U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sued for Dismantling of Red Wolf Recovery Program

Fewer than 50 red wolves survive in North Carolina says The Center for Biological Diversity 

WASHINGTONThe Center for Biological Diversity today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for violating the Endangered Species Act’s mandate to conserve protected red wolves and implement a recovery program to ensure their survival and recovery in the wild.

Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center, explained, “Never in its history has the Fish and Wildlife Service deliberately chosen to undermine the survival of a species entrusted to its care by doing the exact opposite of what its own recovery plan recommends.” He insisted, “Director Dan Ashe and the Fish and Wildlife Service are condemning the red wolf to extinction.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife has all the authority they need to step in and save this species from oblivion, but rather than use their power, they have taken this politically risk-averse, cowardly path, to try to appease state interests that are unappeasable.” – Brett Hartl of The Center for Biological Diversity.

Hartl argued that bowing to political pressure, the Fish and Wildlife Service has stopped virtually all aspects of the recovery program for red wolves and is conducting a “feasibility review” as a pretext to further dismantle the program. The Service eliminated the program’s recovery coordinator in 2014 and stopped the introduction of new red wolves into the wild in July 2015. The agency ended its coyote-sterilization program to prevent hybrid animals from harming the red wolf’s gene pool, curtailed law-enforcement investigations of wolf deaths, and stopped offering rewards to the public to help bring poachers to justice.

Red wolf by Seth Bynum

An endangered red wolf. Photo courtesy of Seth Bynum with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hartl argued, “This decision is nothing more than bowing to political pressure. There is no scientific or conservation rationale for what FWS is doing.  After night-time hunting of coyotes began, red wolf killings went way up.  A lawsuit by Animal Welfare Institute and others stopped night-time hunting, and then the state-level politicians, the state wildlife resources commission and several very passionate, anti-wildlife individuals just created a political firestorm and set out to get rid of all of the red wolves in the wild.”

He added, “It is important to note that one of the main reasons we have a federal Endangered Species Act is that Congress long-ago realized that state governments were often hostile to protecting endangered species. And all endangered species are part of our nation’s heritage, and cannot be wiped out, just because of local opposition. U.S. Fish and Wildlife has all the authority they need to step in and save this species from oblivion, but rather than use their power, they have taken this politically risk-averse, cowardly path, to try to appease state interests that are unappeasable.”

He concluded, “At the end of the day, this is a failure of leadership at the office of Fish and Wildlife in our nation’s capital, and falls entirely at the foot of Director Ashe.”

Red wolf releases in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge began in the mid-1980s and pushed the population to more than 100 wolves by the mid-2000s. The population stopped growing in 2011 as gunshot mortalities increased. Red wolf mortality skyrocketed after North Carolina authorized nighttime hunting of coyotes, because red wolves and coyotes are nearly indistinguishable in the dark. Following a successful lawsuit to stop nighttime hunting, the Fish and Wildlife Service faced increased political pressure to curtail the red wolf recovery program.

The red wolf once ranged from Texas to Virginia throughout the Southeast coastal plains, but now survives only in a small part of eastern North Carolina. New population counts released by the Fish and Wildlife Service show the population has declined to as low as 45 individuals. The lawsuit launched today is designed to push the Fish and Wildlife Service into resuming the actions necessary for red wolves to recover in the wild, including introduction of wolves to additional sites and appointment of a recovery coordinator.

“The reintroduction of red wolves to the wild was one of the country’s most innovative and successful programs to restore a critically endangered carnivore,” said Hartl. “But under Dan Ashe, this highly successful program has been quietly dismantled to appease a few anti-wildlife zealots. It’s a disgrace.”

A 2014 report from the independent Wildlife Management Institute concluded that if the red wolf is going to recover, two additional populations need to be established in the wild, and additional resources need to be invested to build local support for red wolf recovery.

Recently, 100 citizens who live in the red wolf recovery area in North Carolina sent a petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service expressing their support for keeping endangered red wolves in the wild. In addition 110,000 people from around the United States, including more than 1,500 North Carolina residents, submitted letters in support of the red wolf program.

© The Center for Biological Diversity, 2016. The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. 

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