A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to halt its plan to transfer the reintroduced population of endangered red wolves from the wild into captivity. After nearly two years of study on the future of the reintroduction program, the Fish and Wildlife Service released a Sept. 12 report that concluded recovery of wild red wolf populations was possible only if “significant changes” to the program were implemented and outlined a plan to gather most of the population — estimated at less than 45 — from the five southeastern North Carolina counties where they roam and concentrate on bolstering captive red wolf populations. By October 2017, the report said, the Fish and Wildlife Service would determine more suitable locations for reintroduction efforts.
The history of red wolf reintroduction effort is a long and contentious one. Reintroduction was attempted in the Smokies during the 1990s, but it failed miserably. The small population in southeastern N.C. is the only wild population in the world. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission implemented coyote hunting rules that animal rights groups viewed as dangerous to red wolves (which look pretty much like a coyote).
The lawsuit ended with the parties agreeing to a series of limits on coyote hunting in the affected area. Afterward, the Wildlife Commission asked the USFWS to end reintroduction efforts and remove existing red wolves from private land. The feds did so, and then they were taken to court by Defenders of Wildlife, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Red Wolf Coalition. The Southern Environmental Law Center argued in a court hearing on September 14 that a preliminary injunction was needed to stop the agency from harming these native wolves in the wild.