Court asked to stop USFWS from capturing, killing wild red wolves

By failing to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is further endangering North Carolina’s dramatically declining wild red wolf population. (© USFWS)

Conservation groups represented by SELC late yesterday asked a federal court to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from capturing and killing—and authorizing private landowners to capture and kill—members of the rapidly dwindling population of wild red wolves.

Previously, the agency stopped key conservation actions and began authorizing private landowners to kill red wolves on their land. It also has been capturing wolves throughout the five-county red wolf recovery area in North Carolina, and holding them for weeks or months before releasing them into unfamiliar territory, separated from their mates and pack. This practice has raised concerns for conservation groups and scientists who are worried it is harming individual wolves and the population as a whole.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with conserving and recovering this country’s endangered species, but for red wolves it seems to have them on a path towards extinction,” said Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver. “The Service says it’s looking at whether to move forward with the population, but we’re worried there’s not going to be any population left if these actions continue. We’re asking the court to step in and save the wild red wolf.”

The groups—Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Welfare Institute—brought the federal agency to court for its failure to protect the world’s only wild population of red wolves, previously estimated to be over 100 animals. Court filings have since detailed a population decline of 50% over the course of two years, in conjunction with the agency’s ongoing actions and inactions that continue to imperil the survival and recovery of the species. As one example of the agency’s failure to protect red wolves, the groups cite its 2015 authorization of a private landowner to kill a female suspected of having pups after minimal efforts by the agency to save the animal.

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 the Service only allowed the taking of “problem wolves,” those that threatened human safety or property, yet it recently expanded its activities to capture – and in some cases allow private landowners to kill – any wolves that enter private land.

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.

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 decimated wild red wolf populations.

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