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NC: Conservation groups plead for red wolf program to stay

Written by Holly Kays

Petitions bearing nearly half a million signatures urging protection of the endangered red wolf made their way to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week, about one year after the USFWS announced it would suspend a program reintroducing red wolves to the wild.

“It’s shameful how the Service has bowed to political pressure and deliberately undermined the success of its program to recover red wolves,” said Jamie Pang, endangered species campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency’s inaction is condemning this species to extinction.”

The petition drive was organized by the Animal Welfare Institute, Care2, Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Species Coalition, Wildlands Network and a pair of North Carolina high school students.

The only wild population of red wolves on earth, which once ranged throughout the Southeast, is in a five-county area of eastern North Carolina where they were reintroduced. The population includes only 45 red wolves.

Environmental groups had contested the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission’s management of the nearly extinct population, even filing a lawsuit to restrict coyote hunting in red wolf territory to avoid red wolves being mistaken for coyotes and shot.

The Wildlife Commission in turn questioned whether the red wolf reintroduction was a valid and worthwhile undertaking. So the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suspended the reintroduction program while conducting a feasibility study to that effect. Results of the study have yet to be delivered.

Toward the end of the legislative session, the N.C. House Natural Resources Committee approved a bill requesting the USFWS end the red wolf recovery program, but the bill never made it to the floor for a vote.

According to Ben Prater, Southeast program director for Defenders of Wildlife, the bill was tantamount to “calling for extinction of the red wolf.”

Tom MacKenzie, spokesman for the FWS, said that the agency will consider input from all sides as it reaches its final decision on the red wolf program by the end of the summer.

“Input from citizens and partners like the state are part of the process — important along with the biology, research and related conservation work that we take into account,” MacKenzie said.