By Ken Fine
It was sold as a victory for the endangered red wolf population living in eastern North Carolina—the conference call hosted, in mid-September, by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials who claimed they had figured out a way to save the species from extinction.
But wolf advocates say that, hidden in the details of the “Population Viability Analysis” used by USFWS to chart its path forward, data suggests the feds lied to, as conservation scientist Ron Sutherland puts it, “justify their cowardly new plan of removing almost all of the wolves from the wild.”
The feds’ plan focuses on securing the captive population of two-hundred-plus wolves living in zoos and other facilities across the county; as USFWS southeast regional director Cindy Dohner argued back in September, “the most stunning data shows the captive population is not secure” and “losing the captive population could mean losing the entire species.”
Advocates contend that’s why the plan also included language that would contain the wild wolf population to federal land in Dare County—the former recovery area spanned five counties—leaving wolves discovered outside the boundary subject to capture, a life in captivity, or, in Sutherland’s worst-case-scenario, “shot by landowners who would face no repercussions.”
So where in the viability analysis did data reveal a need to focus on the captive population? Sutherland and several of the authors of that report say nowhere, and some accuse the USFWS of lying to satisfy the wishes of wealthy landowners who have, in the past, lobbied to get the wolves out of the state.
A letter drafted by “the scientific team conducting the population viability analysis” and sent to Dohner October 11 outlined “alarming misinterpretations of the PVA as justification for the final decision” on the embattled species’ future.
“The most conspicuous misinterpretation of these results is … that ‘the species is not secured in captivity’ and that ‘with no changes to current management, the species will likely be lost within the decade,'” the letter reads. “The [captive population] is under no risk of extinction. The [captive population] does not need wild red wolves from North Carolina for its security.”
Why fudge the data? Sutherland says the answer is simple: the anti-red wolf lobby has friends in high places. “They were lying in a most blatant and egregious way to justify a plan that can only be described as a horrific retreat from protecting red wolves in the wild where they belong,” he says.
Fortunately, the wolves have powerful friends, too. U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle recently ordered a temporary injunction that both restricts the federal government’s ability to remove the animals from private property and prohibits landowners from shooting them. And he blasted the USFWS for a failure to “adequately provide for the protection of red wolves.” After this latest revelation, it’s hard to disagree.