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Wild Red Wolves Can Stay Where They Are, For Now

red wolf
Dave DeWitt

The Red Wolf Recovery program in eastern North Carolina will continue – at least for now. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the 27-year old program will require some changes and further review. The agency will not release new animals into the wild while it studies the program further.

About 50-75 wild red wolves currently roam a five-county area on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula.

“There will likely be some who will suggest we are walking away from recovery efforts for the red wolf and simultaneously there will be others who might say we’re holding on too tight,” said Cindy Dohner, the USFWS Southeast Regional Director. “We have a responsibility to provide good management and shepherd the conservation and recovery of this species to the best of our ability. What we are announcing today holds true to those responsibilities and the expectations of our citizens and partners.”

It’s unclear what impact not releasing new animals into the wild will have. Only two red wolves were introduced in 2014.

Any number is too many for some landowners, who have complained that the red wolves have depleted deer numbers and caused other destruction.

At a public hearing late last year, Wade Hubers, a local farmer, summed up the opinion of many in the area.

“I want the red wolf program done away with. I’m no biologist, but I know if you put red wolves on the Refuge and there is no food supply, they are not going to stay there,” Hubers said.

Last week, a mother red wolf was legally shot and killed by a landowner.

Earlier this year, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission passed a resolution asking the USFWS to end the program.

Today, on a conference call, NC WRC Director Gordon Myers took a softer stance.

“This is an interim step that they are taking,” he said. “They have set an aggressive timeline to get the additional science that they need to make an informed decision.”

Advocates for the red wolves expressed frustration that the USFWS was not showing more support for a program they call successful. The agency has invested around $30 million in it since 1987.

“It’s very frustrating that they have kicked the can down the road for another six months,” said Ron Sutherland, a conservation scientist with the Wildlands Network.

Other advocates were more direct.

“The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with taking all measures necessary to recover the endangered red wolf, not study it into extinction,” said Sierra Weaver, an attorney with theSouthern Environmental Law Center, in a release. “The Service’s decision to halt its successful reintroduction program reflects an abandonment of that duty.”

The USFWS says it will complete this new round of research by the end of this year.

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Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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