Federal judge orders people to stop killing red wolves

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There are fewer than 45 red wolves in the wild, down from more than 100 just a decade ago. (Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service)

The last surviving red wolves in the world have received a reprieve.

Today U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle issued a preliminary injunction ordering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop allowing endangered red wolves to be killed in eastern North Carolina. This prohibition includes private landowners who have been issued “take permits” to kill the wolves.

“This is a great day for red wolves and for anyone who loves nature in eastern North Carolina,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which argued the case. “The court was clear that it’s the Fish and Wildlife Service’s job is to conserve this endangered species, not drive it to extinction. The agency cannot simply abandon that responsibility.”

The judge’s decision is based on testimony at Sept. 14 hearing, where the SELC argued that the federal agency was failing to protect the species as legally required under the Endangered Species Act. SELC is representing Defenders of Wildlife, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Red Wolf Coalition.

Meanwhile attorneys for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based its argument largely on technical grounds. They maintained that the plaintiffs essentially had no legal standing to sue because they were not the parties being harmed.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife has proposed a plan to address the dwindling population of wild wolves — essentially sending all but a few of them to zoos — but it could be more than a year before it’s enacted. For the past several years, the agency has allowed private landowners to shoot the wolves even if the animals aren’t posing an immediate threat to life or property, as required.

As result, the number of wolves has dropped precipitously in the last decade, from more than 100 to no more than 45 now. Some estimates indicate there could be as few as 29.

Several landowners in eastern North Carolina, real estate developer Jett Ferebee being the most outspoken, have alleged that FWS officials released the wolves illegally on private land. They also believe the wolves have interbred with coyotes to the extent that their gene pool has been diluted — and thus no longer deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act.

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