Poaching, breeding with coyotes and changes in environmental management are blamed for the wolf’s decline.
RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) — Advocates for the critically endangered red wolf are optimistic that a federal judge’s approval of a settlement with the government will help save the species from extinction.
The eastern part of North Carolina is the only place on Earth where red wolves can be heard howling in the wild – and there are only a handful of them left.
“With only nine wolves known to remain in the wild, the red wolf desperately needed this good news,” Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement on Monday.
That good news is a settlement agreement between the environmental group and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or FWS, which was approved in federal court on Friday.
Chief U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle in the Eastern District of North Carolina signed off on the settlement, which says the FWS must update its plan for saving the endangered specifies by the end of February 2023.
The Center for Biological Diversity called the deal an important win.
“The science shows that the red wolf can be saved, and I’m hopeful that a new recovery plan will put the species back on the road to recovery,” Adkins added.
Friday’s decision was the result of a lawsuit the group had filed against FWS last year over the agency’s alleged failure to update its old recovery plan from 1990. Increased poaching, hybridization with coyotes and changes in environmental management are blamed for the red wolf’s decline since then.
The center, along with six other groups, filed a petition with the FWS in 2016 for an updated plan. The organizations then went to court last November to force the agency to make the requested updates.
In a report released last year, the Center for Biological Diversity identified five potential reintroduction sites that it said could support a total of 500 breeding pairs of red wolves. These sites are scattered amid public lands in the Southeast in states like Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
But the group said Monday that the FWS “has not taken steps to reintroduce red wolves elsewhere and has stopped taking many actions — such as widespread sterilization of coyotes to prevent hybrid animals from harming the gene pool — that are necessary to conserve the remaining wild population.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, the agency is required to prepare plans to help species recovery, but environmentalists say it failed to stay up-to-date and follow through on its obligations. The FWS now has until Feb. 28, 2023, to finalize its roadmap to recovery for the red wolf.
A public comment period will commence after a draft of the plan is released next year. Meanwhile, Adkins said the clock is ticking.
“Time is running out to save red wolves and government foot-dragging has only made the problem worse,” she said. “It’s frustrating that we’ve had to sue time and again to get action. Hopefully this win finally gets these vulnerable wolves the help they need.”