U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle issued an unusual stay of execution this week. He ordered that hunters stop killing coyotes in five northeastern North Carolina counties. He did so to end the mistaken killings of an endangered species, the red wolf.
The two animals are similar in appearance, though the wolves are about 20 pounds heavier than coyotes, wily predators that weigh between 20 and 45 pounds and have proliferated across the state. Boyle issued a preliminary injunction to stop the hunting until the start of a trial in a lawsuit brought by environmentalists who want a permanent hunting ban near the red wolfs territory. The preliminary injunction blocks coyote hunting in Dare, Hyde, Beaufort, Tyrrell and Washington counties.
The judges order was a sensible abatement that offsets a misguided decision by the state Wildlife Resources Commission. The commission voted last July to allow a virtual open season on coyotes. Hunters were allowed to shoot coyotes day and night with no bag limit. Hunters could use lights at night, but they often mistook the eyes of a red wolf for a coyote.
The errant kills threatened an effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce the red wolf to the wild. The animal was thought to be extinct in the wild until the federal agency bred them in captivity and released about 100 in northeastern North Carolina in 1987. Their population in the wild is estimated to be just over 100 today.
The wildlife commissions executive director, Gordon Myers, said the judges order seeks to save a threatened species by protecting a pervasive nuisance for ranchers, farmers and pet owners, the coyote. Hunters killed about 25,000 coyotes last year in North Carolina, the commission estimates.
Nonetheless, Boyle made the right call by sparing the coyote to spare the wolf until wildlife managers can come up with a better way to deal with the two populations. That coyotes and red wolves are similar in appearance shouldnt allow for the red wolf to be pushed back to disappearance.