BREAKING: After the US Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned its mandate to restore the critically low wild red wolf population, numbers plummeted from around 120 two years ago to 45 or less, making the red wolf one of the most critically imperiled species on the planet.
On May 24, The Center for Biological Diversity, along with other conservation groups, filed an emergency petition to require USFWS, the federal government, entrusted with protecting and recovering rare, threatened and endangered species, to fulfill their responsibilities and save the red wolf from extinction in the wild. Red wolves, once the darling of American endangered-species recovery innovations, have been thrown under the bus by an agency cowed by pressure from strident (although numerically small) anti-wolf and and anti-government forces.
“Red wolves face the very real possibility of vanishing from the wild if they don’t get the help they need,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Sadly the Fish and Wildlife Service seems more concerned about appeasing a small minority of anti-wildlife extremists in North Carolina than preventing the extinction of these wolves.”
What makes this federal betrayal of red wolves worse is that it flies in the face of recommendations by its own scientists to actually strengthen recovery efforts. The press release states, “Records recently obtained via the Freedom of Information Act demonstrate that the Service’s red wolf biologists recommended strengthening protections by eliminating loopholes in regulations that have facilitated excessive illegal shootings of red wolves. As recently as 2013, the Service had considered following these recommendations and had even drafted new regulations. But the biologists’ recommendations were ignored, the regulations were never finalized, and the red wolf continues to suffer unsustainable levels of mortality.” So the USFWS has dropped the ball in violation of its own expert’s advice and against the wishes of a large majority of the public who strongly feel the survival of this shy and elusive small canid is imperative.
The emergency petition requests that the US Fish and Wildlife Service revise the current red wolf regulations in order to reduce red wolf shooting deaths, establish additional wild populations of red wolves (which will also boost sorely-needed genetic diversity), and, importantly, reclassify all reintroduced populations of red wolves as “essential” experimental populations. Currently, wild red wolves are classified as “non-essential,” which severely limits the protections they receive under the Endangered Species Act. This one change should ensure that shot, trapped, poisoned or other intentionally-killed wolves will be treated as crime victims and the perpetrators held accountable to the full extent of the law.
“It is completely arbitrary that this lone wild population of red wolves, which was reintroduced almost 30 years ago, is still classified by the Service as a ‘non-essential’ species,” said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute. “The Service has turned its back on this species, and is undermining rather than bolstering red wolf recovery.”
Red wolves are shy, inoffensive, even skittish, mainly hunting small nuisance species like invasive nutria, rodents and plentiful rabbits. These beautiful singers are family-oriented, elusive and deeply beneficial to ecosystems they call home.
As revealed in a follow-up press release, the groups note they “may pursue relief in federal court” if Fish and Wildlife does not respond within 45 days.
“Red wolves face the very real possibility of vanishing from the wild if they don’t get the help they need,” said Brett Hartl, the Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species policy director.
Organizations that filed today’s petition include the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Endangered Species Coalition, the South Florida Wildlands Association, WildEarth Guardians, Wildlands Network, and the Wolf Conservation Center. Learn more about red wolf conservation and the Center for Biological Diversity, here. To help the Center in its fight to save this uniquely American Southeastern wolf, donate to their Wolf Defense Fund here.
*Updated 4:35 EST 5/25/16