NC Coyote Rule Risks Endangered Red Wolves

Photo © B. Crawford/USFWS

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Agreement protects endangered red wolves More »

A settlement between SELC and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission will protect the endangered red wolf from the ravages of nighttime hunting of coyotes in the Red Wolf Recovery Area. Because coyotes look remarkably like red wolves, coyote hunting has led to serious losses in a population numbering only around 100 animals.

The red wolf, once common throughout the Southeast, was driven to near complete disappearance by the mid-20th century and declared extinct in the wild in 1980, but the species began a slow but successful recovery in the wild after reintroduction in 1987. Over the years, SELC attorneys have helped defend the red wolf from a variety of threats. The recent agreement is the first step to making permanent an important provision of a preliminary injunction SELC previously won in court.

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Coyote Hunting in Recovery Area Threatens Red Wolf

Mistaken identity is at the heart of concerns over a North Carolina rule that allows hunting of coyotes--including by spotlight at night--in the five county area inhabited by the only wild population of red wolves, one of the world’s most endangered animals.

Gunshot deaths are a significant threat to red wolf (Canis rufus) recovery. Once extinct in the wild, the red wolf was reintroduced in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. With only about 100 wild red wolves now living in five counties on the Albemarle Peninsula of eastern North Carolina, the wolves are frequently mistaken for coyotes even in daylight. Red wolves and coyotes are similar in appearance, coats, and coloring. Red wolf yearlings are similar in size and weight to coyotes.

Coyote Control
To prevent wolves interbreeding with coyotes—another threat to the wolf population—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife sterilizes coyotes that have territories within red wolf habitat. Shooting sterilized coyotes will undo effective coyote population control efforts and further jeopardize the native red wolf population.

SELC Action
As of July 26, 2013, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission authorized coyote hunting both during the day and at night with artificial spotlights within the area designated for red wolf recovery. A temporary rule that legalized spot light hunting of coyotes at night in North Carolina—including the five county area inhabited by the world’s only wild population of about 100 red wolves—was in effect August 2012 until November 2012 when it was suspended by Wake County Superior Court in a lawsuit brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Animal Welfare Institute, and Defenders of Wildlife.

The law center notified the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission that it is in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing hunting of coyotes within the Red Wolf Recovery Area and the groups would file a federal enforcement action unless the commission took steps to protect the wolves.

Listen to the red wolf chorus

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