Agency Must Resume Release of Captive Wolves into Wild
Chapel Hill, NC—The US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled on Friday that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) must develop a plan by March 1 to resume its longstanding and successful practice of releasing captive red wolves into the Red Wolf Recovery Area in North Carolina. The case was brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Animal Welfare Institute, the Red Wolf Coalition, and Defenders of Wildlife. The court order temporarily prohibits the federal agency from implementing its recent policy change barring release of captive wolves into the wild.
“This is a vital ruling that will breathe new life into the Red Wolf Recovery Program,” said Johanna Hamburger, director and senior staff attorney for AWI’s terrestrial wildlife program. “The court held that the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s passive efforts to manage the wild red wolf population are woefully inadequate to recover the species. By ordering the agency to once again release wolves from captivity into the wild population, the court is requiring much-needed action to prevent the continued downward spiral of this species.”
On November 16, the organizations sued the USFWS, asserting that new agency policies barring the use of proven management measures to save wild red wolves violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The groups filed for a motion for preliminary injunction in the case on November 19.
In its order granting the motion, the court agreed that the agency had likely violated the ESA and found that “extinction is a very real possibility in this case.” The court noted the precipitous decline of the wild red wolf population since the USFWS’s 2015 decision to stop releasing captive animals into the wild. In 2016, the wild red wolf population numbered between 45 and 60 known individuals; at the time the case was filed, that number was down to seven.
“With only seven known red wolves left in the wild, it is past time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to resume conservation measures that it used successfully for decades,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the conservation organizations in court. “The court was clear that the agency has to stop managing red wolves into extinction and instead take meaningful action to rebuild the wild red wolf population in North Carolina.”
“We are grateful that the US Fish and Wildlife Service will finally abide by its responsibility to protect this critically endangered wolf,” said Ben Prater, southeast program director at Defenders of Wildlife. “Releasing wolves into the wild is a commonsense, science-backed approach to boost this population and stave off the red wolf’s extinction. While the species has a long way to go, this is a major step in the right direction.”
“The Red Wolf Coalition is grateful that the court saw the importance of releasing captive red wolves to the wild population,” said Kim Wheeler, executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition. “These additional red wolves will add genetic diversity and breeding opportunities to the wild population in northeastern North Carolina.”
Margie Fishman, (202) 446-2128, firstname.lastname@example.org