COLUMBIA, N.C.Wildlife advocacy groups have collected a petition of landowners who support the controversial red wolf recovery program.
In the past, landowners in the five northeastern North Carolina counties where the wolves live overwhelmingly have opposed the program at public meetings. But in this petition, 80 actually support restoration efforts and want the program to continue, said Tara Zuardo, attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute in a news release.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has received the petition, said spokesman Tom MacKenzie.
“We are evaluating their data,” he said.
After years of controversy and litigation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in October a study to evaluate – and possibly end – the nearly 30-year effort to restore red wolves to their historic habitat in Dare, Hyde, Washington, Tyrrell and Beaufort counties. A report is expected later this year.
It comes after two years of cutbacks to the program, according to a news release from the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Endangered Species Coalition. They say the Fish and Wildlife Service has already eliminated the recovery coordinator for the program, stopped reintroducing red wolves, stopped sterilizing and removing coyotes and issued permits to landowners to kill individual red wolves.
Under the 30-year recovery program, the wolf population grew from four pairs introduced in 1987 to more than 100 individuals. Then in 2013, the count fell to under 100 for the first time in more than a decade. The number of red wolves roaming 1.7 million acres in eastern North Carolina could now be as low as 50 animals.
Studies over the years conflict over whether the red wolf is a separate species or a mix between coyotes and gray wolves. Many residents of counties, where the red wolves live, maintain the species has interbred with coyotes. The mixed breed preys on livestock, small pets and on popular game animals such as deer, they say.