A New Chapter for the Red Wolf: Historic Settlement Leads to Renewed Conservation Efforts
The red wolf, a symbol of the wild, has fought back from the brink of extinction not once but twice, with human intervention playing both savior and hindrance in its struggle. Now, a historic settlement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is setting the stage for a new era of hope for this beautiful species.
The Unique Red Wolf
The red wolf (Canis rufus) is a unique species native to the southeastern United States. It’s smaller than its relative, the gray wolf, and larger than the coyote, with a distinctive reddish coat. Historically, red wolves ranged from Texas to Pennsylvania, but loss of habitat and aggressive predator control programs led to their severe decline. As of June 2023, there are only 15 known red wolves in the wild, and all of them reside in Eastern North Carolina, along the coast.
The Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Red Wolf
In North Carolina, a successful reintroduction effort brought the red wolf back from the brink of extinction in 1987. Regular releases of captive-born wolves and adaptive coyote management helped the population grow to about 100 individuals by the early 2000s, persisting at this level for a decade.
Unfortunately, the suspension of release practices in 2015 by the USFWS led to a catastrophic decline. The wild population dropped to as few as seven wolves, and for the first time in the program’s history, no red wolf pups were born in the wild between 2019 and 2021.
A Path to Restoration
Today’s settlement is a critical step towards restoring the red wolf. Conservation groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a historic settlement today to recommit to the conservation and recovery of the world’s only wild red wolf population. “For 25 years, North Carolina was home to one of the most successful predator reintroductions, with regular releases of captive-born red wolves into the wild. This settlement puts us on a path to restoring the red wolf to its rightful place as a celebrated success story,” said Ramona McGee, senior attorney and leader of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Wildlife Program.
The agreement mandates annual plans for releasing captive red wolves for the next eight years. Releases have already commenced, and wild reproduction has resumed, with litters of pups born in 2022 and 2023. The WCC is currently home to a population of 10 red wolves, and as a part of our partnership with the USFWS’ Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) plan, some of them, or their families, could play a role in these new reintroduction efforts in the coming years.
The red wolf’s journey is a tale of survival, struggle, and resilience. With this historic settlement, there’s renewed hope that this unique predator will once again repopulate its natural habitat, free and wild. The collaboration of conservationists, legal experts, and wildlife enthusiasts exemplifies the strength of united efforts, ensuring that the song of the red wolf will resonate through the forests of North Carolina for generations to come. It’s a symbol of what can be achieved for all endangered species, and a reminder that it’s never too late to right the wrongs and make amends with nature.
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