NC Coyote Rule Risks Endangered Red Wolves
Halted program could spell extinction for red wolves More »
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s successful, decades-old program to recover the endangered red wolf was dealt a huge blow yesterday, as the Service announced it was effectively halting this national model for bringing a species back from the brink of extinction.
Once common throughout the Southeast, predator control and habitat loss decimated the species. Eight wolves reintroduced to North Carolina in the 1980s reached a peak population of 130 animals, and now the state is home to the world’s only wild population.
But despite this success and the importance of the animals remaining in North Carolina, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced its decision yesterday to reassess the program and stop reintroducing endangered red wolves into the wild, as the Southeast Regional Director of Fish and Wildlife Service told reporters that allowing the wolves to go extinct in the wild again is “one of many possibilities.”
SELC has been involved with red wolf conservation since the wolf’s reintroduction into North Carolina. Recently SELC represented Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and Animal Welfare Institute in successful litigation to halt nighttime coyote hunting in the Red Wolf Recovery Area, as the two species were often confused. Following a court order in 2014, red wolf gunshot mortalities have fallen to their lowest level in over 10 years.
As Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver commented in response to the news: “Today’s disappointing decision could mean the end of a decades-long effort to bring this incredible animal back from the brink of extinction.”
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.
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.
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.
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