Stop Extinction: Red Wolf

The red wolf is our all-American wolf, and it deserves a place in its native range. But with fewer than 40 left in the wild, critics have called, and continue to call, the efforts to recover the red wolf a failure.

The Senate Interior spending bill, at the request of Senator Thom Tillis and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, encourages the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to end the red wolf recovery program and declare the red wolf extinct.

While this may seem deadly for the species’ recovery, there is a proposal from FWS on the horizon that may be just as misguided. The proposal could allow the agency to shrink the red wolf recovery area by as much as 90%, leaving room for no more than a single family of wild wolves. According to scientists, this would result in extinction of wild red wolves, and bring an end to the recovery effort in North Carolina.

During the latest public comment period, over 55,000 people submitted comments to the Service, 99.8% of which were opposed to removing red wolves from North Carolina. Even within the five-county recovery area itself, 68.4% of landowners voiced their support for the red wolf.

Only ten years ago, the recovery effort was a success. With 150 red wolves roaming the wilds of eastern North Carolina, the species appeared poised for long-term recovery. That all changed as a result of political pressure that crippled the recovery program. By eliminating key staff, abandoning essential recovery tools and virtually eliminating poaching enforcement, the population collapsed in just a matter of years. Although the original recovery plan called for multiple reintroduced populations, only North Carolina’s reintroduction was ever successfully realized.

Until recently, the red wolf recovery program was incredibly effective and a model for endangered species protection nationwide. In fact, the science and management techniques used to reintroduce the red wolf were also used to reintroduce the iconic gray wolf into Yellowstone National Park.

By managing the populations of coyotes, invasive nutria and overabundant white-tailed deer, the red wolf has a positive impact on the health of Southeastern ecosystems, and provides a benefit to farmers and local communities.

The FWS must recommit to this iconic species, get back to work on the ground and increase tolerance for red wolves in nearby communities. The landscape of the Southeastern United States will be forever changed for the worse if we allow its native wolf to vanish.

Saving red wolves, and all other species, should be based on the best available science, not the whims of Congress. Congress should focus instead on funding wolf recovery programs and supporting the Endangered Species Act, our nation’s most effective law for protecting endangered wildlife.

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