Whoever is the next Interior Secretary, under President-elect Donald Trump, he or she probably won’t be friendly to the endangered red wolf. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is considered to be the leading candidate for the post, which doesn’t portend well for the red wolf recovery program. As a U.S. House member, Fallin voted against protecting wild horses and burros in their 10-state native range. The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for that program.
Nonetheless, 30 scientists sent a letter yesterday to outgoing Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe asking that the government expand, not curtail the federal red wolf recovery program.
Without adequate protections from poaching, hunting and interbreeding with coyotes — which dilutes the wolves’ gene pool — “We think there is a really, really good chance red wolves will go extinct in the wild,” said Jamie Pang, Endangered Species Act Campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity in Washington, D.C.
Although only about 40 red wolves live in the wild — all of them within five counties in northeastern North Carolina — USFWS recently proposed moving some of them to federal lands in just one county: Dare, “with no effective means to protect wolves that step outside the county line,” the letter read. Others would be relocated to zoos, which already have 225 in captivity. “The Service must stem the rapid decline of the only wild population of red wolves in the world.”
“Rather than stymie red wolf recovery and population growth by restricting the North Carolina recovery area, the Service should work to better protect the existing wild population through actions such as reducing gunshot mortality and gaining support from adjacent landowners. We strongly urge the Service to reconsider its decision to constrict the North Carolina recovery area for red wolves.”
The 1990 Red Wolf Recovery Plan called for the reintroduction of wolves into at least three areas in their historical range, which includes North Carolina and other areas in the Southeast. Earlier this fall, a federal judge imposed a temporary injunction ordering the USFWS to stop granting legal take permits. These permits essentially allow private citizens to kill or trap wolves with impunity.
“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,” Sierra Weaver, attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said after the September hearing. “The agency cannot simply abandon that responsibility.”
Tomorrow in Durham, there is a free screening of the documentary, Staring Down Fate. The film tells the story of a red wolf biologist who is diagnosed with ALS, and searches for meaning in his terminal illness while the endangered species he dedicated his career to faces another potential extinction.
The screening is sponsored by The Center for Documentary Studies and the Southern Documentary Fund: Friday, 7 p.m. Full Frame Theater, American Tobacco Campus, Tickets are free, but must be reserved in advance.