USFWS responds to recent red wolf criticism

Published 6:34 pm Friday, November 11, 2016

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is pushing back against criticism of its decision to halt red wolf reintroductions into the wild.

USFWS came under fire once again after a new report surfaced last month, calling into question the Service’s interpretation of scientific data.

Cynthia Dohner, USFWS regional director, issued a response Thursday: “We took several documents into consideration relative to management actions we proposed for the captive population that we believe align with our collective recovery objective. … As we considered all of this information, we simply concluded we need a higher success rate in maintaining genetic diversity and ensuring the long-term survival of the species.”

Service officials based part of their decision to scale back the Red Wolf Recovery Program on the lack of sustainability in the population. That viewpoint of unsustainability may not be accurate, according to some.

“As the scientific team conducting the population viability analysis (PVA) of the future status of red wolves, we were pleased at USFWS’ desire to use the best available science to inform decision-making. Unfortunately, the September 12th decision on the future of the Red Wolf Recovery Program included many alarming misinterpretations of the PVA as justification for the final decision,” stated a letter signed by the PVA team’s members.

“The most conspicuous misinterpretation of these results in the USFWS decision is focused on the SSP — that ‘the species is not secured in captivity’ and that ‘with no changes to current management, the species will likely be lost within the next decade.’”

Both letters reference the Service’s Sept. 12 decision announcing that it would secure its captive population of red wolves and reduce the area for the population in the wild from five counties in eastern North Carolina to only Dare County. The program began decades ago, but USFWS halted reintroductions into the wild last year.

A federal district court issued an injunction Sept. 29 to halt the Service’s capture of red wolves in the wild, unless they pose an imminent danger, after three conservation groups argued against the Sept. 12 decision.

The PVA team’s letter continues: “A singular focus on the SSP (captive population) will no doubt result in extinction of red wolves in the wild. … We request that USFWS take our statements in this letter into account as you progress with decision-making.”

“We continue to hear some out there talking about how we’ve abandoned the program,” said Jeff Fleming, USFWS assistant regional director of external affairs, in a previous interview. “What we’re doing is the complete opposite of that.”

Dohner wrote that the genetic diversity goal of the wolf population has dropped in the past 17 years, and the Sept. 12 decision is an attempt to focus on and reduce risk to the captive population.

“The Service’s analysis over the past three years has led us to conclude there is a need to further reduce potential risks to the captive population if we are able to save the red wolf from extinction,” she wrote.

Fleming said USFWS is open to suggestions from all parties and welcomes the input.

“This work’s never easy. … It’s going to take everybody,” he said. “We’re committed to doing the best we can.”