A new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule, released today, envisions restricting the world’s only wild population of red wolves to one refuge and a bombing range in eastern North Carolina. At the same time the rule declares “open season” on any of the highly endangered wolves living on non-federal lands in what has been a designated, five-county Red Wolf Recovery Area.
The USFWS proposal comes nearly two years after a federal court ordered it to stop capturing and killing non-problem red wolves in a lawsuit brought by SELC on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Red Wolf Coalition. Red wolves were once common throughout the Southeast, until intensive predator-control programs and loss of habitat drove them to extinction in the wild in the late 1970s. About 10 years later, red wolves bred in captivity were reintroduced on a North Carolina peninsula within their native range and saw strong population growth until recently.
“The law is clear that it’s the Fish and Wildlife Service’s job to conserve these endangered wild red wolves, but the agency is instead driving America’s red wolf to extinction in the wild,” said SELC attorney Ramona McGee. “We are currently asking the federal court to require the Fish and Wildlife Service to meet its legal obligation to recover this critically endangered species in relation to its actions under the existing rule. Limiting red wolves to a sliver of land suitable for only a handful of wolves, while allowing ‘open season’ to kill, trap or capture these highly endangered wolves on non-federal lands in the former Red Wolf Recovery Area, is an abhorrent plan to abandon the wild red wolf, not recover them as required under U.S. law.”
The restricted geographical area of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Dare County Bombing Range that USFWS now proposes recently has supported only one or two packs of red wolves. In 2016, a group of 30 scientists condemned this type of setup because the limited area proposed could not support a viable red wolf population and was inconsistent with the best available science.
The conservation groups are currently in federal court with the agency over its recent failures to protect the world’s only wild population of red wolves—previously estimated to be over 100 animals for more than a decade, until 2015. In 2015, the USFWS announced that it was suspending the reintroduction of captive born red wolves into eastern North Carolina. The agency also stopped its coyote sterilization practice, which had been critical to reducing hybridization between red wolves and coyotes.
The USFWS is only allowing the public 30 days to comment on its proposal to abandon the last wild red wolves. The deadline to comment is July 30.
Only 10 of the nearly 55,000 comments submitted on an early version of this rule supported USFWS’s proposal to restrict red wolves to only federal lands in Dare County, meaning roughly 99 percent of the comments were opposed.