RALEIGH — A federal judge wants more information before ruling on a lawsuit that seeks to end all coyote hunting in a five-county region of Eastern North Carolina.
The lawsuit, filed by three conservation groups last fall, aims to protect the endangered red wolf population living near the Alligator and Scuppernong rivers about 100 animals reintroduced to the area as part of a federal program.
The groups argued that the state Wildlife Resources Commission causes red wolves to be mistakenly shot by allowing coyote hunting in the recovery area. Wolves and coyotes are almost impossible for hunters to tell apart, their suit said.
Fourteen red wolves died in 2013 that the coalition knows about, including nine dead by suspected or confirmed gunshot wounds. Another wolf was found killed, apparently shot, Jan. 7.
The wolf program is controversial in the five counties, however, as many landowners feel the wolves are damaging native wildlife populations and mixing with coyotes beyond the governments ability to control them.
In his order, issued Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle declined to issue a preliminary injunction on coyote hunting before receiving additional information.
He asked for parties in the lawsuit to nominate a special master to consider these questions:
• How many coyotes are in the five-county recovery area?
• What accounts for doubled coyote deaths in the region between 2007-08 and 2010-11?
• How many red wolves does it take to hold an area from coyotes?
• Is the coyote population rising, falling or stable?
• How can the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identify the number of pure red wolves at any given time?
• Are wolves more sustainable if the coyote population drops, even though a few are unintentionally killed, or if the coyote population rises?
The Red Wolf Coalition and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission did not have immediate comment. Boyles order gave them seven days to submit names for a special master.