Agency proposes reversing progress to protect endangered wild red wolves

The world's last remaining red wolves are under increasing threat as the agency charged with their protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, looks to make major changes to its red wolf recovery program. (© B. Bartel/USFWS)

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced dramatic proposed changes to the agency’s recovery program for the highly endangered wild red wolf population. The proposals include a plan to capture the remaining wild red wolves and keep them in captivity, a move that only adds to the many threats already facing this imperiled species.

“Eastern North Carolina supports the world’s only wild population of red wolves, and it may be the last best hope to restore this critically endangered species in the wild,” said Derb Carter, senior attorney and director of SELC’s North Carolina office. “The Fish and Wildlife Service plan is tantamount to sentencing red wolves to zoos. The Service is abandoning the red wolf in the wild and abandoning its responsibilities to recover this endangered species.”

This announcement comes as SELC prepares for a hearing this Wednesday, September 14, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina regarding SELC’s motion for preliminary injunction to stop the Fish and Wildlife Service from authorizing the capturing and killing of the highly endangered red wolves. This rapidly dwindling population—the only wild population of red wolves in the world—is now estimated to be only 45-60 animals. SELC represents Defenders of Wildlife, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Red Wolf Coalition in the pending lawsuit as the groups work to prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from driving the world’s only population of red wolves into extinction.

Under the Endangered Species Act, it is unlawful for anyone to “take” (i.e., harass, harm or kill) a red wolf, except in limited circumstances. For twenty years, USFWS only allowed the taking of “problem wolves,” those that threatened human safety or property. Yet it recently expanded its activities to include capturing any wolves that enter private land and, in some cases, allowing private landowners to kill them.

Over a year ago, the USFWS announced that it would suspend the reintroduction of red wolves into eastern North Carolina. The agency also stopped its adaptive management for the population, which has been critical to reducing hybridization with coyotes. All of these approaches go against the agency’s charge under the Endangered Species Act.

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

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