The Southern Environmental Law Center and three other groups recently sent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a notice of intent to sue indicating they believe the service violated the Endangered Species Act when it authorized two landowners to take a red wolf after the service abandoned efforts to trap and remove the animals from their properties.
The wolves at the center of the SELC’s letter are part of a non-essential, experimental population that the service established in five Eastern North Carolina counties in 1986. The service modified the rules for how that population could be managed in 1991 and again in 1995.
Our 1995 rule ensured red wolf recovery efforts would take advantage of the flexibility provided by the Endangered Species Act with such populations, which includes lethal take.
As the service began to consider serious questions related to the management of the non-essential, experimental population nearly two years ago, our actions were not always consistent with the rule in place. They are now. The rule obligates us to work with landowners. And it gives us the legal authority to provide landowners with the authority to take a wolf under certain conditions.
Each landowner requested that a wolf be removed from his property, and the service took steps under the rule to trap and remove the animals.When efforts to remove the animals were exhausted, the service provided authority to each landowner to take one wolf. One landowner did. The other did not.
For this effort to succeed, transparency is essential. Residents need to know and believe we will follow the rule. We recognize the only way to achieve recovery is if landowners are working with us. We must be honest brokers, and that’s what a current evaluation and feasibility review are all about.
The service acknowledges that over the past 18 months it misinterpreted some requirements in the management of this program under the 1995 rule. For example, the service was introducing red wolves onto private land, and that action is not consistent with the management rules. We have moved thoughtfully and methodically to correct the situation.
With the help of North Carolina residents, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the Wildlife Management Institute, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and others, the service is restoring credibility to this recovery effort. We believe the steps we announced in June have us on a path to do just that by matching our actions with our words.
Finally, we respect the organizations’ right to petition our government for redress. But we do have the authority to legally provide take, and we are moving forward focused on our work to determine the feasibility of this non-essential, experimental population of red wolves and its ultimate recovery.
We want this effort to succeed. We share the same goals. For it to succeed, we must have the support of the local community, landowners, stakeholders and the state. And we will follow the rule in place and all of its provisions for this experimental population.
Our objective is to return to a place of high trust with everyone involved, which is important to this effort, so we can move more quickly to recover the red wolf.
Leopoldo Miranda is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s assistant regional director for ecological services in the Southeast Region based in Atlanta.