Court Castigates USFWS for Rolling Back Red Wolf Protection

On November 5, AWI and co-plaintiffs won a significant victory in our ongoing litigation to protect red wolves, when a federal court agreed that the US Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and USFWS regulations in its rollback of protections for the world’s only wild population of red wolves, who live in eastern North Carolina. The court also made permanent its 2016 order that barred the USFWS from taking red wolves, either directly or by landowner authorization, without first demonstrating that such wolves are a threat to human safety or the safety of livestock or pets.

In his ruling, Judge Terrence Boyle of the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina stated that “the recent USFWS decisions to discontinue successful population management tools while increasing the likelihood that landowner lethal takes will be approved for wolves which historically would not have been subject to take, amount to a failure comply with its affirmative duty to ‘carry out conservation measures until conservation [is] no longer necessary.’”

The USFWS argued—unsuccessfully—that the court could not properly rule on our claims because of a new rule that the agency is finalizing. This new rule, if adopted, would further undermine recovery—reducing the existing red wolf recovery area by 90 percent, to federal land within a single county that could support fewer than 15 wolves. The new rule would also eliminate protections for any wolves who leave the recovery area, such that any venturing onto private and state lands could be shot without consequence. This directly conflicts with the court’s ruling. This rule is expected to be finalized by the end of this year. If that happens, AWI and its co-plaintiffs will be back before the court to challenge the rule and continue to fight for the survival of red wolves.