USFWS overhauls red wolf recovery

Published 3:57 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced major changes to the red wolf recovery program.

USFWS will secure a captive population of the wolves, look at new sites for experimental populations and shift population protection rules to apply only to the wolves located on federal lands at Dare County Bombing Range and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, according to a press release.

The Service hopes to complete these changes by the end of 2017.

“We believe the actions we’ve outlined (Monday) chart the correct path to achieve success,” Cindy Dohner, southeast regional director, stated in the release. “We need everyone’s help ensure this species is around for future generations. We’re on the right road, but we have a great deal of work to do with our state partners, landowners, conservation groups and others. We are looking forward to the collective effort and everyone’s engagement.”

The decision follows two years of uncertainty over the fate of the red wolves as the USFWS conducted an assessment of the program. The Service halted red wolf reintroductions into the wild in June 2015.

The red wolf recovery program began in the 1980s to introduce red wolves bred in captivity back into the wild in a five-county area in eastern North Carolina. It has recently encountered problems related to the sustainability of the population, as well as its hybridization with coyotes in the wild.

Landowners also expressed their disapproval of the program, as the protected wolves made their way on private land and could potentially threaten livestock and residents in wooded areas.

Attila Nemecz, president of Pamlico Albemarle Wildlife Conservationists, said he thinks the decision is a way for officials to end the program quietly without moving them out of the wild all at once.

Nemecz said with only 45 wolves left in the wild, and the population’s restriction to only Dare County, there is little chance for the numbers to grow — leaving red wolves to exist only in captivity.

“This proposed plan will inevitably lead to the extinction of red wolves in the wild, but does so in a way that is politically more convenient for the Fish and Wildlife Service,” he said. “The plan lacks any vision and confines the future of red wolves to zoos.”

USFWS also proposed a five-year review to take a closer look at the red wolf species and its place under the Endangered Species Act.