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Plan to Drastically Reduce Red Wolf Program Raises Alarm

In this closeup shot, a red wolf stares straight at the camera, his ears alert and snout pointed downward.

This is post 3 of 8 in "Red Wolf Recovery Plan."

Throughout this series, we follow the deterioration of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Red Wolf Recovery Plan. Learn more about how the plan would disastrously affect the already endangered wild red wolves in North Carolina and how you can help save this icon of American wildness from extinction. All posts in this series…

Proposed changes would shrink wild population, abandon America’s most endangered mammal

Durham, N.C. (September 12, 2016) — A just-released plan for red wolf recovery in North Carolina is being met with red flags of concern by conservation group Wildlands Network and its regional partners.

”Unfortunately, this new policy would essentially condemn the red wolf to extinction in the wild. This policy shows little understanding of how wolves behave,” says Wildlands Network’s  lead biologist, Ron Sutherland. “Wolves have families or packs just like we do,” he noted. “Constantly removing wolves from the wild and reducing their range to a small area will only disrupt family units. For a wild population to be successful, it needs to roam, breed and find mates,” said Sutherland.

According to Sutherland and other regional biologists, if the red wolf is managed as USFWS proposes, the resulting disruption to packs and reduction in wolf numbers will mean there will not be enough wolves on the ground for the species to recover.

“Unfortunately, this new policy would essentially condemn the red wolf to extinction in the wild, particularly because the new ‘wild’ population area in Dare County, NC would only be able to maintain 5-15 wolves at a time,” predicts Sutherland. “The emphasis would shift, as the USFWS openly admits, from trying to recover the species in one or more self-sustaining populations in the wild, to focusing on keeping the red wolf alive in zoos, with just a handful of wolves let free to roam in the wild at a time. The current wild wolves that live outside of the new recovery area would be rounded up and used to augment the captive population. Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent federal lands would essentially become semi-wild holding facilities where wolves are cycled to and from the captive population. It has been 25 years since the USFWS was brave enough to start a new reintroduction effort, and it seems clear that if the red wolf is bullied out of North Carolina, it may be another 25 years before the agency attempts a new restoration project somewhere else in the southeastern USA. What this new plan for the red wolf represents is giving up on recovering the species in the wild, and condemning this noble, inoffensive animal to living in zoos for the foreseeable future,” Sutherland said.

For over twenty-five years the Red Wolf Recovery Program was one of the most innovative and successful reintroductions of a large mammal in the world. Today’s Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announcement indicates it will drastically restrict the wild red wolf population to only federal lands in Dare County, NC.  The new plan will also actively remove wolves from private and public lands outside of that area. The plan would abandon many of the successful efforts of the past, such as pup fostering, instead of pulling wolves from the wild whenever they stray from the newly proposed recovery area.

According to a recent poll, 73% of North Carolinians and 60% of local residents in the red wolf recovery area support red wolf protections. In addition, a recent petition containing nearly 500,000 signatures from across the U.S. in support of the red wolf recovery program was recently delivered to USFWS.

“The USFWS needs to work with the state, zoos, conservation organizations and the public to rebuild and expand the wild population of red wolves. We believe the agency must continue its successful programs of the past, including sterilization of coyotes and pup fostering, introduction of more wolves from the captive breeding population, and public education to reduce gunshot mortality and increase local acceptance,” said Wildlands Network’s Landscape Conservationist, Maggie Ernest.

Red wolf recovery proponents have long argued that the USFWS should also develop a landowner incentive program to provide encouragement for local landowners to support the red wolf, and should expand reintroduction sites to provide for genetic diversity and long range success of the species.

Once the red wolf roamed from New York to Texas, today it is America’s most endangered mammal. “The red wolf is more endangered than the Siberian tiger or giant panda. It would be tragic if we let one of our most iconic and ecologically important mammals slip away.” said Susan Holmes, Policy Director for the Wildlands Network.

Click here for recent camera-trap photos of wild red wolves.


The Endangered Species Coalition is committed to stopping the human-caused extinction of our nation’s at-risk species and to protect and restore their habitats, and to guide these fragile populations along the road to recovery.

Wildlands Network envisions a world where nature is unbroken, and where humans co-exist in harmony with the land and its wild inhabitants. Our mission is to reconnect, restore, and rewild North America so life in all its diversity can thrive.


Ron Sutherland, 919-641-0060,

Susan Holmes, 202-329-1553,

Leda Huta, 202-320-6467,

2 thoughts on “USFWS Announces Plan to Allow Hunters to Kill All But 10-15 Remaining Red Wolves

  1. In my comments at the July 2018 hearing in Manteo I maintained that no Red Wolves should ever be killed. If a landowner wants a Wolf removed then it should be humanely trapped by USFWS and moved to public land. USFWS i maintained should get serious about other sites. There National Forests in SC, Georgia and Florida. Also why not Eglin AFB. near Panama City Fla , that is over 700,000 acres. No hunters there.

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