Environmental lobbyists threaten to sue over red wolf protection program

Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

RALEIGH – A North Carolina environmental lobbying group is threatening to sue the federal government if it ends a program started 28 years ago to re-introduce the red wolf to eastern North Carolina. This despite pleas from locals who say the program was not only a failure, but poses a safety risk.

The program was intended to allow red wolves to run on federal land so that the species could re-populate in the wild. Today there are about 75 red wolves roaming 1.7 million public and private acres in the eastern part of the state, around the Albemarle Peninsula.  Among the issues now is that some of the wolves interbred with coyotes, creating what locals call a wily “super coyote,” reportedly wreaking havoc on private land, killing deer, small animals and managing to evade trapping efforts.

“We’ve heard from residents that red wolves are damaging native wildlife, deer and wild turkey,” said Margaret Martin of the N.C. Wildlife Commission.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is the highest-spending lobbying group in the state, putting $1.3 million last year toward their efforts to influence legislation. In a 60-day notice of intent to sue letter released on Tuesday, SELC attorneys accused federal officials of violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing two red wolves to be killed on private land since 2014. They issued the letter on behalf of three conservation group clients.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has violated the law and its responsibility to protect the world’s only wild population of red wolves,” said SELC senior attorney Sierra Weaver in a press release. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must rededicate itself to ensuring the survival of America’s rarest wolf and restore the former successful recovery of this endangered species.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the kills were authorized after non-lethal traps did not work. The letter also objected to the USFWS announcement this summer that the re-introduction of the red wolf to eastern North Carolina would be suspended, after the agency received a request to do so from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

“Since initiation of the restoration project, active management of habitats to benefit the red wolves on federal lands have been minimal, resulting in predominant use of private lands to meet the annual life requisites, a scenario inconsistent with stated USFWS goals,” the N.C. Wildlife Commission resolution read. It went on to request that the federal agency stop the re-introduction, declare the red wolf extinct in the wild and recognize wild canids as coyotes or coyote hybrids.

In June, the USFWS said it will suspend new releases of red wolves into the wild in that part of the state while it reviews the status of the program.