Fish and Wildlife Service Status Review Shows Red Wolf is in Crisis
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has released its Species Status Assessment (SSA) and five-year review for the critically endangered red wolf. Red wolves are found only in North Carolina and went extinct in the wild several decades ago. Despite once being a success story for wolf reintroduction efforts, its population has plummeted to about 40 individuals in the past five years.
Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark issued this statement:
“This species status assessment confirms what we’ve known for some time: the red wolf is in crisis. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to take swift action to recover this species in the wild before it disappears from its native habitat for a second time. With active management and dedicated resources, the red wolf can hold on to its last chance at survival in the wild. It’s time for our nation’s wildlife agency to do right by the red wolf.”
About the Red Wolf
- The red wolf is the only species whose range falls entirely within the continental United States and is the only wolf on the East coast.
- After red wolves were nearly hunted to the brink of extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rounded up fewer than 20 remaining wolves to be bred in captivity in 1980. As of July 2017, approximately 233 captive red wolves now reside at 43 captive breeding facilities across the United States. Only about 40 red wolves currently live in the wild.
- Historically, red wolves ranged throughout the southeastern U.S. from Pennsylvania to Florida and as far west as Texas. Today, wild populations roam more than 1.7 million acres throughout northeastern North Carolina, including Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
- Threats to the red wolf include habitat loss due to human development, deaths by motor vehicles, and illegal killings.
- Red wolves can benefit North Carolina ecosystems by hunting invasive pests such as nutria, supporting a healthy deer population and outcompeting coyotes to be the primary predator on the landscape.
- There is widespread support for red wolves across North Carolina. A March 2016 poll found that 73 percent of voters support recovering the wolf.
- In September of 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a plan for the red wolf program that called for removing most wolves from the wild and placing them into captivity and restricting the remaining wolves to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Dare County Bombing Range.
- The proposal was criticized by red wolf advocates, and disputed by the scientists who provided the research on which the agency based its decision.
- The announcement was closely followed by an injunction granted by a federal district court barring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from capturing and removing red wolves in the state or issuing permits that allow private landowners to kill the animals when they stray onto their property.
- The injunction remains in place as the agency now moves to revise the 10j rule for the red wolf, which dictates management of the species.
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