Shots in the Dark Undermine Red Wolf Recovery

Hunting coyotes at night puts red wolves even more under the gun. Photo by Jim LiestmanOnly about 100 or so wild red wolves (Canis rufus) are known to exist—all in eastern North Carolina, where a population was reintroduced in 1987 from a captive-breeding program after the species went extinct in the wild. Today, as the wolves attempt a comeback, they face a significant threat from accidental shootings. Red wolves can easily be mistaken for coyotes—which is bad news when you live in a state that just sanctioned the shooting of coyotes in red wolf territory… at night.

As AWI reported previously in the Spring 2012 AWI Quarterly, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) proposed round-the-clock hunting of coyotes and feral pigs throughout the state, including in the red wolf recovery area. When the public and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) cried foul, the NCWRC first indicated it would defer the matter to the state legislature. This summer, however, the NCWRC threw caution (and state procedural rules) to the wind, and approved the proposal as a “temporary” rule.

The decision to intensify coyote killing within the red wolf recovery area is actually a double whammy to the wolves. To prevent red wolves interbreeding with coyotes—another threat to reestablishment of the species—the USFWS sterilizes coyotes that have territories within red wolf habitat. Shooting sterilized coyotes will open the way for unsterilized coyotes to move in.

The USFWS announced it was investigating the illegal taking in September and October of two red wolves, both of whom apparently died from gunshot wounds. AWI, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Red Wolf Coalition, with assistance from the Southern Environmental Law Center, have now filed a court challenge seeking to overturn the new rule. If anything needs to be shot down, it is the NCWRC’s unfathomable decision to willfully undermine red wolf recovery.