Scathing report blasts red wolf program in N.C.

Published 12:20 pm Monday, December 8, 2014

When the Wildlife Managing Institute (WMI) report to the U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) was officially released to the public a few weeks ago, it may have marked the beginning of the end of the red wolf program here in North Carolina.

The former director of the USFWS and now an official with the Wildlife Management Institute, Steve Williams, answered questions from the press regarding the report. To those organizations that were extremely vocal in their favoring of the red wolf program, it must have been like a slap in the face.

The lengthy report can be summarized in a few conclusions that criticize many facets of the red wolf project here in North Carolina:

1) The taxonomy of the red wolf remains unclear. The uncertainty surrounding red wolf taxonomy contributes to the current controversy. Regardless of the outcome of further analysis of red wolf taxonomy, the FWS faces extremely difficult decisions regarding the future direction of the recovery program.

To further illustrate how the genetic make-up of the red wolves is open to serious questions, in the peer review section of the report the former head of the red wolf project in North Carolina, Mike Phillips, states, “It should be clearly noted in the report that the red wolf genome that exists is the product of selective breeding by U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) biologists in the 1970s. The text on page 18 could be expanded to note that over 400 canids were captured in Louisiana and Texas in the early 1970s and examined for red wolf traits. Of these I recall that about 43 were allowed to breed to determine the nature of pups produced. Of those that were allowed to breed, 14 were chosen as the founding stock for the captive breeding program.

“While I recognize that the USFWS biologists did the best they could with the information that was available at the time, it is still true that selectively moving animals through a review process that was based on somewhat arbitrary minimum taxonomic standards represents selective breeding that resulted in a certain phenotypic type of red wolf. There is no denying that the existing red wolf genome is something of a human construct. Given Congress’ clear intent for the 1973 ESA to serve to conserve genetics, a clear understanding of the origins of the red wolf genome is of cardinal importance”.

2) “There is no theoretical or practical reason to believe that red wolves will constrain their activities or movements to a jurisdictional boundary, especially when red wolf density increases within that boundary and prey levels fluctuate through time”.

3)”Current sea level rise modeling indicates that significant portions of the Alligator River NWR and portions of the Albemarle Peninsula will be lost to sea level rise within the next 50–75 years. Current efforts to adapt to sea level rise, build resiliency, and restore hydrology are not complimentary to red wolf habitat needs at Alligator River or Pocosin Lakes NWRs”.

4)  “The project has demonstrated that captured wolves can be successfully reintroduced into the wild and rear offspring of their own in areas without coyotes. Given that coyotes now fully occupy former red wolf range, it is unclear whether red wolves can be successfully reintroduced and rear non-hybridized young without active human intervention”.

The WMI report further states, “It is clear that the USFWS rules implied that red wolves would stay on refuge property or that they would be immediately recaptured and returned to refuge property. These assumptions were unrealistic and scientifically unsound.”

The very fact that red wolves were illegally released onto private land with and without the permission of the private landowners points out serious problems with the USFWS program management.

“FSWS staff reported to WMI that some red wolves were released on private property with the permission of the landowner. These actions appear to conflict with the rule that stated red wolves would be released on the Alligator River NWR property. WMI was provided with a list of releases that indicated that of 132 releases of red wolves between 1987 and 2013, 64 were released on private property. WMI is unaware if agreements existed between the FWS and private landowners with respect to these releases; however, they appear to be in contradiction to the 1986, 1991 and 1995 10(j) final rules.

The 10(j) Rules also stated that, at the request of the landowner, wolves would be captured on private property and returned to the refuge property. WMI found that it was a common practice to inform landowners that wolves would not stay on the refuge and would probably return to private property. Some wolves captured on private property were released on private property rather than returned to the refuge lands. These activities were contradictory to the 10(j) Rules established at the onset of the recovery program. WMI concluded that the authors of the rules were either misinformed about red wolf dispersal behavior or were unconcerned if the rules were violated. Local program staff was asked to comply with rules that were untenable. We concluded that local staff did their best to achieve program success and work with private landowners in spite of the rules because they realized the rules were not realistic for successful project implementation.

When an international pro-carnivore group protested the report’s findings and pointed out that their group had posted over 100,000 comments representing some 40 different nations that supported the red wolf program here in North Carolina, Williams curtly responded that we aren’t running a popularity contest here, we’re reporting on our findings of a purely scientific experiment.”

In spite of the damaging findings of the Wildlife Management Report, it will take time for the red wolf program to wind-down and, hopefully, disappear from the scene. Our federal government does not like to admit to making mistakes and still save face. In the meantime, five eastern North Carolina counties must live with certain restrictions on how we must live with the deadly combination of predatory coyotes, red wolves and “coy-wolves”. Until these predators are brought under control through proper wildlife management, our populations of whitetail deer and small game animals will not prosper. Restrictions were placed on coyote hunting in the five county area by a federal court order must be lived with.

An agreement has been reached in a lawsuit against the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, which will restore conditional coyote hunting in the five-county red wolf reintroduction area of eastern North Carolina.

The agreement will restore daytime coyote hunting on private lands in Dare, Hyde, Beaufort, Tyrrell and Washington counties by licensed or otherwise authorized hunters, with a special permit obtained from the Wildlife Commission and subsequent reporting of the kill. In the other 95 counties of the state, coyote hunters may hunt during daytime or at night using artificial lights, and no special permit or reporting of coyote harvests is required.

The agreement stems from a lawsuit brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Welfare Institute. The suit alleged the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission violated the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing coyote hunting in Dare, Hyde, Beaufort, Tyrrell and Washington counties where a non-essential experimental reintroduction of the red wolf is occurring. A court-ordered injunction issued in May halted coyote hunting in the five counties, except under extremely limited circumstances.

This agreement restores opportunities for landowners and others to manage coyotes on their properties through daytime hunting. Coyotes are found in all 100 counties of the state and pose a predatory threat to pets, livestock and native wildlife. Hunting and trapping are effective tools for landowners to manage coyote populations on a localized basis.

Restoration of coyote hunting in the five-county red wolf reintroduction area requires the Commission invoke rulemaking to implement these changes. This process will be initiated as quickly as possible. Interested persons will be able to follow the progress of rulemaking by visiting

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission requested a programmatic review of the red wolf reintroduction in June. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will evaluate the program in the areas of science, management and public attitudes. The evaluation will be used to determine whether the red wolf introduction program is meeting the goals and objectives established under special rules of the Endangered Species Act. That determination is expected to be finalized in early 2015.

Landowners are permitted to “take” or kill a red wolf or a coyote if it attacks their livestock or pets, or if it endangers human life. A red wolf that is killed incidentally by any type of legal activity, such as hunting coyotes following state regulations, does not constitute a violation of federal regulations, provided that the taking is not intentional or willful. It also must be reported within 24 hours to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at1-855-496-5837 or N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission at 1-800-662-7137.