By Outer Banks Voice on June 30, 2015
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is suspending new releases of red wolves bred in captivity until a full re-evaluation is done on the program that brought back the endangered predators to eastern North Carolina.
Estimates are that there are 50 to 100 red wolves living in portions of mainland Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington and Beaufort counties.
Red wolves were declared an endangered species in 1967, then extinct in the wild in 1980. Red wolves bred in captivity were released into Alligator National Wildlife Refuge starting in 1987.
Some 200 red wolves are currently held in captive breeding facilities across the United States, including one at the refuge.
While listed as an endangered species, the wolves that have been released are classified as a “non-essential, experimental population” by the USFWS.
An independent review by the Wildlife Management Institute released in November gave a scathing review of how the Fish and Wildlife Service interacted with residents and property owners surrounding the refuge in the five-county area after the program got under way.
“WMI believes that the lack of public awareness and support efforts has led to an atmosphere of distrust within some segments of the community,” the report said. “This level of distrust has intensified as a result of the recent court injunction on coyote hunting.”
Coyote hunting in the five counties was suspended last year after a lawsuit brought against the state by the Southern Environmental Law Center claimed red wolves and coyotes look too similar to allow unrestricted hunting of coyotes, day or night.
The lawsuit was spurred in part by the illegal, unreported deaths of at least eight red wolves by gunshot in the span of two years.
A settlement of that lawsuit now allows coyote hunting under tight conditions in the five counties.
The same report praised USFWS for the science behind the program and noted that it proved to some degree that the red wolf could survive in coastal eastern North Carolina.
“The Wildlife Management Institute’s review identified a number of areas where we have been successful, a number of areas that need improvement, and highlighted a number of uncertainties and serious challenges for the ultimate recovery of the red wolf,” said Cindy Dohner, USFWS Southeast Regional Director.
“(W)e recognize too that there were misunderstandings, particularly about the non-essential, experimental population, and we did not always meet the expectations we set. Now, we need to do a thorough and deliberate evaluation of the red wolf recovery program,” Dohner said.
State wildlife regulators called on the Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year to end the reintroduction of the red wolf in the region and to remove all wolves that were released on private lands.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission adopted two resolutions in January that cited interbreeding with coyotes, encroachment onto private lands and a failure to meet project goals as reasons to end the program in North Carolina.
The Wildlife Commission also said that 64 releases of red wolves by the Fish and Wildlife Service were intended to be done on federal land but actually took place on private land and therefore were unauthorized. The commission said the wolves and their pups should be recaptured.
“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,” Dohner said.
No wolves have been released into the wild at Alligator River for at least a year.
While the release program is being suspended, the existing wolves will be allowed to continue roaming over an area covering 1.7 million acres of Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington and Beaufort counties.
“These actions are the next steps in our commitment to get the science right, rebuild trust with our neighbors in those communities, our state partners and many stakeholders as we address issues regarding the overall recovery of the red wolf,” Dohner added.