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NC: NC biologist worked to save endangered wolves. A film shows the turn his own life took.


An award-winning documentary film about a North Carolina biologist who battled a fatal disease after spending his career trying to save endangered red wolves will have its state premiere in High Point this month.

“Staring Down Fate” tells the story of biologist Chris Lucash, who worked for 29 years in the Great Smoky Mountains and in northeastern North Carolina with the only red wolves left in the wild.

The film follows Lucash as he grappled with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. As he fell ill, the wolves he labored to save also dwindled to an estimated 45 or fewer in the wild. Lucash died in 2016.

Filmmaker Jeffrey Mittelstadt, Davidson College’s former sustainability director, says the film is about searching for purpose in life and death, and in finding inspiration amid uncertainty.

“I can’t wait to introduce everyone to Chris,” Mittelstadt said in a statement. “He continues to inspire people everywhere to find comfort and passion in living with purpose and to continually strive to make this world a better place.”

The film was named Best Feature Film at its world premiere last year at the Sunrise 45 Film Festival in Alpena, Michigan and was honored at the Southern States Indie FanFilmFest.

Mittelstadt will host the film’s North Carolina premiere starting at 6 p.m. on March 29 at the High Point Theatre at 220 E. Commerce Ave. in High Point, where he now lives. Mittelstadt is president of WildSides, a nonprofit group that looks for common ground in conflicts between humans and wildlife.

The red wolves’ numbers have dropped by nearly half in recent years, largely because they’re being illegally killed.

In 2013, federal biologists estimated that 90 to 110 red wolves roamed a five-county area in northeastern North Carolina called the Albemarle Peninsula. By 2016, those numbers were down to 45 to 60 wild wolves. Suspected or confirmed gunshots accounted for 17 of the dead wolves since 2013 and suspected “illegal take” such as trapping added five more.

Last November, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis urged a key Senate committee to ask a federal wildlife agency to end the 30-year effort in North Carolina to save the wolves from extinction in the wild.