Red wolf report ignores agency role in species decline

Red wolves cross a field in early morning at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. (© Derb Carter/SELC)

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a long-overdue status review for the endangered red wolf. In the review, the agency maintains that the red wolf is highly endangered, but fails to address its own contributions to the recent decline of red wolf population in northeastern North Carolina—the only wild population of red wolves in the world. USFWS reports that only three breeding pairs of red wolves now remain in the wild.

Over the past four years, the agency stopped its proven practices of releasing captive red wolves into the wild and sterilizing coyotes to control hybridization. Without these key management techniques, and as the agency simultaneously began authorizing the lethal and non-lethal removal of wolves from private lands, the population plummeted to as few as 22 known wolves in 2017.

The best available science shows that immediately restarting introductions from the captive population into the wild and coyote sterilizations are necessary to the conservation of America’s wild red wolves,” said Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver. “The red wolf program hasn’t failed, the Service has. In order to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the agency must immediately start managing for recovery of the red wolf rather than its extinction.”

The red wolf status review and accompanying report ignore the red wolf’s nearly three decades’ of success in northeastern North Carolina. The North Carolina population began in 1987 with the release of four mated pairs of red wolves into the coastal Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. With regular releases of captive-bred red wolves and science-based management, the population grew to approximately 150 wolves by 2005 and, from 2002 to 2014, the wild red wolf population steadily numbered at least 100. Coyote hybridization, the leading threat to red wolf population, was effectively managed through a program of coyote sterilization and close monitoring of the red wolf population.

SELC represents the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and Animal Welfare Institute in court challenging USFWS’s recent actions regarding the endangered red wolf.

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