Halted program could spell extinction for red wolves

The red wolf recovery program began in the mid 1980's with only eight wolves in the wild. Despite the program's success, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was reassessing the program, raising questions as to whether the species will survive.

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.”

Read the latest on this story in The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer, as well as a great history of the red wolves in the Joplin Globe.

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