By MARK RUMSEY
As 2015 comes to a close, uncertainty remains about the fate of a federal program in North Carolina aimed at protecting the Red Wolf from extinction. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has repeatedly delayed a decision on whether to continue or abandon the Red Wolf Recovery program that was started in 1987.
North Carolina is home to the world’s only remaining wild population of Red Wolves. They roam a five-county area on the Albemarle Peninsula, between Greenville and the Outer Banks. Wildlife officials say the Red Wolf population in the recovery area peaked at around 130 nearly a decade ago. In October, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimated the number at between 50 and 75. A group called the Endangered Species Coalition says that since 2012, more than 30 Red Wolves have either been shot to death or struck and killed by vehicles.
The Fish & Wildlife Service has been studying for more than a year whether to continue the Red Wolf Recovery Program. A decision was postponed twice this year. In late October, the federal agency said it needed more time to study the issue, and named a new “Red Wolf recovery team” for that purpose.
During a conference call with reporters, Regional Fish & Wildlife Director Cindy Dohner said the group would examine several questions including the long-term viability of Red Wolves that are kept by about 40 zoos around the U.S. The recovery team will also study cross-breeding between Red Wolves and coyotes, Red Wolf deaths caused by humans in the North Carolina recovery area, and the effects of climate change.
At the October briefing, Dohner said the Fish & Wildlife Service now plans to decide by summer 2016 whether to continue the Red Wolf recovery effort. Kim Wheeler, with the North Carolina-based Red Wolf Coalition, says the animals deserve the continued attention of wildlife officials. “This is going to set a precedent,” Wheeler said. “It’s not just something that’s going to affect wolves, but their decision is going to affect a lot of endangered species across the board,” she added.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says that even if it decides to discontinue the Red Wolf Recovery program in eastern North Carolina, the federal agency would keep working to sustain the species, so long as it remains on the Endangered List.