The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has extended the deadline for the evaluation of its red wolf recovery program to Nov. 14.
Consultants with the nonprofit Wildlife Management Institute need the additional five weeks to consider more than 47,600 comments the Fish and Wildlife Service received from citizens and organizations last month. The wildlife service extended the comment period for two weeks because of the quantity of responses, which overloaded its email systems.
The red wolf recovery program started in 1987 to re-establish the wolves in the wild. Today, about 100 red wolves live in a five-county area in Eastern North Carolina – the only ones in the world apart from a couple hundred in captivity.
In May, a federal judge temporarily banned coyote hunting in the restoration area because the animals look like red wolves. The following month, the wildlife service promised to review the program starting in late August.
Critics of the program say red wolves damage local wildlife populations, particularly deer. Red wolves also have a tendency to interbreed with coyotes, which leads to fewer purebred wolves and confusion for hunters.
In addition, the wolves roam on mostly private land, and many landowners feel that the government cannot properly control them.
In the coming weeks, Wildlife Management will analyze the public comments, including two public focus group sessions. Public attitudes are one of three factors considered in the evaluation, along with science and management.
“The Service greatly appreciates the effort of so many citizens and organizations who took the time to share comments and provide feedback to us related to the Red Wolf Recovery Program and its work in Eastern North Carolina,” said Leopoldo Miranda, assistant regional director for ecological services in the wildlife service’s Southeast region.
The wildlife service originally aimed to complete the evaluation this month. When it comes in next month, it still must be peer reviewed before the wildlife service can decide whether to modify or end the program. The agency is already two years behind the review required for the program by law every five years.
Because the wolves are classified as “experimental and non-essential” populations, the wildlife service could easily end the program. The agency is expected to announce its decision early next year.