The North Carolina red wolf is once again on the verge of extinction from the wild

Once removed from the brink of extinction, the North Carolina red wolf is once again on the verge of extinction from the wild.

Just over a year ago, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) made an announcement that stunned the conservation world. Rather than re-committing to the endangered native wolf of the South, they instead declared their intention to reduce the range of the red wolf by about 90%, leaving room for only one family of wolves in nature. The remaining wolves were to be removed from the wild.

Scientists said this would undoubtedly lead to the extinction of the North Carolina red wolf and end the recovery effort in the wild.

Although FWS had the nerve to call this plan the “way forward,” it has since become clear that the public sees the agency’s move for what it is: thinly veiled political surrender.

During the last public comment period, more than 55,000 comments were submitted by all 50 states, 99.8% of which opposed the FWS plan. To put that into perspective, out of tens of thousands of comments, only 25 were anti-wolf and only 10 supported FWS. Even in the recovery area itself, 68.4% of landowners expressed support for the species.

Numbers like these clearly show that North Carolinians care about the red wolf and are proud of our natural heritage. They also make one wonder why the FWS defiantly insists on leaving the red wolf behind, when the species enjoys such overwhelming public support?

Politics.

When Red Wolves were reintroduced in 1987, they had the full support of FWS. Over the next two decades, biologists worked day and night to recover the species and made steady progress. In 2007, the population had reached nearly 150 individuals, and by all accounts, the red wolf appeared poised for a long-term recovery. FWS leaders proudly called the program “remarkably successful”.

This progress, however, was short-lived. Thanks to the influence of two anti-government landowners, the stimulus package is a shell of itself.

Convinced that the red wolf represents a form of “overrunning the government”, this vocal minority has waged a targeted campaign that has crippled the recovery effort. Over the years, they’ve stirred up coyote hunting circles, spread misinformation about the impact of the red wolf, and pressed the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to activate the FWS, all with great success. Through political connections, one of those landowners even managed to secure a seat on the Red Wolf Recovery Team, a group Defenders of Wildlife withdrew from in protest after he became clear that recovery was not the goal.

Eventually, this pressure wore FWS down, and what resulted was a disaster for conservation. By reassigning key personnel, allowing landowners to kill wolves without hassle, removing essential recovery tools and eliminating poaching crackdowns, nearly 75 wolves have been killed in just three years.

Today fewer than 25 wolves remain in the wild, and the red wolf is now the most endangered dog in the world, rarer than even the Siberian tiger and snow leopard. As proud North Carolina residents, this fact alone should inspire us all to respect the species. Instead, we are fighting for its very existence.

If FWS has its way, one family of wolves will be confined to one county and all the others will be forced to live in zoos.

Although FWS has promised to identify other reintroduction sites, this is certain: before we reintroduce the red wolf elsewhere, we must first protect the red wolf’s home in North Carolina. We need to show other states again that the red wolf is a recoverable species with public support. Otherwise, few political leaders will find the courage to commit to additional population in their own state.

In the months ahead, it is imperative that we all speak up and participate. Although the outlook may look bleak, we still have the tools to turn the tide. Biologists know exactly what the red wolf needs to thrive; we know how to manage the hybridization of coyotes; and with volunteer conservation partners like Defenders of Wildlife, FWS has the additional resources needed to respond to landowner attitudes with greater outreach and communication. The only thing missing at this stage is political courage.

To get involved, call FWS Acting Regional Director Michael Oetker and ask FWS to recommit to the red wolf. Email: michael_oetker@fws.gov;

Christian Hunt is a Southeast Program Associate with Defenders of Wildlife’s Red Wolf Campaign. Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading national conservation organization focused solely on conserving wildlife and habitat and safeguarding biodiversity.


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