NC Coyote Rule Risks Endangered Red Wolves

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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on notice for failures to protect world’s only wild red wolves More »

Conservation groups today notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of their intent to sue the agency for its failure to protect the world’s only wild population of red wolves. The suit will include the agency’s illegal action in authorizing the killing of a breeding female red wolf, one of only 50-75 red wolves in the wild. According to the Service’s estimates, the world’s only wild population of red wolves has declined by as much as half of what it was only a year ago when an estimated 100 red wolves lived within the five county Red Wolf Recovery Area in North Carolina.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has violated the law and its responsibility to protect the world’s only wild population of red wolves,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must rededicate itself to ensuring the survival of America’s rarest wolf and restore the former successful recovery of this endangered species.”

Following the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s announcement in June of its authorization of the kill and the end of reintroductions, the 60-day notice letter details the agency’s violations of the Endangered Species Act. In particular, it notes the agency’s recent decisions to allow private landowners to kill wolves found on their property and the effect that these actions may have on a significantly decline in population. The notice of intent to sue also points to the agency’s failure to conduct a status update that is now three years overdue.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) illegally authorized the killing of a critically endangered female red wolf within the eastern North Carolina recovery area. Tracking data showed the collared female red wolf was exhibiting denning behavior. The loss of any breeding adult red wolf is a significant setback to recovery of this critically endangered species.

Under the Endangered Species Act, it is unlawful for anyone to “take” (i.e., harass, harm, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture) a red wolf, except in limited circumstances. Federal regulations authorize the USFWS to issue permits to take red wolves on private property after a property owner requests that wolves be removed from property and the Service abandons efforts to capture them. No removal effort was made before the agency authorized the June killing.

Since 2007, the USFWS has not conducted the required five-year status review to inform recovery and management efforts. Despite this failure, the agency announced this summer that it would suspend reintroduction of red wolves into eastern North Carolina. The reintroduction has been critical to maintaining the population.

North Carolina is home to the only wild population of red wolves. Red wolves bred in captivity were reintroduced on a North Carolina peninsula within their native range in the late 1980’s after red wolves were declared extinct in the wild. Once common throughout the Southeast, intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat decimated wild red wolf populations.

The conservation groups involved in the notice of intent are the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).

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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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