Posted: Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Dear BooneDogs: I appreciate your understanding of wild canines, and I loved your recent column on coyotes (Coyote Conundrum). I was wondering if you might have any insight into what is going on with the red wolf population we have here in North Carolina. I have heard that the program might be terminated and though you might know why [. . .]
A: Since moving to North Carolina in 1995, I have been an avid supporter of and enthusiast for the red wolf program in Eastern North Carolina.
Red wolves, once native to North Carolina, were declared “extinct in the wild” in 1980 after the 14 remaining individuals were removed from Louisiana and Texas to start a captive breeding program.
The reintroduction program, officially known as the Red Wolf Recovery Program, was started in 1987, when four pairs of red wolves were released in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR) in northeastern North Carolina. (Similar reintroduction efforts in Texas, Florida and Tennessee all failed for various reasons; for instance, of the 33 red wolf pups born in the wild during the nine-year failed release program in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, only four puppies survived; the other 29 pups succumbing to parvo or other disease, or starvation.)
Today, there are only 75 to 100 total red wolves living in the wild, all of these located in a five-county region on and near the ARNWR. These last remaining red wolves seem to be doing well here, have had no negative impacts on the land or human population in the area and would probably be much more successful and numerous by now — if it weren’t for a few misguided neighbors and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
On Tuesday, March 3,I attended a public meeting at the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Headquarters in Raleigh, where the issues of continuation of the red wolf program and the problems associated with nighttime hunting of coyotes in red wolf territory were discussed.
In short, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to discontinue the Red Wolf Reintroduction Program and declare the species extinct in the wild, partially in response from landowner concerns regarding a recent ruling banning the nighttime hunting of coyotes in the five-county area where the red wolves live.
Unfortunately, hundreds of red wolves have been shot since their release in 1987, after having either been specifically targeted or “misidentified” as coyotes, with this “misidentification” most often occurring at night. Tragically, what those demanding they be allowed to kill coyotes at any time, under any circumstance, don’t seem to grasp is that our coyote problem exists because we have wiped out most of our natural, native predators, like the red wolf, opening up new territory and habitat to this smaller, wily, non-native predator.
During the meeting, I was very disheartened to hear several “anti-wolf advocates” either admit to killing wolves recently or threaten to kill them in the near future if they are not removed. With less than 100 of these animals left in the wild in the world, this should not only be a federal offense but one that comes with heavy penalties for killing the last of a highly endangered species (I use the term “endangered” here in the non-legal sense; common sense would seem to say that these animals are positively endangered, regardless of their legal status).
I noticed at the meeting that the “anti-wolf advocates” often base of their anti-wolf stance and demands on fear and incorrect assumptions about why prey species are declining in their area, on miscalculations about the wolves’ threat to humans and domestic animals and other “facts” that just aren’t true.
Although I do believe that some of them may have been misled from the start in regards to how the wolves would behave after release (some of the wolves’ human neighbors were evidently told by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel that the wolves “would only reside on public lands”), I found it very disturbing that some of them admit to actively working to jeopardize the success of the release program from the very start by killing wolves, and some admit, as well, to the continued killing of wolves today, with no justice or repercussion whatsoever.
No wonder the viability of the program has been questioned! These animals have been targeted from the start and are still being blasted out of existence today, with zero repercussions for those committing these crimes.
It has been proven via the Yellowstone Wolf Reintroduction and other wolf release programs that when wolves return to their native homes, these deprived ecosystems return to health.
Other predators, like coyotes, return to their natural roles (preying on rodents and small animals); large prey animals, like elk, become healthier and often grow in number; other keystone animals, like the beaver, that may have been dispersed due to the lack of a true top predator, begin to return; fauna, like the willow, begins to return, and things start to again balance out in a natural, healthy way.
The red wolves in Eastern North Carolina have begun to bring things back to the way they should be, and at a period of time where it could not be more urgent (due to the recent explosion of the coyote population in N.C.).
So, why in the world would anyone want to deprive North Carolina — or the nation — of the chance to finally remedy some of the wrongs of our past, and likewise, why would anyone want to yank the plug on these last, remaining native predators, and on a program that is such a source of state pride and is supported by a vast majority of North Carolinians?
We have recently experienced record numbers of coyotes all across North Carolina, and on top of that, these coyotes are getting larger, more brazen, and are exhibiting changing behaviors that threaten pets and livestock.
We know that the coyote population has exploded, and with that, so have the problems we now face because of their increasing numbers. For instance, coyotes are a new threat to pets and small farm animals, and they have increased predation levels for small mammals, like rabbits and birds, as well, including turkeys and songbirds. They have little fear of humans, and, with time, some may even start to see us as a food source.
Many of the “anti-wolf advocates” who spoke at the public meeting noted the threat coyotes pose as the reason they feel they must be able to hunt them, whenever and wherever. Restoring natural, native predators is the only thing that will keep coyotes from maintaining their current title as top predator in North Carolina, a rank that is unnatural and will continue to result in an overall unhealthy, unstable ecosystem.
Thanks to recent research, we also now know that the more coyotes you take out of the wild, the more, and the earlier, they reproduce. We also know that the reason for the population explosion is the destruction of the natural top predators, including the red wolf. So, to discuss taking the remaining red wolves out of the wild and abandoning the reintroduction program goes against all reason, especially if the supposed root problem and reason for doing so is based on our coyote problem.
Red Wolf Recall? Part 2
Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Last week, we discussed the recent request by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the remaining 75 to 100 red wolves from northeastern North Carolina and to declare them extinct in the wild. Here, BooneDogs discusses the value these native predators bring to North Carolina and why we should fight to preserve them.
I’d like to suggest, and this is something I wish I had mentioned at the March 3 N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission public meeting, that these wolves can and should be a boon to North Carolina’s economy and to their human neighbors if we could simply figure out a way to work together to promote the success of the program.
In my quest to study wolves, coyotes and other wild dogs, I have participated in many national park and non-profit wolf and wild canine programs worldwide. Many of these programs charged a research or participant fee, which I and many others were happy to pay in order to seek out the animals we were hoping to study, photograph or just watch.
I participated in a fantastic winter research project in Yellowstone National Park recently that allowed me access to the park’s wolves and coyotes. I also participated in the Wolf Moose Study on Isle Royal in Michigan, a fascinating program that is also one of the longest ongoing research wildlife projects in the world. I paid to participate in both of these programs, and I hear there is a backlog of people wanting and waiting to participate in both.
Why are we not working to protect our wolves while also utilizing the help of those who love them and who would cherish the opportunity to spend time with them, or even just spend time in their habitat, so they can assist with the research and gather the data that will help ensure their success?
I called several months ago to find out about participating as a volunteer in any program that assists with recovery efforts for the wolves. I received a follow-up email from just one of the organizations I contacted, saying that my offer of volunteer services could only be met by applying for a semester-long internship.
While I would love to take an entire semester to work with the red wolf project, unfortunately, I cannot because of my family, home and career commitments. But I do believe that if the program were open to volunteers, and if people who love the wolves were only asked for help in ensuring their success as a wild species, the program would be swamped with replies from people ready and willing to help.
And think of all the graduate students throughout North Carolina’s colleges and universities who would want to participate! And, as we all know, success begets success. This community outreach and inclusion attempt alone could create much positive PR for the program and also for the organizations and government groups that would be working to promote and sustain the program.
Three years ago, when my husband and I discussed moving from our farm in Virginia, we had several great options that included moving out west or moving back to North Carolina. Because we love wildlife and wild places, we seriously considered moving out West, specifically to states and regions with the densest wildlife populations, like Montana and Colorado. One of the things that brought us back to North Carolina was the red wolf program.
As previous, proud North Carolinians, it has always troubled us that North Carolina had long ago eradicated almost all of its native predators (with the exception of the black bear), so the fact that the state and federal governments were working together to restore the red wolf population here was very exciting to us.
We wanted to be involved in the success of this program in whatever ways possible (we have actually spent much of our time and tourist dollars traveling to and through the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in search of wolves and signs of wolves). We know there are many others out there like us, and if the popularity of Yellowstone National Park’s (and their non-profit affiliates’) wolf-related tourist and research programs are any indication, I believe that any well-marketed volunteer program created or expanded to take advantage of the public’s interest and desire to donate to the red wolves’ success would be wildly successful.
I think one thing we, as North Carolinians, should all be concerned about is what will happen to the wild red wolves if the program is discontinued?
Wild canines pulled from the wild never do well if relocated or placed in captivity. They engage in dangerous and self-destructive behaviors and suffer from behavioral and nutritional issues caused by stress, anxiety and cage depression.
We absolutely cannot do that to these wolves, or to those who love and appreciate this valuable keystone species for what it is, or to those who have worked so hard to restore it. Those who don’t value them and say they don’t care what happens to them, or worse, those who want to do them harm, seem to be comprised of a small group of resentful, angry landowners who are bitter over being misled (or lied to, depending on who you talk to), and who are legitimately upset over a reduction in the number of game animals they had hoped to hunt — numbers that are seemingly heavily impacted by the influx of coyotes into the region.
So, what should we do? What can we do? Well, for one, why are we not sitting down to really listen to what all parties involved have to say, and then working to address the legitimate concerns of all who have a stake in this issue? At the very least, this would dispel rumors, myths and false information and at best, help us figure out what can be done to protect the wolves, while at the same time protecting the wishes of the citizens of North Carolina and the rights of the landowners impacted by the release program.
Perhaps if they were to benefit in some way, shape or form from the wolves’ presence, they could eventually end up being the wolves’ greatest ally, instead of their biggest threat (which is the goal of ecotourism).
As someone who values the wolves and who would like to see all stakeholders play a part in their future success, I truly hope that these public meetings will be continued, as painful and volatile as they have been, and be continued in a way that will allow dialogue between the people attending, the biologists who have been working on this program, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the Red Wolf Coalition, wolf experts and, perhaps, even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to figure out what the issues really are and begin addressing them in a way that places the wolves’ well-being as the top priority.
If we are willing to work together to address the issues on both sides, investigate the validity of all concerns and claims and, most of all, figure out what is best for the wolves, perhaps we can provide them with a future and a permanent place to call home. In the meantime, I also hope that something be done to protect this highly threatened species from present and future poaching and to bring those who admit to killing wolves in the past to justice.
Toward the end of the public meeting in Raleigh, a lady got up to speak. She made a few comments to let everyone know she was anti-wolf and then said, and I’ll paraphrase here, “Unlike some of you, I had the privilege of being read to when I was a little girl. My mother read to me from the Bible, and she also read me ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘The Three Little Pigs.’ I learned very early on that the wolf is not a friend to man.”
Wow. Where do you even begin to explain the value these animals have to someone who seriously embraces that philosophy? Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin, but this does disclose a disturbing trend in thought that persists, to some extent, throughout the world.
Right now, in British Columbia, wolves are being “culled” because the native caribou herds are dwindling. Researchers over the past few years have shown that the caribou are suffering the effects of global warming, including a changing food supply, increase in disease and parasites, and starvation due to changes in weather patterns.
Birth rates are down, and mortality rates are up. However, despite this knowledge and understanding, more than 1000 wolves have been shot, and this totally unnecessary massacre continues today.
Why is it that we hate and fear wolves? Why is it that we cannot learn to live in harmony with them? Have we brought them back from the brink of extinction only to massacre and decimate them once again? How seemingly cruel and unusual.
I trust — and hope — that the good people of North Carolina will realize what a treasure we have in this last remaining population of red wolves that calls our home theirs, as well. And I hope it happens soon, before it’s too late.