Federal wildlife officials want to hear from you about the fate of the endangered red wolf

Stuffed red wolves are featured in a diorama at the Coastal North Carolina Wildlife Refuges Gateway Visitor Center in Manteo. The wolves died either of natural causes or from gunshot wounds. (Photo by Lisa Sorg)

The Cypress Moon Inn in Kitty Hawk overlooks the Albemarle Sound and in the distance, to the southwest, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, among the stomping grounds for the endangered red wolf.

An Outer Banks resident for 43 years, Greg Hamby co-owns the inn with his wife, Linda. He welcomes the red wolves, which roam over their native land in six counties in eastern North Carolina, as his neighbors.

“The red wolf belongs in the environment,” said Hamby, one of dozens of people who attended a public scoping meeting last week in Manteo. “What’s the big deal? They’re harmless to humans. They belong here. They have been relentlessly persecuted. They are owed a debt.”

The US Fish & Wildlife Service hosted the meeting, one of two gatherings on the coast last week. The agency is crafting a revised recovery plan for red wolf, a process that has been complicated by opposition from some landowners, court cases to stop those landowners from killing the wolves, support from scientists, and conflicting messages from federal officials themselves.

“We hope to make conditions better for both residents and the red wolves,” said Joe Madison, USFWS project leader of the Red Wolf Recovery Program.

Part of the wolves’ original habitat, Eastern North Carolina is the only place in the world where red wolves live in the wild.  (Six pups were born on April 29 at the Museum of Life & Science in Durham; four have survived.) And their numbers are diminishing. Estimates range from 29 to 40 wolves are still alive, down from 150 in the early 2000s. Some have been hit by cars; others have been shot. Others have interbred with coyotes, which dilutes the genetic bloodline.

To assuage landowners who don’t want wolves treading on their land, USFWS has considered trying to move all of the wolves on federal lands in Dare County. However, wolves being wolves, don’t recognize political boundaries. The agency also has weighed removing all of the wolves from the wild and relocating them to zoos, which house about 200 throughout the US. For wolf proponents (and likely the wolves themselves), this robs the animals of their natural habitat.

Six red wolf pups were born at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham in April. Four survived and are healthy. (Photo: Museum of Life and Science)

Wildlife, including the red wolves, attracts visitors to the Outer Banks, Hamby says. And visitors translate to money for county and state coffers. “A lot of money has been invested in this area. Let’s not give up on it.”

But the scarcity of federal dollars to protect endangered species is being used to justify the possibility of removing wolves from the wild. Pete Benjamin, USFWS field supervisor, told the Manteo crowd that red wolves need “intensive management” which “sucks money and resources away from other projects.”

As of June 13, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has received more than 2,100 comments. The agency is accepting public input through July 24. Go to www.regulations.gov and search for FWS-R4-2017-0006-0001 or this link will take you to the page.

USFWS will take the comments to craft a recovery plan. A series of public hearings will be held on that document later this year. A final rule is expected to be released next year, which will also be subject to public comment.

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