New study shows the red and eastern wolf are hybrids of coyotes and the gray wolf – Minnesota’s iconic gray wolf could be next

July 29, 2016

CONTACT: Dr. Maureen Hackett, Howling For Wolves, 612.250.5915 or Leslie Rosedahl,, 651.353.1818

New study shows the red and eastern wolf are hybrids of coyotes and the gray wolf –  Minnesota’s iconic gray wolf could be next

(St. Paul, Minn) –  An important new study published this week in the scientific journal Science Advances, and noted in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, shows red and eastern wolf populations are hybrids of coyote and gray wolf. The study also shows that the gray wolf has been genetically intact for over 50,000 years and is the only wolf population remaining in the United States. Minnesota is unique with the only native gray wolf population that has never gone extinct.

“We could lose the western gray wolf completely by driving down their numbers so low that we disrupt their ability to have social groups with other wolves,” said Maureen Hackett, founder and president of Howling For Wolves.

Historically, the wolf and coyote are intolerant of each other, but ultimately the wolf population (as shown with the red and eastern wolves in the study) had become so low that the wolf had no options to be with another wolf. Wolves need to be with other canids and this study shows that wolves, when their numbers were driven down, cross bred with coyotes to form the red wolf and eastern wolf.

Study implications for the Minnesota gray wolf are significant. Minnesota’s average wolf pack size is low - just four to five wolves. The number of wolf packs is rapidly decreasing – from 503 in 2008 to just 374 in 2015. Minnesota’s gray wolf population estimates dropped by 25 percent within one year of losing their Endangered Species Act protections in 2012 and those numbers have stayed down.

“We will lose the iconic gray wolf in Minnesota unless we put forward increased efforts to let the wolf live by strengthening wolf recovery and enacting further Endangered Species Act protections. Wolf policies that focus on killing the wolf, including trophy hunting and the trapping and lethal removal of wolves for suspicion of livestock conflicts, can destroy the entire gray wolf species. With these policies we make it inevitable that in order to survive, the wolf will seek to be with the only other wild canid available, the coyote,” said Hackett.

The small sample size of individual wolves and coyotes in this study indicates the results must be viewed with some caution, but this important research has serious implications for the wolf and for Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf across the United States as well as Minnesota. It also serves as a cautionary tale for the future of our iconic gray wolf here in Minnesota.


Howling For Wolves is a Minnesota-based wolf advocacy organization working to educate the public and policy-makers about wolves, to foster understanding and tolerance, and to ensure their long-term survival in the wild. HFW supports effective, science-based, and nonlethal wolf plans to support and promote human and gray wolf coexistence into the future.

July 29, 2016