Coyote night-hunting halted by state court

Published 8:38 pm Saturday, November 24, 2012

An adult red wolf in captivity. The red wolf was reintroduced in a five-county region in North Carolina. Beaufort County is one of the five, along with Washington, Tyrrell, Dare and Hyde counties. (Contributed photo/B. McPhee, USFWS)

Another red wolf death in eastern North Carolina has compelled a Superior Court judge to call a halt to night hunting of coyotes in the region.
Aug. 1, a state rule allowing for night hunting of coyotes in Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties went into effect. Since then, four red wolves have been shot and killed, a fact that has conservationists concerned for the species. Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild in the 1980s, but have since been bred in captivity and reintroduced into the wild in the five-county area.
Earlier this month, lawyers with the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of conservationist organizations Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Welfare Institute, filed a motion for preliminary injunction of the state rule, and requested an expedited hearing. Wednesday, the motion was granted by the court.
“Today, the court acted to prevent the killing of more endangered red wolves,” said Derb Carter, a senior attorney with the SELC, in a press release. “Now the commission  (North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission) should make sure its permanent rule to allow spotlighting of coyotes will not further harm red wolves.”
While the initial rule allowing spotlight hunting of coyotes was temporary, an identical permanent rule may still be granted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has spoken out against it, commenting that “amendments to allow night hunting have the potential to result in the unauthorized take of red wolves.”
The reason is that coyotes and red wolves have similar size, coats and coloring, and according to wildlife officials, it’s difficult enough to tell the two species apart in daylight, much less at night. Coyotes have long been considered a nuisance species, for which there are no hunting restrictions.
“Basically, it’s open season (on coyotes),” said David Rabon, coordinator of the Red Wolf Recovery Program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
However, killing a red wolf intentionally is a crime — one punishable by up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Four red wolves gunned down over the past three months indicate night hunting of the one species could irreparably harm the other, endangered one.
Rabon said there has been an increase of red wolf gunshot fatalities in the past five years — night hunting would only increase the opportunity for mistaken identity. He cautions hunters to make sure they get a positive identification of the species in the sights.
“If you can’t tell what it is, why pull the trigger?” he asked.