Since the mythical Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome, to the very real domestication of wolves by our cave-dwelling ancestors, humankind has long had a relationship with wolves. In more recent times the relationship has been strained, as humans encroached onto the wolf’s range and sought to eradicate them - out of an often irrational fear for personal safety and a more cold-blooded desire to keep wolves away from livestock.
During the first half of the 20th century, millions of wolves were trapped, poisoned and shot in the US Though wolves, as apex predators, are vital to maintaining a healthy ecosystem balance, the calculated persecution of wolves continued until they were nearly wiped out throughout the lower 48 states.
In the early 1970s in the US, humans started to recognize the importance of gray wolves, culminating in the listing of the first subspecies—the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf—under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1974. The listing of further subspecies followed and gray wolf numbers increased. Though still at a fraction of their original population, over 5,000 gray wolves in the lower 48 states now occupy a small portion of their historic range.
Without the protections provided by the ESA, gray wolves could not have begun to resume their critical ecological role in wild America. Although they are subjected even now to unwarranted and heavy-handed lethal management techniques, the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone, central Idaho, and elsewhere has been among America’s greatest conservation victories. Ironically, their growing numbers are being used as a reason to disqualify them from federal protection.
Due to expanding human populations, gray wolves now struggle to survive in fragmented habitats in close proximity with human settlements. This fragmentation puts gray wolf populations at risk of genetic bottlenecking due to inbreeding and human-wolf conflicts.
The red wolf (Canis rufus) once ranged throughout the eastern and southcentral United States. Intensive predator control programs and the degradation and alteration of the species' habitat had greatly reduced its numbers by the early 20th Century, however. Designated as an endangered species in 1967, the red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980. In 1987, an experimental population of red wolves was reintroduced into eastern North Carolina.
Today, an estimated 50–75 wild red wolves exist in North Carolina—still the only place they live in the wild. Among the various threats to the species, shooting by hunters is the leading cause of death, a fact attributed to the similarity in appearance between coyotes and red wolves.
Between 2012 and 2014, the Animal Welfare Institute and its co-plaintiffs fought to limit coyote hunting within the Red Wolf Recovery Area in Dare, Tyrrell, Hyde, Washington, and Beaufort counties. On May 13, 2014, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction blocking authorization of coyote hunting—including at night—in the recovery area. Despite this, later that year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that it would review the status and future of the Red Wolf Recovery Program in North Carolina, potentially terminating it and pulling the red wolves out of the state.
With the hope that red wolves will continue to have a permanent home in North Carolina and obtain additional reintroduction sites within their historical range, AWI and its co-plaintiffs in the suit entered into a settlement agreement, which outlines significant steps to protect endangered red wolves in North Carolina, including banning coyote hunting at night throughout the five-county Red Wolf Recovery Area and during the day on public lands, except in limited circumstances. It also requires permits to kill coyotes on private lands, mandates reporting of all kills of coyotes and red wolves,and prohibits coyote contest hunts throughout the recovery area. Overall, the settlement aims to continue to decrease threats posed by indiscriminate coyote hunting, while also addressing the concerns of local private landowners and state and federal agencies that are in charge of red wolf recovery.
Red wolves are now the most endangered canid in the world, and one of the rarest mammals. These wolves desperately need support from the USFWS and citizens to ensure that they have a future in the wild. To learn more about red wolves and find out how you can help, visit http://thetruthaboutredwolves.com.