N.C. Governor urges federal action for wild wolves

A year-old red wolf. (© Karen Beshears)

As federal officials abandon their obligations to wild red wolves, North Carolina’s governor weighed in this week with a letter to key officials laying out the urgent need for action.

“Wild red wolves have strong public support in North Carolina, attract tourists from across the country, and are part of the cultural and economic fabric of our state,” wrote Governor Roy Cooper in his letter to Secretary of the Interior Department David Bernhardt. “As home to the only population of wild red wolves in the world, North Carolina is committed to working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the successful recovery of this endangered species. The FWS's Red Wolf Recovery Program has been a global model for successful reintroductions, but changes in management strategies over the last several years have diminished the wild population to a dangerous level.”

After the red wolf was driven extinct in the wild, the North Carolina red wolf reintroduction began in 1987 and the recovery program successfully built the wild population to about 130 animals by 2006. Yet in recent years, the FWS abandoned many of the actions that made it so successful, like sterilizing coyotes to prevent hybridization and releasing wolves from the captive populations into the wild in North Carolina. In November 2018, a federal judge found the agency’s abandonment of these conservation actions to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Nonetheless, the agency still has not acted to remedy those violations. Today there are there are only fourteen known red wolves in the wild and, in 2019, for the first time in the history of the reintroduction, no litters of wild pups were recorded.

Stop stalling and act now to save this species. This is America’s wolf.”

—Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver

Susi H. Hamilton, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, also wrote to Bernhardt and included a list of immediate steps to be taken to ensure the wild red wolf population will survive.

The recommendations are:

  • Introduce breeding pairs into the wild.
  • Resume release of captive pups into wild dens.
  • Maintain the current five-county recovery area and work with state agencies to identify more lands that could function as habitat for red wolves.
  • Restart and adequately fund the coyote sterilization program and other strategies outlined in the Red Wolf Adaptive Management Program.
  • Protect wild red wolves from gunshot mortalities through sincere and expanded engagement with local
  • Support targeted education efforts that assist in understanding and appreciating the American red wolf and its natural history.

“A federal court found over a year ago that the Fish and Wildlife Service was violating the Endangered Species Act when it failed to conserve red wolves in the wild in North Carolina, but the agency has done nothing to remedy those violations,” said Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver. “This letter from Governor Cooper calls on the agency to stop stalling and act now to save this species. This is America’s wolf and North Carolina’s wolf and we applaud Governor Cooper for making this important request.”

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