The handful of red wolves remaining in the wild are found exclusively in the eastern part of North Carolina.
To preserve the species, the agency’s 1986 “red wolf rule” originally permitted the reintroduction of captive red wolves into Dare County and adjacent counties of Tyrrell, Hyde, Washington and Beaufort.
The rule has changed over time, but in 2018 the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a controversial overhaul.
“In the preamble to this rule, the Service stated that the currently applicable 1995 Red Wolf Rule did not allow additional red wolf releases beyond the first 12 wolves that were released in 1987,” wrote the Southern Environmental Law Center attorneys in the Monday newspaper. complaint.
Over 100 wolves were released into the Five County Red Wolf Recovery Area between September 1987 and April 2014.
The complainants argue that the federal agency made no specific reference to any language in the 1995 rule that limits the number of wolves released.
They say the agency refuses to revert the practice of reintroduction, even though a federal judge ruled in 2018 that its red wolf conservation plan violated endangered species law.
“Rather than resolve these violations, the agency has doubled down on its abandonment of these measures and invented a new illegal policy which the USFWS says does not allow it to release the red wolves from the captive population into the wild,” wrote the complainant groups. in a report.
“The agency also now says its rules do not allow it to deal with hybridization with coyotes. As a result, the world’s only wild red wolf population is now on the brink of extinction, ”the group’s statement added.
Hybridization with coyotes threatened the already fragile wolf population and caused widespread sterilization of coyotes by the Fish and Wildlife Service starting in 2000. Environmental groups say this initiative was recently scrapped.
“We hope the USFWS will take a close look at its red wolf conservation policies and make the necessary changes that will make the survival of wild red wolves a priority,” Red Wolf Coalition executive director Kim Wheeler said in a statement.
Last month, the Fish and Wildlife Service struck a deal with the Center for Biological Diversity in a separate lawsuit over red wolf conservation policies.
U.S. Chief Justice Terrence Boyle of the Eastern District of North Carolina has given the agency until the end of February 2023 to update its endangered species rescue plan.