Undermining the recovery of the red wolf in North Carolina

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A red wolf in a fenced enclosure in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in 2010

JOHN D. SIMMONS – jsimmons @ charl

Wildlife advocates have resigned from the North Carolina red wolf recovery team because, although it was apparently assembled to make recommendations for the conservation and recovery of the red wolf, it did not been organized and directed to have the slightest chance of achieving this important goal.

Three decades ago, the Red Wolves returned to North Carolina for the first time in generations. The US Fish and Wildlife Service captured the last remaining red wolves in the wild, and 14 individuals formed the basis of a captive breeding program. From the initial release of captive-bred red wolves in the Alligator River National Wildlife Area until very recently, the red wolf recovery program has made steady progress: the population in the wild has grown to around 110 and helped set an example in carnivore restoration. In recent years, however, the Red Wolf program has faced serious challenges. The influx of coyotes has raised concerns about hybridization, and efforts to control coyotes have often resulted in shots being fired by red wolves, victims of mistaken identity.

In 2012, as many as 10 red wolves shot dead after the state of North Carolina allowed night coyote hunting in the red wolf habitat. While litigation from Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation organizations ultimately led to the end of the night coyote hunt, daytime hunting is still permitted and red wolves are still being culled.

Unfortunately, instead of working with private landowners to provide the tools they need to coexist with red wolves and scale up management practices like coyote spaying, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has withdrawn its proactive support for recovery. of the red wolf. In 2015, the service stopped releasing captive red wolves into the wild. He cut the full-time Red Wolf coordinator position at the shelter. It has all but abandoned its coyote sterilization program and even issued permits to landowners allowing them to shoot red wolves on their properties without trying to eliminate them.

Last year, the service gave a landowner a lethal control permit and a breeding red wolf was shot. This was a huge loss for the species, as it is believed that only a dozen female red wolves of reproductive age remain in the wild.

When our group was invited to join the Red Wolf Recovery Team in September, we welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife researchers and other stakeholders. We relied on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s own statements that the team was meant to guide future red wolf conservation efforts with the ultimate goal of recovering from the wild. But it soon became clear that the team had no real chance of success.

The team met once. The service has not affirmed its commitment to the recovery of the red wolf in North Carolina and has not tasked the team with creating a scientifically based plan to achieve the recovery of the red wolf. In fact, it has recently become clear that the team is not supposed to attempt to reach consensus on recovery and will simply be evaluating alternative approaches to the recovery program, including its termination. That’s not what a species recovery team does.

The failure of this team to guide future Red Wolf recovery efforts is another blow to a species that has seen setbacks after setbacks. Just recently, a landowner on the Red Wolf Recovery Team trapped a red wolf and held it for at least a day, while demanding a permit to kill wolves on his property. This situation indicates why the “recovery” team is unlikely to achieve its original goals.

The plight of the red wolf isn’t just a problem with North Carolina or Southeast Carolina wildlife, and it’s not just a story of mismanagement. It’s a story about our country’s commitment to protect endangered species in an era of growing opposition to federal action. It’s a story that has serious implications for endangered species conservation across the United States. The story of the red wolf must be heard and its time is running out.

Jamie Rappaport Clark is President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.

This story was originally published March 18, 2016 4:32 p.m.


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