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By Holly Kays
A collared red wolf surveys its domain at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS photo A collared red wolf surveys its domain at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS photo
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing nine red wolves for release into the world’s only wild population of the critically endangered species — an act that will boost the total wild red wolf population by about 60%. The nine wolves include a family group and two breeding pairs that will play a critical role in population recovery.
Red wolves once inhabited areas from southern New York to central Texas, as well as the entire Southeast, but by the 1970s they’d been driven to near extinction due to overhunting and habitat loss. They were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, and reintroduction efforts played out over the following decades with varying degrees of success.
While the current wild population in eastern North Carolina climbed as high as 150 in 2008, a series of hotly contested management decisions by the FWS coincided with a marked decline in the wolf population. Now, the FWS estimates that there are only 15 to 17 wild red wolves, of which eight have collars and are trackable. The planned release of nine new wolves is the result of a court order.
In 2018, the FWS released a proposed red wolf management plan that would cease management of the red wolf population on private lands, meaning that outside of small areas in two of the five counties where the wolves resided, hunters and landowners could kill the animals with no repercussions. In November, the agency announced that it was scrapping the plan in response to resulting court decisions and public comments.
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Now, the agency says it is in the midst of a renewed effort to recover the wild red wolf — the only wolf species that exists only in the U.S. and the most endangered wolf in the world. The effort will include an emphasis on community and partner engagement, according to a press release.
“We are committed, more than ever before, to working with our partners — the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, landowners, and other stakeholders — to identify ways to encourage and facilitate a coexistence between people and red wolves,” said Catherine Phillips, the Service’s Assistant Regional Director in the South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi Basin Regions.
The agency recently hosted an informational meeting and listening session between partners, stakeholders and eastern N.C. community members to foster that spirit of cooperation. A red wolf recovery hotline is now available at 855.496.5837 to take input from conservation partners interested in aiding red wolf recovery. Learn more about red wolves and how to participate in their recovery at fws.gov/southeast/wildlife/mammals/red-wolf.