Urgent Action Needed to Save Wild Red Wolves While U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deliberates

Comment by Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In response to today’s announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it will delay changes to regulations governing the management of wild red wolves while it considers a recent court decision, the Southern Environmental Law Center released the following statement by Derb Carter, senior attorney and director of its North Carolina offices.

“There’s good news and bad news in today’s announcement. The service has backed away from its proposal to declare open season on red wolves that leave Alligator National Wildlife Refuge, and that’s a major win for the survival of the red wolf. But not killing red wolves is not enough. As the agency reviews the court’s opinion we hope they’ll take the only action that will comply, which is reinstating proven conservation measures like coyote sterilization and releases of captive red wolves. Deferring action is not an option for wild red wolves. Their time is running out with as few as 24 known red wolves remaining in the wild after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stopped key conservation measures and allowed the killing of non-problem wolves.”

Background:

A rule proposed by USFWS rule on June 27, 2018, would restrict wild red wolves to one National Wildlife Refuge and a bombing range in eastern North Carolina (map here), while allowing the immediate killing of any wolves that live on or wander onto non-federal lands in what previously had been a designated five-county Red Wolf Recovery Area. The USFWS proposal would reduce the recovery area by almost 90 percent.

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 its proposal was inconsistent with the best available science.

On November 4, 2018, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina issued an order declaring that the agency violated the law in gutting protections for the endangered wild red wolves. The court also made permanent its September 29, 2016, order stopping the service from capturing and killing, and authorizing private landowners to capture and kill wild red wolves. 

The groups brought the federal court action over the USFWS’s decision to allow red wolves that were not causing any problems to be shot and killed by private landowners, at the same time as it rolled back conservation measures that had helped red wolves grow from four pairs released in 1987, to over 100 animals in eastern North Carolina from 2002-2014. Since those management changes were made, the red wolf population has plummeted over the past four years to as few as 24 known red wolves in the wild today. 

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