U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on notice for failures to protect world’s only wild red wolves

SELC and its partners are prepared to file suit to preserve the future of the last wild red wolves, which are in jeopardy under the current practices of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, who was appointed to protect them. (© U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

Conservation groups today notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of their intent to sue the agency for its failure to protect the world’s only wild population of red wolves. The suit will include the agency’s illegal action in authorizing the killing of a breeding female red wolf, one of only 50-75 red wolves in the wild. According to the Service’s estimates, the world’s only wild population of red wolves has declined by as much as half of what it was only a year ago when an estimated 100 red wolves lived within the five county Red Wolf Recovery Area in North Carolina.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has violated the law and its responsibility to protect the world’s only wild population of red wolves,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must rededicate itself to ensuring the survival of America’s rarest wolf and restore the former successful recovery of this endangered species.”

Following the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s announcement in June of its authorization of the kill and the end of reintroductions, the 60-day notice letter details the agency’s violations of the Endangered Species Act. In particular, it notes the agency’s recent decisions to allow private landowners to kill wolves found on their property and the effect that these actions may have on a significantly decline in population. The notice of intent to sue also points to the agency’s failure to conduct a status update that is now three years overdue.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) illegally authorized the killing of a critically endangered female red wolf within the eastern North Carolina recovery area. Tracking data showed the collared female red wolf was exhibiting denning behavior. The loss of any breeding adult red wolf is a significant setback to recovery of this critically endangered species.

Under the Endangered Species Act, it is unlawful for anyone to “take” (i.e., harass, harm, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture) a red wolf, except in limited circumstances. Federal regulations authorize the USFWS to issue permits to take red wolves on private property after a property owner requests that wolves be removed from property and the Service abandons efforts to capture them. No removal effort was made before the agency authorized the June killing.

Since 2007, the USFWS has not conducted the required five-year status review to inform recovery and management efforts. Despite this failure, the agency announced this summer that it would suspend reintroduction of red wolves into eastern North Carolina. The reintroduction has been critical to maintaining the population.

North Carolina is home to the only wild population of red wolves. Red wolves bred in captivity were reintroduced on a North Carolina peninsula within their native range in the late 1980’s after red wolves were declared extinct in the wild. Once common throughout the Southeast, intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat decimated wild red wolf populations.

The conservation groups involved in the notice of intent are the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).

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