SELC trial secures red wolf releases in the wild
Following our latest court case involving the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Red Wolf Breeding Facilities just announced the release of four extremely rare red wolves in the wild in eastern North Carolina . They also reported the placement of four red wolf cubs with a wild red wolf female in the state.
We won the Federal Court decision in January on behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and Animal Welfare Institute, forcing the US Fish and Wildlife Service to avoid irreversible damage to the highly endangered population by developing a plan to release the captive red wolves.
“Having more red wolves in the wild in North Carolina is what we’re fighting for, and it’s finally a step in the right direction,” said Sierra Weaver, a senior lawyer. “The ultimate question will be whether this marks a return to the service’s historic commitment to conservation, or whether more court orders will be needed to maintain this.”
News of the releases came the day before a scheduled court hearing on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s obligations under the court’s January injunction. An order issued shortly after that hearing confirmed that the court would maintain ongoing monitoring of the agency’s ongoing actions to free the wolves. This will require the agency to provide a progress report to the court in August and schedule another status hearing in November.
There were only seven red wolves left in the wild when the complaint was filed, following the agency’s refusal to release captive wolves over the past six years. He suspended this long-standing and successful practice in the approximately 1.7 million acre Red Wolf Recovery Area in 2015. In contrast, during the first five years of his Red Wolf reintroduction program in eastern North Carolina, the Fish & Wildlife Service has released an average of eight wolves per year, for a total of 134 red wolves over the program’s 35-year history.
“Without the dedicated legal advocacy of this coalition, the red wolf could have been lost in the wild again,” said Ben Prater, Southeast Program Director of Defenders of Wildlife. “We hope that FWS will re-commit to annual releases to ensure a future for the species.”
We continued the service in November 2020 for breaking the endangered species law by banning the use of proven and essential conservation measures such as the releases of captive red wolves and coyote sterilizations. In January 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ordered the agency to develop a plan for the release of captive red wolves in the wild during the ongoing litigation. The next hearing in this case is scheduled for later this week.
“These releases represent an exciting and important step towards increasing the wild red wolf population,” said Johanna Hamburger, director and senior counsel for the Animal Welfare Institute’s Terrestrial Wildlife Program. “While the efforts of the USFWS are long overdue and a long road ahead, we are encouraged to see the agency once again managing the species for recovery, not extinction.”
We hope that these newly released wolves thrive in the wild and that the federal red wolf recovery program will continue to provide a path to recovery in North Carolina.