By Jeff Hampton
A judge granted an injunction Wednesday that temporarily halted coyote hunting at night in five North Carolina counties, after a fifth rare red wolf was found shot dead.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission established a temporary rule in August allowing hunters to shoot coyotes at night in response to complaints that the rapidly spreading predator was killing livestock.
The Southern Environmental Law Center and other groups sued to stop the practice. Coyotes look much like red wolves, and night hunting with spotlights offers opportunities to kill wolves.
The wolves could suffer, and the temporary rule does not follow the law, Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway wrote in the injunction.
“We’re pleased with the decision,” said Derb Carter, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We hope this will reduce the shooting of red wolves.”
Gordon Myers, executive director of the wildlife commission, cautioned that “while we accept the judge’s decision, it is important to note that this is a decision on a preliminary injunction only.”
He added, “We remain confident of our position and its merits.”
Five red wolves have been found shot to death since the August rule change, including one last week. Four of the five are suspected to be illegal takes, said Kathleen Sullivan of the Southern Environmental Law Center.
One of the most endangered animals in the country, only about 100 wild red wolves live in Dare, Hyde, Washington, Tyrrell and Beaufort counties south of the Albemarle Sound.
Red wolves were declared endangered in 1967, and biologists gathered the last remaining wild individuals along the Gulf Coast and in Texas to begin a captive breeding program, according to David Rabon, coordinator of the Red Wolf Recovery Program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 1980, red wolves were declared extinct in the wild. In 1987, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established a small group of wild red wolves in northeastern North Carolina, a region where they historically had lived, Rabon said.
Most are collared and monitored as they roam nearly 2 million acres of forests and wetlands on federal, state and private lands.
Coyotes have shown up in all 100 North Carolina counties and proven hard to control in spite of aggressive hunting practices. A sterilization program better controls coyote populations, according to red wolf advocates.