Red wolf recovery is on a stronger footing now than it has been in more than a decade. Three weeks ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a series of actions it will begin taking to reinvigorate the recovery of red wolves.
Since that time, the Service’s plans have been grossly mischaracterized. Some have claimed the Service is abandoning recovery, that it has plunged a “dagger in the heart” of red wolf recovery, and that the Service “has turned its back” on red wolves.
These claims are false.
Here’s what we actually said. Our goal is to save the red wolf and ensure its recovery. And our first priority is to stabilize and secure a healthy captive population of red wolves.
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This is a necessary first step because the captive population is not currently sustainable. The science is clear on this point. The captive population protects the entire red wolf species against extinction. It is the sole source of red wolves introduced into the wild through experimental populations. It cannot support any new wild, experimental populations, let alone the existing wild population in North Carolina.
We will begin working with states, landowners and other partners to identify potential suitable new sites to reintroduce wolves across their historic range. We will begin work on a five-year status review of the red wolf and a comprehensive status assessment that will form the basis for future recovery planning. Finally, we will propose revised rules to improve the management of the existing non- essential, experimental population of red wolves in the wild in eastern North Carolina. These rules will propose to change the goals and scope of that population.
Many who have paid attention to the Service’s work will recognize these steps because they’ve been successfully implemented before to recover highly endangered species. For example, in 1982, the Service and its partners pulled the last 22 California condors in the world into a single captive population to save them from extinction. After establishing a successful captive population, the Service began re-releasing condors into the wild in 1992. Today there are more than 450 in the wild.
A similar approach is working for the black-footed ferret, was taken to preserve the possibility of recovery. Just this past summer, the agency reintroduced the black-footed ferret near Meteetse, Wyoming, where the last wild ferrets lived before being placed in captivity. Today, there are 29 wild populations. The ferret’s recovery is headed in the right direction.
Finally, in the early 1970s the Service and its partners moved to save the critically endangered Puerto Rican parrot by creating a tiny captive population. After the captive population was stabilized, the first reintroduction took place in El Yunque National Forest in 1985. In the past 10 years, we established a new aviary and released parrots in El Yunque and Rio Abajo State Forest by working with key partners. This fall, we will celebrate the latest release of parrots into a third wild population. It will mark an extraordinary accomplishment in the parrot’s recovery.
We intend to replicate these successful models in our red wolf recovery effort. The lessons we have learned over the life of the program continue to benefit this work.
This is a call to action for everyone, because with limited resources, we will need help. We need solution-oriented, cooperative partners, and the public’s trust that we mean what we say. We are committed to the recovery of the red wolf.
The path we have chosen is clearer than ever and offers a proven track record.
Cindy Dohner is regional director for the Service’s Southeast Region.