Credibility is impossible to find when the federal agency charged with conserving endangered species appears to be driving the species to extinction instead. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official Leopoldo Miranda’s Sept. 16 Point of View defending the agency’s recent decisions to allow landowners to kill endangered red wolves – wolves that have not harmed or threatened anyone’s safety or property – by claiming that the Service is “restoring credibility” was incredible.
The op-ed never mentioned that the red wolves of Eastern North Carolina are the endangered and only wild population of red wolves on the planet. Nor did it mention that, by the USFWS’s own estimates, the population dropped from 90 to 110 animals just a year ago to only 50 to 75 animals today. It didn’t mention that the wolf that the USFWS recently allowed a landowner to kill was a breeding female nursing pups at the time she was shot. And it didn’t mention that the USFWS’s stated partner in “recovery” – the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission – earlier this year requested that red wolves be removed from North Carolina and be declared extinct in the wild.
The organizations we represent assert that USFWS violated the Endangered Species Act by authorizing private landowners to kill endangered red wolves without first trying to remove the wolves nonlethally. We also assert that the agency’s new interpretation of its own regulations does not contribute to the conservation and recovery of the wolves and may in fact lead to their extinction. And we assert that the USFWS is three years late in conducting a legally required review of the status of red wolves.
Reading Miranda’s op-ed, you wouldn’t realize that red wolves are in serious trouble from USFWS actions and inaction. Red wolves expanded from a population of eight animals in 1987 to 120 in 2006. USFWS used successful management to control hybridization with coyotes. Instead of standing behind what it once called one of its most successful recovery programs, USFWS is now standing behind a decision to kill a nursing female of a perilously endangered species.
It may have allowed red wolf pups to be abandoned, but we are not going to allow it to abandon its legal duty to recover the species. These recent actions do not restore credibility in the USFWS. Miranda is right that USFWS regulations allow private landowners to kill wolves in prescribed circumstances, but those regulations in no way allow the USFWS to drive a species to extinction in the wild. People who care about these critically endangered wolves can hold the USFWS accountable for its actions to abandon wolf pups by killing nursing females and its legal responsibility to recover the world’s only wild red wolves.
Senior attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the POV.