Legal center files lawsuit for information as North Carolina red wolf population declines


About 14 red wolves live in the wild today, all on the North Carolina coast. [Photo courtesy Red Wolf Recovery Program]

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit Monday, alleging the US Fish and Wildlife Service was withholding requested information about the endangered red wolf population in eastern North Carolina.

The Freedom of Information Act lawsuit claims the US Fish and Wildlife Service violated public records law by refusing to release information about wolves, whose population in the wild has dwindled to about a dozen.

The red wolf once roamed much of the southeastern United States, but was declared extinct in 1980, overtaken by predators like gray wolves and coyotes. Fourteen remaining red wolves were captured in Texas and Louisiana prior to the declaration of extinction and were used to establish a breeding program.

In 1987, a few mated pairs were released as part of a reintroduction experiment at the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge. This experiment grew to a population of over 100 red wolves spanning five counties in eastern North Carolina, including Dare and Hyde.

But in recent years, a “vocal group of landowners have pushed the government to abandon recovery efforts, arguing that the animal is a coyote hybrid,” according to the Associated Press. This year, there have been no breeding pairs in North Carolina and only 14 red wolves are believed to remain.

In 2015, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission called on the federal government to end the red wolf conservation program and began removing some protections for endangered dogs. Last year, the federal government considered a proposal to reduce the conservation area to just Dare and Hyde counties.

The SELC says it is asking the US Fish and Wildlife Service leadership for the remaining population of wild red wolves. But, according to the group, “the agency continues to block to respond to requests, leaving SELC and the public in the dark about what the government agency is currently doing and plans to do regarding the last wild red wolves.”

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