Analysis: Public Overwhelmingly Opposes Feds’ Plan to Nearly Wipe Out Wild Red Wolves in North Carolina

Photo by Sonya Lang

99.9 Percent of Submitted Comments Support Red Wolf Conservation

Washington, DCThe proposal from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to remove protections from the nation’s only wild population of endangered red wolves has been met with near-unanimous opposition from the public. Fully 99.9 percent of more than 108,000 public comments received expressed opposition to the plan and favored strong federal protections for red wolves instead.

Red wolves have been reduced to a single wild population in eastern North Carolina consisting of as few as 30 individuals. The USFWS has proposed to reduce the red wolf recovery area, where the wolves can safely roam, by more than 90 percent. The revised area would provide sufficient space for only 10 to 15 red wolves. The proposal would eliminate protections for any red wolves that wander off Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Dare County Bombing Range, effectively allowing anyone to kill red wolves on private lands, for any reason.

“The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s shameful hostility toward red wolves has been met with the strongest possible condemnation by the citizens of this country,” said Perrin de Jong, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity in Asheville, North Carolina. “The verdict is in, and citizens from across this country, this state and the red wolf recovery area want the feds to do more, not less, to protect and recover this critically endangered species.”

People living in the areas most directly affected by red wolves also expressed overwhelming support for their conservation. Ninety-nine percent of the nearly 3,000 comments submitted by North Carolinians were in favor of red wolf protection. From the five-county recovery area in eastern North Carolina where the wolves currently live, 79 percent of the comments also favored protection and continued efforts to recover the population.

North Carolina’s governor also spoke out against the USFWS proposal and expressed support for red wolf recovery. “There is a viable path forward for North Carolina’s red wolves living in the wild, and I have directed relevant departments in my administration to work with USFWS to continue the recovery program and build upon its success to date,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a comment submitted to the Service on July 30.

Only 19 comments explicitly supported the agency’s plan to eliminate red wolf protections and shrink the recovery area. Thirty additional comments, with 13 of these coming from one real estate developer, expressed general opposition to red wolf recovery.

"Many of us have long wondered why Americans of previous generations didn't rise up to save the ivory-billed woodpecker, the passenger pigeon, or the Carolina parakeet,” said Dr. Ron Sutherland, conservation scientist for Wildlands Network. “Well, here we are in 2018, and the American people have spoken with a strong and virtually unanimous voice that the red wolf must be saved from extinction and kept in the wild where the species belongs. Will Congress and the Service listen?"

The USFWS is expected to publish a final rule as early as late November, which will determine the fate of wild red wolves and their recovery.

"Once again, the American public has expressed overwhelming support for the red wolf. The US Fish and Wildlife Service must heed this call, recommit to proven management strategies and work to prevent the extinction of the world's most endangered canine," said Ben Prater, southeast program director for Defenders of Wildlife.

“Every voice raised in support of wildlife can make a difference, and Americans overwhelmingly support the Red Wolf Recovery Program,” said Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center. “We’re counting on the Service to take notice and follow the best available science to ensure that the world’s most endangered wolves remain a living, breathing part of the landscape in eastern North Carolina.”

Volunteers from Wildlands Network, the Wolf Conservation Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Welfare Institute reviewed each of the thousands of comments submitted to produce this analysis. The exercise was motivated by the need to provide the most accurate accounting of public sentiment as the USFWS dismisses comments received on petitions or those compiled by conservation organizations. For example, in 2017 during the initial scoping period for the current proposal, the agency reported only receiving 12,000 comments when approximately 55,000 were submitted, ignoring the vast majority of comments received in support of red wolves.

“Wildlife, including red wolves, are managed by the USFWS in trust for the American people,” noted D.J. Schubert, wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute. “The people have now spoken loud and clear of their support for the protection and recovery of the red wolf in the wild and it is time the government starts to listen and comply with the public’s clear message. Less than 20 years ago, there were more than 130 red wolves in the wild. These numbers can be achieved again if the USFWS complies with federal law.”

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Media Contact

Margie Fishman, (202) 446-2128, margie@awionline.org

The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. For more information, visit www.awionline.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.

Wildlands Network envisions a world where nature is unbroken, and where humans co-exist in harmony with the land and its wild inhabitants. Our mission is to reconnect, restore, and rewild North America so life in all its diversity can thrive.

The Wolf Conservation Center is an environmental education organization committed to conserving wolf populations in North America through science-based education programming and participation in the federal Species Survival Plans for the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf and red wolf. Through wolves the WCC teaches the broader message of conservation, ecological balance, and personal responsibility for improved human stewardship of our world.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife is a major national conservation organization focused solely on wildlife and habitat conservation and the safeguarding of biodiversity. They represent 1.8 million members and supporters.

Photo by Sonya Lang