Endangered red wolves get immediate reprieve, still need urgent action

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to delay action endangers the as-few-as 24 remaining wild red wolves. (© B. Bartel/USFWS)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will delay changes to regulations governing the management of endangered wild red wolves while it considers a recent court decision.

There’s good news and bad news in today’s announcement,” said Derb Carter, director of SELC’s North Carolina offices. “The service has backed away from its proposal to declare open season on red wolves that leave Alligator National Wildlife Refuge, and that’s a major win for the survival of the red wolf. But not killing red wolves is not enough. As the agency reviews the court’s opinion we hope they’ll take the only action that will comply, which is reinstating proven conservation measures like coyote sterilization and releases of captive red wolves. Deferring action is not an option for wild red wolves. Their time is running out with as few as 24 known red wolves remaining in the wild after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stopped key conservation measures and allowed the killing of non-problem wolves.”

A rule proposed by USFWS rule on June 27, 2018, would restrict wild red wolves to one National Wildlife Refuge and a bombing range in eastern North Carolina, while allowing the immediate killing of any wolves that live on or wander onto non-federal lands. This would be a significant cut from the existing five-county 1.7 million acre Red Wolf Recovery Area, reducing it by almost 90 percent.

A group of 30 scientists already condemned such a scenario in 2016 because the limited area could not support a viable population of red wolves and its proposal was inconsistent with the best available science.

SELC sued the USFWS in 2015 for its violations of the Endangered Species Act and that National Environmental Policy Act, and on November 4, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina issued an order declaring that the agency violated the law in gutting protections for the endangered wild red wolves. The court also made permanent its 2016 order stopping the service from capturing and killing, and authorizing private landowners to capture and kill wild red wolves. 

The groups brought the federal court action over the USFWS’s decision to allow red wolves that were not causing any problems to be shot and killed by private landowners, at the same time as it rolled back conservation measures that had helped red wolves grow from four pairs released in 1987, to over 100 animals in eastern North Carolina from 2002-2014. Since those management changes were made, the red wolf population has plummeted over the past four years to as few as 24 known red wolves in the wild today. 

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