Proposed changes to how and where to manage the world’s only wild population of red wolves have drawn much criticism over the past week.
A public input period ending at midnight Monday produced more than 12,200 comments on the proposed rule changes posted online. Many of them were made by people who oppose the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to scale back the territory of the endangered, dwindling and wild population of the species that is found only in Eastern North Carolina.
Instead of the current territory that spans Dare, Tyrrell, Hyde, Washington and Beaufort counties, the FWS wants to focus the wild population on federal lands in Dare County only.
The changes would also enable the FWS to move wild wolves back into captivity for breeding. The service says doing so will ensure future growth of the population and introduce ideal, natural instincts back into the captive gene pool, among other benefits.
The Wildlands Network says the FWS grossly mischaracterizes its plan as one that would help protect the species. The group also takes issue with plans to focus the population on Dare County lands, which it says could only support 10-15 wild wolves in up to a few packs.
“The simple truth is that the proposed action would end the 30-year-old attempt at recovering red wolves in the wild, and result in a situation where only 10-15 token wolves were left on the ground in North Carolina,” the group wrote in a response to the FWS proposal.
The landscape of the Southeastern United States will be forever changed if we allow the red wolf to fade from existence.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife
Conservation groups say the wild population of red wolves that was in the 130-150 range in the 2000s is now closer to 45. They blame unlawful gunshots for much of the decline.
Wild red wolves historically ranged across much of the Southeast – from Texas up the Atlantic Coast to Pennsylvania or farther north. But by the mid-1970s, the population fell off to include only parts of Texas and Louisiana, according to the Wildlife Management Institute.
After being labeled endangered in 1973, the species was captured to re-establish the population. From 1987 to 1992, 42 red wolves were released along North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge to establish what is called a nonessential experimental population.
Like many commenting online, Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark wants to see the wolves’ territory maintained.
“We urge the FWS to recommit to this iconic species and resume releasing captive red wolves into the wild, managing coyotes in the recovery area and working to build tolerance of red wolves in nearby communities,” Clark said in a statement. “The landscape of the Southeastern United States will be forever changed if we allow the red wolf to fade from existence.”