COLUMBIA, N. C. – After three decades of federal- and state-funded population growth and recovery, the future of the red wolf is uncertain.
This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced red wolves will be restricted to federal lands and removed from private properties in the eastern part of North Carolina. The move would drastically reduce their current habitat, and Kim Wheeler, executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition, warns the agency is undoing years of progress.
“This is really not a path forward for the red wolf, but in essence, it’s a step back, with not any clear pathway for recovery,” said Wheeler.
On Wednesday, attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center – representing the groups Defenders of Wildlife, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Red Wolf Coalition – asked for a preliminary injunction at a hearing in federal court, to prevent removing the animals from their home habitats.
In recent years, landowners have complained about the presence of red wolves on their land. But statewide, 70 percent of respondents in a recent poll released by Defenders of Wildlife said they support recovery of the animal.
Ben Prater, southeast program director for Defenders of Wildlife, said according to USFWS studies, moving the animals from their familiar habitat could bring the population to extinction within 10 years.
“It could be devastating,” Prater stated. “I mean, the Fish and Wildlife Service has very clear obligations to recover species in the wild, and they’re turning their back on that obligation.”
Wheeler added that proposing relocation for the fragile population and disrupting red-wolf packs could be catastrophic, and goes against what scientists know about the animal.
“We’re going to remove wolves from the wild and put them in captivity, and that somehow animals can move back and forth,” she said. “You take an animal from a pack, you’re disrupting pack dynamics. You can’t take one animal and take it out of the pack and put in another, and think that animal is just going to be accepted.”
USFWS has said within the next year, the agency will identify potential new sites for additional, experimental wild populations.