Red wolf hearings draw skepticism

Published 6:11 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2017

As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts public hearings this week on its Red Wolf Recovery Program, some conservationists remain wary of the agency’s intentions.

One hearing took place Tuesday in Swan Quarter and another is scheduled for Thursday at the Coastal North Carolina National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center in Manteo. When USFWS reassesses one of its reintroduction and recovery programs, it is standard procedure to hold public hearings on the matter.

“The meetings are a step in the process for residents to provide their perspectives and comments on an environmental assessment focusing on potential changes to the management of red wolves in the state under the National Environmental Policy Act. Public input is a key element in moving this process forward,” a USFWS press release stated. “The meetings also represent a step in assessing alternatives and how any proposed changes may affect the red wolf, its future recovery and the people who live, work and play in eastern North Carolina.”

USFWS began the Red Wolf Recovery Program decades ago to breed wolves in captivity and reintroduce them into the wild in five counties in northeastern North Carolina: Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties.

In 2015, the agency decided to halt its wolf reintroductions, citing sustainability and hybridization issues, and by the end of this year, plans to reduce the program to only Dare County. In September 2016, however, a federal court ruling halted the capture of red wolves on private property, unless they pose an imminent danger.

“Although the USFWS is creating the illusion that the public’s input will now weigh heavily in the agency’s determination of the future of the red wolf recovery program, for the past two years, the agency has been illegally rolling back the program without any public process,” stated Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute.

Zuardo also stated the red wolf population in question has declined from about 100 to less than 30, including just three known, breeding pairs — which she contributes to “the agency’s slow abandonment of the program.”

USFWS officials maintain they are committed to the program, but the setbacks in the red wolf recovery plan signal the need for more research before proceeding further. The agency continues to care for the wolf population in captivity, and is conducting a five-year assessment on the program.

“USFWS is meeting commitments we have made through the evaluation of the recovery program and how this non-essential, experimental population should be managed,” the release stated.

Attila Nemecz, president of Pamlico Albemarle Wildlife Conservationists, said it is important for the public to participate in the hearings, or participate by submitting written comments.

Written comments may be submitted through July 24 via:

  • Electronic device: Go to, search for FWS-R4-ES-2017-0006, and click on “Comment Now.”
  • Hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2017-0006; Division of Policy, Performance, and Management Programs; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

“These public hearings are a chance to voice concerns with the USFWS throwing its hands up. It is legally obligated to faithfully continue the 30-year-old program, one that has strong local and statewide support,” Nemecz said. “People should participate in whichever way feels most comfortable to them. Having wolf-friendly advocates definitely helps make the case that there is support locally. These are our wolves, our wildlife. Their fate should be a concern to all of us.”