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Don’t Give Up On Last Wild Red Wolves


The red wolf is an American icon. It is one of the few large carnivore species endemic to the United States. Their importance to a balanced and resilient ecosystem is undeniable. Decades of hunting, trapping, and habitat loss pushed wild red wolves towards extinction. In 1980, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) captured the last remaining wild red wolves (the mere 14 animals) and declared the species extinct in the wild. In 1987, red wolves received a second chance on the wild landscape. Captive-bred red wolves were released in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act.

For a while, thanks to sustained federal leadership, the red wolf recovery effort was making steady progress toward recovery in eastern North Carolina. In many ways, the red wolf program was the pilot program, serving as a model for subsequent canid reintroductions, particularly those of the Mexican gray wolf to the American Southwest and the gray wolf to the Yellowstone region.

The wild population peaked at an estimated 130 wolves in 2006 and fluctuated between 130 – 100 for several years thereafter. Since 2014, however, USFWS has failed to follow the best available science, ignored scientific recommendations by halting all key management activity, and took a series of actions that have undermined the red wolf recovery program, including:

  • Eliminated its full time red wolf recovery coordinator position and to re-direct red wolf staff to other programs.
  • Reduced or eliminated efforts to collar and track wild red wolves.
  • Abandoned its scientifically proven coyote placeholder program through which coyotes are captured, sterilized, and returned to the wild to avoid hybridization.
  • Halted all captive-to-wild release events and pup fostering.
  • Issued permits to private landowners to take and kill wolves.
  • Refused to control coyote hunting in the recovery area, and the subsequent loss of red wolves to gunshot.
  • Halted all red wolf education and outreach efforts.

USFWS’s consistent mismanagement and neglect over the past few years has led to a rapid decline in North Carolina’s red wolf population. Current estimates put the only wild population of red wolves at just 28, its lowest level in decades.

On September 12, USFWS announced their decision to reduce the wild red wolf population even further.

The agency called for significantly reducing the range of the existing wild population wolves and to remove from private and public lands most of the last wild red wolves to put them in captivity.

Ironically, the federal agency claimed its decision was “based on the best and latest scientific information” from the red wolf Population Viability Analysis (PVA). However, the very scientists who drafted the PVA charge that USFWS based its plan on “many alarming misinterpretations” of their scientific analysis and warn that USFWS’s plan “will no doubt result in the extinction of red wolves in the wild.”

USFWS’s singular focus on the captive red wolf population will result in the extinction of red wolves in the wild. Unless the Service allows expansion of the current population in North Carolina, resumes work to curtail hybridization with coyotes, and utilizes additional reintroduction sites across the red wolf’s historic range, this iconic predator will exist in captivity alone.

How to take Action:

Last month, USFWS gave notice the start of a 60-day public comment the federal agency’s proposed rule. Thus, we now have the opportunity to tell the USFWS, the very agency charged by federal law with protecting endangered species, that it’s unacceptable for them to walk away from red wolf recovery. Please use your unique voice to protect the world’s last wild red wolves. To access detailed information to help support your comments, see the emergency petition to the USFWS to revise the red wolf’s 10(j) rule and petition for a new red wolf recovery plan.

Submit Comments Online:

Submit your comment HERE from now until July 24. When you submit your comment, it is important you use your own words.

Submit Comments via Mail:

You may submit comments by mail to the following address:

Public Comments Processing
Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2017–0006
Division of Policy, Performance, and Management Programs
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters
5275 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041–3803

Attend a Public Meeting:

June 6, 2017, 6:30–8:30 p.m. in Swan Quarter, NC
Mattamuskeet High School cafeteria
20392 US–264, Swan Quarter, NC 27885

June 8, 2017, 6:30–8:30 p.m. in Manteo, NC
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge auditorium
100 Conservation Way, Manteo, NC 27954