U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Plan Dooms Only Wild Red Wolves to Extinction
USFWS proposes confining some and “open season” on remaining highly endangered wild red wolves after ending protective efforts and reintroductions
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s new rule proposes to restrict the world’s only wild population of red wolves to one refuge and a bombing range in eastern North Carolina, while declaring “open season” on any of the highly endangered wolves living on non-federal lands in what had previously 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 the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Red Wolf Coalition.
“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 Ramona McGee, attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “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 has recently supported only a single pack of red wolves. In 2016, a group of 30 scientists condemned such a scenario because the limited area proposed by USFWS could not support a viable population of red wolves and the USFWS proposal 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.
Prior to the preliminary injunction secured by the conservationists in federal court, the agency also had been authorizing wild red wolves to be killed by private landowners or captured and held in captivity. Court filings detail how the population has dramatically dropped since 2014, as well as how the agency’s ongoing actions and inactions have imperiled the survival and recovery of the highly endangered animals in the wild.
The USFWS is only allowing the public 30 days to comment on its proposal to abandon the last wild red wolves, following its publication in the Federal Register.
Roughly 99 percent of the comments USFWS received in the summer of 2017 on an early version of its proposed rule supported red wolf recovery in the wild. Only 10 of the nearly 55,000 comments supported USFWS’s proposal to restrict red wolves to only federal lands in Dare County.
The red wolf recovery program served as a model for reintroduction efforts and was widely celebrated as a success for 25 years before the service began ending its successful conservation actions. Once common throughout the Southeast, intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat drove the red wolf to extinction in the wild in the late 1970s. Later, red wolves bred in captivity were reintroduced on a North Carolina peninsula within their native range in the late 1980s.
About the Southern Environmental Law Center
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org