How can we let red wolves, a North America native animal, go extinct in the wild again? Again? Well, it is a very long, complicated story with a happy ending. Until about 10 years ago when everything changed. For an in-depth discussion of the history of the red wolf read Christian Hunt’s article “The Red Wolf of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow-Wild…”.
Declared extinct in the wild in 1980 due to overhunting, 14 red wolves were brought into captivity. They became the founders of a captive population now housed in zoos/conservation centers throughout the country. In 1987, the captive population was robust enough to begin a recovery program in Eastern NC. An experimental population was reintroduced into the wild. By 2002 all pups in the wild were wild born.
At One Point There Were 150 Red Wolves in the Wild
At one point, the wild red wolf population grew to over 150. Today it is estimated there are no more than 30 wild red wolves left which is heartbreaking. They are shy, family oriented, mate for life and are non-threatening to humans. And no, they won’t eat your grandmother or small children. As apex predators, they also help keep the coyote population in check.
Zoos are doing everything they can to raise a healthy population of red wolves in captivity with over 250 now residing in over 40 facilities. The hope is these captive red wolves will support the red wolf population in the wild but if there are none left in the wild… then what?
A National Icon, our Red Wolves
In short, the red wolf is an American icon and one of the most critically endangered species in the world. More endangered than elephants, rhinos, gorillas, or giraffes. To learn more about red wolves check out our “Did You Know” page.
They are only found in one place in the whole world in the wild. And it just happens to be in our home state of North Carolina. But red wolves are national treasures and need all of our help no matter where you live.
Unfortunately, the US Fish & Wildlife Services (USFWS) is proposing a new regulation which reduces the population to 10-15 wolves on a territory almost 90% less than their current habitat. If a wolf strays off the designated new land (and last time we checked wolves cannot read “no trespassing signs”), they can be shot with no penalties. How in the world do you sustain a wild population of 10 wolves?
Why are Red Wolves Important to the Ecosystem?
Red wolves are apex predators. They preserve the environment in which they live by maintaining the health of the ecosystem.
As predators native to North Carolina and the Southeast, they enhance diversity and balance by eating small rodents, raccoons, marsh rabbits, deer and nutria. Hmmm, what is a nutria?, Well, it is a large, invasive rodent from South America that causes extensive damage to our wetlands with their feeding habits. So red wolves eating nutria helps protect our wetlands which is a good thing. And while they will prey on whitetail deer, they generally improve the deer population by weeding out the weaker deer. Plus, they do not eat cattle or humans even though they get a bad rap from stories like Little Red Riding Hood.
New Recommendation from US Fish & Wildlife Spells Disaster for Red Wolves
With only 25-40 left in the wild, the new proposed regulation (you can read all 49 pages here), will more than likely lead to the extinction of red wolves in the wild. But how did we get to this point?
Although the red wolf recovery program originally served as a model for the successful recovery of wolves, many factors over the last few years have resulted in the decimation of the population. Political wrangling, complaints by private landowners and consistent missteps by a number of organizations have seriously threatened the continued existence of the red wolf. In 2014, the USFWS stopped reintroducing captive-born red wolves into the wild. At the same time, they ceased implementing a plan that limited hybridization with coyotes. Kill permits were issued to landowners for taking red wolves on private property. The wolf population plummeted.
Four Proposals Made by USF&WS
In a proposal announced in 2016, the USFWS contemplated bringing the last remaining wild red wolves into captivity. Everything stagnated until last month when USFWS announced a new regulation with 4 alternatives proposed which is where we are today.
Here is our summary of the 4 proposals in the new regulation (and these are greatly simplified):
Leave everything as is.
The 5 county area remains the same. Wolves would be removed from private land if the landowner requests and relocated.
Since the current regulation does not allow the release of any captive wolves into the wild population, the current level of 25 wolves would decrease as wolves die.
This is not sustainable and is not our preferred alternative.
Alternative #2 (Our Preferred Alternative)
Leave the 5 county territory in place.
Authorize the release of 5 red wolves a year from captivity to improve genetics and bolster the population.
Implement fines for illegally killing a red wolf.
Focus on partnering with receptive private landowners on red wolf management.
Our preferred alternative to giving the wild red wolves a chance to survive.
Reduce the territory of the red wolves to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Dare County Bombing Range. This is 90% smaller than their current territory.
Allow red wolves to be killed outside the new habitat.
Reduce the population of red wolves to 10-15 total.
This is not our preferred alternative as it does not give the population a chance to grow and recover.
Terminate the program.
Capture the remaining red wolves and bring them into captivity.
Again, not our preferred alternative.
What You Can Do to help.
What can you do? Write to USFWS before the end of the comment period of July 30, 2018. To comment follow this link https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=FWS-R4-ES-2018-0035-0001.
Use our letter, modify it or write your own. Make your voice heard. Write to your government officials. We have written to the NC Wildlife Commission, our Congressman, the House Committee on Natural Resources and multiple others. Talk to everyone you know. Post this information and share it on social media. You only have until 7-30-2018 to submit a comment.
Our Letter to US Fish & Wildlife Recommending Alternative #2
“Please reconsider your position on the few remaining red wolves in the wild. The recommended alternative #3 of restricting the red wolves to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Dare County Bombing Range will essentially result in the red wolf becoming once again extinct in the wild. Allowing the killing of red wolfs that venture on to private lands and reducing the red wolf population to 10-15 with less than 90% of their previous territory is not sustainable or desirable.
Alternative #2 is the preferred alternative for US Fish & Wildlife to pursue. By reinvesting in strong red wolf conservation, better landowner and public education, releasing captive red wolves to support the wild population and implementation of an aggressive coyote management program, the critically endangered red wolf would have a chance to make a comeback in the wild and help curb the ever-expanding coyote population.
One of the missions of US Fish & Wildlife is to protect endangered species. The red wolf is one of the most endangered mammals in the world. They do not deserve to be kept in captivity with no hope of being reintroduced to the wild. The red wolf is an American icon and needs and warrants our protection. Just 10 years ago, the red wolf recovery program was a success with over 150 red wolves living in the wild and a growing population. Alternative #2 would give the red wolf a chance to recover once again.
We Ask You (USF&WS) to Reconsider
As an American taxpayer, a North Carolina taxpayer, and a concerned citizen, I respectfully ask you to reconsider your position. Last year over 99.8% of more than 55,000 comments received by USFW opposed removing red wolves from the wild. As apex predators, red wolves have a positive impact on the health of our ecosystem, help manage the coyote population as well as a small rodent population and are not a threat to humans.
Please don’t let this magnificent animal go extinct again under your watch. If we work together, the red wolf can and will make a comeback. We are all counting on you to implement Alternative #2 to protect one of our most endangered canids. Thank you for your consideration and we are happy to discuss our views with any of your staff.”
Act Now. It is time to make a difference.
Let’s not let this beautiful animal go extinct (again). It is time to fight for our wildlife. After all, if we don’t protect them, who will?
AS of Nov 2018, over 107,000 comments were received and counted. The results have just been released with 99.9% of all participants in favor of protecting red wolves in the wild. Read more of the results here.
On 7-30-2018, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reinvest in red wolf conservation efforts. He is asking the agency to maintain the current five-county conservation area for the endangered species which is in line with Alternative #2 above.
In Nov 2018, USF&WS was to announce their final decision. Due to overwhelming positive support for red wolves, the agency has delayed their final decision until sometime in 2019. Stay tuned as this is a developing story.