Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) condemns today’s decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to suspend red wolf reintroductions pending additional review of the red wolf recovery program. USFWS intends to complete its review by the end of 2015. Existing red wolves located in the five eastern North Carolina counties will be managed in accordance with rules put in place in 1995 to govern this population, designated “non-essential, experimental” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“The howls heard today in eastern North Carolina are not the howls of red wolves in the wild, but, rather, howls of outrage by the American people including the citizens of North Carolina over the USFWS decision to halt red wolf reintroductions,” said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney at AWI. “It is USFWS' job to promote recovery of red wolves under the ESA. By stifling the program, they are instead encouraging the species to go extinct and not fulfilling the mandate of the ESA.”
Red wolf reintroductions and pup fostering are key to keeping the population at its current number, promote recovery, and ensure that there is sufficient genetic diversity in the population. Without additional reintroductions, the population will continue to decline as red wolves are killed as the result of management and non-management actions, and still occasionally due to mistaken identity with coyotes.
The red wolf recovery program began in 1987 and has seen an increase in red wolf numbers from four pairs in the beginning to a peak of 130 in the late 1990s. While the current red wolf population is only estimated at 90-100, this is primarily due to poaching or from gunshot mortality as wolves are mistaken for coyotes. AWI and other organizations sued the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission in 2013 to challenge its decision to allow night-time hunting of coyotes in the red wolf recovery area; a decision even opposed by the USFWS. As a result of a settlement of those claims, nighttime coyote hunting is currently prohibited in the recovery area and a permit is required to hunt coyotes during the day, and the mortality rate for red wolves has dropped significantly.
To read USFWS’ press release detailing its decision to suspend the program, visit http://www.fws.gov/news/ShowNews.cfm?ID=456CB36D-F587-7CD1-7021195729AF7928.
For more information on AWI's efforts to protect the red wolf population in North Carolina, visit http://awionline.org/cases/protection-red-wolves.