Red wolf reintroduction program revival urged by petitioners
To spur the agency to resume efforts to save a species now reduced to an estimated wild population of only 45, nearly 500,000 names were submitted in a petition drive organized the Animal Welfare Institute, Care2, the Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Species Coalition, the Wildlands Network and a couple North Carolina high school students.
The petition comes a little over a year after the Service officially announced it was suspending wolf releases into the wild.
“It’s shameful how the Service has bowed to political pressure and deliberately undermined the success of its program to recover red wolves,” Jamie Pang, endangered species campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “The agency’s inaction is condemning this species to extinction.” The group has been active in monitoring the reintroduction of the gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico, a program also under attack by critics.
Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild until a successful reintroduction program was established in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in 1987. By 2006, this program had enabled the population to expand to more than 130. Since then, the unique animals have received ample support from conservationists, the public and even private landowners who live within the red wolf recovery area.
Following a lawsuit by nonprofit groups to limit coyote hunting, which once was a threat to the red wolf’s survival, the Service faced increased political pressure to curtail the recovery program, according to a release on the petition effort. In 2014, the Service eliminated the program’s recovery coordinator position and in June 2015 it stopped the introduction of new red wolves into the wild.
The agency also ended its coyote-sterilization program, which was helping to prevent hybrid animals from harming the red wolf’s gene pool, curtailed law-enforcement investigations of wolf deaths to help bring poachers to justice, and allowed for both the lethal and nonlethal removal of wolves from private lands, arguably causing the population to sink.
“The red wolf is now one of the world's most endangered mammal species. There are 37 times as many giant pandas, 100 times as many snow leopards, and 400 times as many African lions in the wild as there are red wolves left in eastern North Carolina," Ron Sutherland, a conservation scientist at Wildlands Network, said. "We hope Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will listen to the public and prevent the red wolf from going extinct in the wild.”