Red wolf, © B. Bartel/USFWS

Going, Going….Gone?

Don’t let FWS’s inaction allow the rarest canid in the world — and the most endangered mammal in the United States — to go extinct.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has all but abandoned red wolves in North Carolina. This means certain extinction in the wild for a critically endangered wolf species that exists in the wild nowhere else on the planet.

A decision from FWS Director Dan Ashe on the future of the program, including possibly whether he will allow the program to continue in North Carolina, is expected in September.

In the meantime, FWS has suspended work on the program, ending fundamental recovery operations, such as captive-bred wolf releases into the wild to bolster the population.

Once ranging all the way from Texas, east to Georgia and up to Pennsylvania, by the 1970s red wolves had nearly disappeared in the wild because of intensive predator control and habitat loss. FWS captured the very last 17 wild red wolves on the planet in a last-ditch effort to keep the species from going extinct. The agency began a captive breeding program, and in 1987 reintroduced four pairs of the wolves into Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. There, they successfully denned and raised pups. As the program continued, the species eventually got somewhat of a paw-hold in the wild. The plan was – and on paper, still is – to recover the species enough that the population in Alligator River is thriving, and to reintroduce red wolves to other suitable reintroduction sites across their native range in the southeast.

Charged by federal law to protect our country’s threatened and endangered species, FWS had remained committed to the program until recently, when a vocal minority and the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission began putting pressure on the agency to completely get rid of the program. This summer, the state House Natural Resources Committee even tried (unsuccessfully) to push a bill to the floor that requested FWS to end red wolf recovery.

Recently, we’ve seen different elements of the program simply fall to the wayside. So far, the agency has:

• Refused to release any new wolves into the wild since 2015
• Issued permits to private landowners to kill non-problem wolves
• Removed red wolves from the wild, causing significant harm to the breeding population
• Reduced or eliminated critical efforts to collar and track red wolves.

The program’s opponents claim it is destined to fail. In reality, it is the agency’s inaction that is condemning red wolves to extinction in the wild, and could condemn the remaining wolves to a fate as zoo curiosities. In 2014, while FWS actively managed the program, the wild red wolf count stood at about 100. Today, now that the agency has stepped back, fewer than 60 wild red wolves still roam the Earth. That’s the lowest number red wolves have been at since the late 1990s, and despite a recovery plan that calls for three populations, they are still solely found in eastern North Carolina.

But it’s not too late. The majority of scientists agree that with time and dedicated management by FWS, this program can succeed and the wolves can continue to recover. And this summer, FWS received petitions from nearly half a million people asking the agency keep the red wolf recovery program alive.

FWS spokesperson Tom MacKenzie told the Smokey Mountain News that the agency will consider recommendations from all sides and that “input from citizens and partners like the state are part of the process—important along with the biology, research and related conservation work that we take into account.”

But FWS has called for no public hearings or comment period. They conducted a feasibility study to determine how effective and worthwhile red wolf reintroduction might be, but haven’t made the results of the study public. They haven’t asked for input so far – but you can still join us in keeping up the drumbeat for red wolf recovery.

The world’s rarest wolves have come so far, shown such resilience, and proved they can recover when given the opportunity. We demand that FWS keep the program in North Carolina alive, and establish new release sites so red wolves can expand their historical range. Join us in calling on Secretary of the Interior Jewell and FWS Director Dan Ashe and tell them to recommit to red wolf recovery! Our red wolf needs to be protected in the wild and restored to its native range. We drove this species to the brink. It’s up to us to save it from extinction.

Raise Your Voice for Red Wolves

If FWS fails to recommit to the recovery of red wolves, they are effectively dooming them to extinction. Demand that FWS recommit to red wolf recovery before it’s too late!

Raise Your Voice for Red Wolves »

Categories: Red Wolf, Wildlife

14 Responses to “Going, Going….Gone?”

  1. Terri Chasteen

    I support you when I can, but this recent acquiescence regarding the killing of the wolf pack in Washington State to protect cattle leaves me heartbroken. I think that I will have to go elsewhere to support red wolves and other precious wildlife. Killing the Washington State pack is an abomination. There must be other ways to find them space. Why can’t we buy the land and get rid of the cattle?

    • Defenders of Wildlife

      Hi Terri, and thank you very much for your support. We are also heartbroken over the loss of these wolves. Our team has been working hard in Washington state to engage with ranchers, elected officials and others on tools and protocols to deter wolves from livestock – methods that help to avoid conflicts like the ones that led to the removal of this pack. We are deeply saddened that in this case, non-lethal tools didn’t work to save these wolves.
      As to the land you mentioned, in the case of this pack, the land in question is actually public land, managed by the Forest Service. So while buying it may not be a realistic option, we are pushing for the Forest Service to change what they consider “best management practices” for when they allow grazing in known wolf territories.
      We are still committed to our goal of achieving long-term recovery and public acceptance of wolves in Washington. We’re continuing to work towards that goal by advocating for better protection of wolves, refining the state’s protocols for how to handle wolf-livestock conflicts, and pressing the U.S. Forest Service to participate more actively in the process since grazing allotments on public lands can play a key role in conflict prevention. I hope that this helps clarify what we’re doing to secure a future for Washington’s wolves.

    • Mike M

      As you may know, at least one Sanctuary organization offered to pay for an alternative: capture and transport to the sanctuary.
      It is probable that WA made a policy mistake in refusing to explore this alternative. It would have been FAR more economical than continued use of USDA APHIS Wildlife Services to kill these wolves.
      We need a policy of nonlethality toward predators wherever possible, and numerous scientists and studies have shown that lethal response is counterproductive.

      As an observer of habitat and species in the US west, I note to you that almost all winter wildlife habitat has been usurped by livestock interests, with some also taken over and sequestered from wildlife by housebuilding and wealthy “extra home” interests. This leaves far too little safe space or connectivity for native wildlife, and some strong cpolicy changes are in order.
      Public lands are managed for “multiple use” which misnomer has proven to result in greater conflict – public lands grazing has been profoundly ecologically destructive.
      Motor recreation on public lands has fragmented viable large species habitaat. Relatively few people seem to know that Grizzly Bears largely refuse to cross roads, with road width and use inversely correlated to grizzly passage.
      Wolf dispersal is impeded by heavy motor recreation; poaching positively correlated with public lands roadbuilding and maintenance (this is done for logging and fossil fuel and metals mining, and these consumptive uses must be ended on the little public land remaining percentagewise)
      DoW appears to be active in attempting to offer nonlethal alternatives, and I hope that such ideas as transporting and genetically protecting conflict wolves can be explored. There are coastal Oregon public lands (and private logging lands) that may have viable wolf habitat right now:
      Eliot State Forest (and surrounds) is one.

      The lower reaches of rivers (and I-5) tend to severely diminish dispersal, resulting in a more vertical repopulation by wolves of the far west. While some states have enacted laws limiting reintroduction, it would seem that ESA and other concerns would allow for nullification of such law throughout the west.

  2. Hetdi


  3. Robin

    FWS cannot just “shelve” the Red Wolf Program. As with ANY government involement, “shelving” ANY program means ‘Forgetting’ the program. As U.S. citizens, WE MUST NOT ALLOW THE RED WOLF TO GO THE WAY OF EXTINCTION!. EXTINCTION MEANS: Forever Gone & Gone Forever … It will NOT be the fault of the Wolf; the fault will lay on Our Shoulders … & we may be next. Save their lives … IF not for their sake than for that of your children, or their children.

  4. Sharon Mercer

    We need to take care of our heritage God gave us, this means wolves too

  5. María Berdayes

    RED WOLF “GOING, GOING…GONE”: There’s no justice & most of the people don’t give a damn, they’re not worried about this nightmare. Sorry but please don’t say “it’s not too late” because we’re running out of time…

  6. David Roles

    This is such a unique and beautiful wolf. Driving any species of wildlife to extinction is shameful and immoral. Humans are the most destructive predators on earth. There is a saying that the frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives, yet that is what we are doing to the life support system of our planet as we destroy it piecemeal. We have drenched the earth with poisons, ruined our soils, acidified our oceans, and driven many species of wildlife to extinction. By destroying one ecosystem after another we are sealing our own fate.

    • Mike M

      The last wild Red Wolves were captured in western Louisiana and that entire area does have some remaining good habitat.
      The FWS was far too timid in exploring historical habitat as reintroduction area.
      The Ozarks, East Texas, all the way to Georgia environs have sufficient prey base. Red Wolves being smaller than the western and northern wolf, use deer as primary prey when available, along with many smaller species.
      Whitetail deer are regarded as often heavily irrupted; as a for-instance Dick Thiel visiting out here in the far west pointed out that some areas back east can have as many as 100 per sq mile in some areas.

      Since I was so astonished, I believe that my recollection of his assertion is accurate. Here is a link to a density map showing that over 45/sq mi is extremely common in former red wolf habitat:
      It is only public tolerance and irrational fear that prevent more active repopulation of our ecologically important wolves.

  7. Mike M

    Here’s a North Carolina deer density map showing that extremely high densities occur east of the limited Albermarle Peninsula which is the location of the only Red Wolf Recovery Area.

    What such a map suggests, is that the MOST BASIC criterion for Red Wolf recovery was not considered by USFWS.
    There are many areas in the southeast where deer densities exceed ecologicla carrying capacity, and a far more widespread reintroduction program is called for.

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