are limited by prey availability and size rather than availability of habitat. The wolf has very good dispersal efficiency and generally tends to avoid areas with human activity. The reproductive dynamics of the wolf will respond to increased mortality levels (up to 30% to 50% mortality) when there is an adequate food supply. Compensation mechanisms include increased litter size, increase in number of breeding females per social group and increase in number of social groups through dispersal.


The grey wolf has a wide distribution covering most of northern North America, with the species currently occupying 80% of its original Canadian range, in 10 provinces and territories. The grey wolf no longer exists in three provinces of Eastern Canada (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island) and in urban and agricultural areas of other range jurisdictions.

There are four subspecies of grey wolf in Canada Footnote2. The northern grey wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis) occurs in 10 provinces and territories (Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador). The southern wolf (C. lupus nubilus) occurs in British Columbia. The arctic wolf (C. lupus arctos) occurs in the arctic regions of Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and the eastern wolf (C. lupus lycaon) in the southern regions of Ontario and Quebec.

Nationally, the grey wolf population (estimated to be between 50,000 and 60,000 animals) is stable or increasing but in some areas local grey wolf populations may be decreasing due to prey availability. Population estimates are based on recent quantitative data from a variety of methods including harvest monitoring, snow tracking, den surveys, pup counts, conflict incident reports, aerial surveys, telemetric surveys and trapper/hunter observation. There is no currently widespread acute threat to the Canadian grey wolf population. Some possible threats include decline in prey populations, degradation or loss of habitat and increased accessibility to remote areas.

Overall, Wild Species 2010: The General Status of Species in Canada classifies grey wolf as Secure in Canada. With respect to subspecies, COSEWIChas assessed the northern grey wolf and southern grey wolf as Not at Risk3 and the arctic grey wolf as Data Deficient Footnote3. The eastern grey wolf was assessed as Special Concern Footnote4 (due to hybridization with other grey wolf subspecies and coyotes) and it is listed as such under the Canadian Species at Risk Act.

Harvest management

Management of grey wolf harvest in Canada is conducted with the goal of long-term population sustainability. Harvest of grey wolf occurs in all 10 range provinces and territories (Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador) and is managed through provincial and territorial wildlife acts whose regulations provide a framework for sustainable harvest management and monitoring. The grey wolf is classified as both a furbearer and game animal in most jurisdictions. Aboriginal peoples have the right under the Canadian constitution to harvest wildlife for traditional use.

Jurisdictional management strategies for grey wolf are reviewed annually and involve regulatory controls as well as management plans. Harvest seasons are established by management unit and vary across jurisdictions from "no closed season" to "no open season" with an average open season of 9 to 10 months. The harvest may also be monitored by mandatory carcass submissions, reporting or questionnaires. In areas where there is some concern about grey wolf, seasons and harvest areas may be more restrictive and bag limits or quotas may be applied. For example, Ontario implemented a closed summer hunting and trapping season, and a maximum allowable harvest of two wolves/coyotes per hunter in 2005 and Quebec implements a shorter open season in wildlife management areas where trapping and hunting activities are permitted.

The overall goal of wolf management in each jurisdiction is the maintenance of a viable wolf population, healthy predator-prey dynamics and the minimization of human-wolf conflict. This is done by substituting harvest for natural mortality when possible by targeting dispersing animals, encouraging trappers and hunters to focus harvest in areas where there may be control situations (imbalance in predator/prey populations or nuisance behaviour) and increasing knowledge and understanding of the wolf through research and public education.

Control of harvest

Each jurisdiction is divided into management units or zones in which wildlife harvest is managed through specific regulation based on the ecological characteristics of the territory or on local conditions. In all jurisdictions, provincial wildlife/conservation officers monitor compliance with the regulations of the jurisdiction.

The majority of trade in grey wolf from Canada is for pelts, hunting trophies and fur garments. Canada has also provided wild-caught grey wolf for re-introduction programs in the United States. The large majority of grey wolf pelts are sold and exported through three auction houses, two in Ontario and one in British Columbia. Provincial enforcement staff work very closely with the auction houses to ensure all pelts sold have legally left the province/ territory of origin (with a provincial export permit) and are accurately reported. These systems complement controls occurring at the harvest level and provide an overall confidence in the high level of compliance with Canadian harvest and permit requirements. Grey wolves harvested for trophy hunting are monitored through mandatory reporting by the taxidermist industry and by mandatory hunter reporting in some jurisdictions.

Overall, confidence in the current Canadian harvest management system is high. The adaptive management system allows for strict control of a harvest and is reactive to changing conditions, with the aim of ensuring sustainable harvest and maintaining biodiversity.

Harvest trend

Commercial harvest data for the wolf (annual sale of pelts) is available from 1919 in most jurisdictions and range from an approximate average of 7500 pelts sold per year between 1919 and 1945 to fewer than 1000 pelts per year between 1950 and 1970. For 1999-2004, average number of pelts sold was 2450. The grey wolf is rarely a target species of fur harvesters and variation in sales data is assumed to be market driven. The total annual harvest of grey wolf is generally less than 10% of the total population. This is within the expected annual birth rate for this species and is therefore considered to be sustainable.

Harvest monitoring

Where harvest is permitted, a license or permit is required for the catch, possession, sale and export of grey wolf. In some provinces/territories, tagging or the submission of carcasses is also required. All jurisdictions monitor harvest annually, primarily by jurisdictional permits and mandatory reporting by trappers, hunters and taxidermists.

Incentives and benefits of harvest

Management of furbearer species in Canada is a partnership between governments and harvesters. Long term harvest is dependent on stable wildlife populations thus promoting a stewardship attitude towards both the wolf and its habitat.


Protection from harvest

In general, the adaptive management framework currently applied to wildlife harvest management programs in Canada is very effective in preventing over-harvest of wildlife as restrictive measures can be applied when necessary. Jurisdictions may, from time to time, choose to close specific geographical management areas to wolf harvest to achieve specific conservation goals.

Jurisdictional Summary:
Provinces and territories Species present Harvest occuring General status
Harvest regulations
British Columbia Y Y 4 - Secure Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Management Branch
Alberta Y Y 4 - Secure Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
Saskatchewan Y Y 4 - Secure Ministry of the Environment
Manitoba Y Y 4 - Secure Conservation and Water Stewardship
Ontario Y Y 4 - Secure Ministry of Natural Resources
Quebec Y Y 4 - Secure Natural Resources
New Brunswick N N 0.1 - Extirpated Natural Resources
Nova Scotia N N 0.1 - Extirpated Wildlife and Biodiversity
Prince Edward Island N N 5 - Undetermined Island Information
Newfoundland and Labrador Y Y 4 - Secure Department of Environment and Conservation
Nunavut Y Y 4 - Secure Nunavut
Northwest Territories Y Y 4 - Secure Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Yukon Y Y 4 - Secure Environment Yukon
Canada     4 - Secure  

Additional information on wolf in Canada:

Species at Risk Public Registry

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada

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