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Raise Your Voice Now to Protect Endangered Red Wolves

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is giving up on one of America’s most endangered mammals – will you?

The next 60 days will decide the future of the critically endangered red wolf. Submit comments to the USFWS today, telling them you oppose their plan to reduce the red wolf recovery area.

The car jerked to a stop. As the dust settled around us I could see the moving black smudge in the distance, lumbering slowly through a field in our direction. I lifted the binoculars to my eyes, squinting, turning, rearranging, until suddenly I could see it. It was a black bear – the first time I had ever seen one in the wild. I dropped the binoculars and looked again with my own two eyes in disbelief.

A black bear nudges close to a camera. Just visible behind the bear is a narrow paved road and a line of lush green undergrowth drenched in sunlight.
Photo: Camera trap, Ron Sutherland

While I was new to the job, I was not new to fieldwork. In the past, I conducted research in the tropics, that magical ecosystem where you always feel like you’re on the edge of seeing something wild and spectacular. I had never really experienced that feeling in my own country, but as I saw a powerful black bear in the wild for the first time, that feeling washed over me.

I was working in the red wolf recovery area of northeastern North Carolina, home to several species of wild inhabitants. Already we had seen deer, rattlesnakes, raccoons, owls, and now bears. And that was nothing compared to the diversity we were catching on our field cameras: bobcats, coyotes, red wolves, turkeys, otters, opossums, butterflies, turkey vultures… the list goes on and on. I will never forget the first day I saw a black bear in the wild because it was then I realized that, just outside our urban playgrounds and a few feet from our paved roads, wildness roams free. Many Americans seem to have forgotten that.

Our Wild Heritage at Risk

It’s been more than a year since my first black bear sighting, yet I still feel a rush of excitement and wonder every time I see a piece of America’s wild heritage, especially if I’m lucky enough to catch a rare glimpse of a red wolf.

However, this past fall, America got a little less wild when the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced their decision to significantly reduce the wild red wolf population, which only exists in northeastern North Carolina.

On Tuesday, the agency announced the start of a 60-day public comment period concerning their ill-advised proposal to pull back hard on the wild population of wolves in North Carolina. Now is our chance to tell the USFWS their plan will almost certainly condemn the species to extinction in the wild.

In this closeup shot, a red wolf stares straight at the camera, his ears alert and snout pointed downward.
The fate of red wolves lies with you. Let the USFWS know it is unacceptable to abandon one of America’s most endangered mammals. Photo: Becky Bartell, USFWS

In 1987, red wolves were reintroduced to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, the first time man had attempted to return a large carnivore to the wild, paving the way for more well-known and iconic reintroductions, such as the grey wolves in Yellowstone.

And the red wolves did well out there – their populations rose to an estimated 130 by 2006 – until a few wealthy land developers took it upon themselves to wage war on this small, elusive creature.

Unfortunately, thanks to rising illegal gunshot mortality and a pressured USFWS – who all but abandoned their recovery program in 2015 – the wild population now stands between 40-50 wolves, though some fear the numbers could be even smaller.

With the USFWS’s new decision, the wolves will be lucky if even 15 of them can be supported in the newly proposed restricted recovery area. Having more wolves in zoos does not negate the loss to our wild landscapes, nor does vaguely promising to look into new reintroduction sites, since the USFWS has been promising this for the last 30 years and still have not followed through.

Speak Out in Support of Wild Red Wolves

Now is not the time for the USFWS to give up on one of its most successful and innovative programs. It is not the time for them to cower before a few outspoken elite who don’t represent the majority of hard working landowners in the recovery area. It is not the time for them to give up on their own mandate to protect endangered species.

A group of people stands in front of a large white gazebo, with multiple people holding signs in support of saving red wolves.
A rally in support of the red wolf recovery program this past August in Washington, NC. Polls have shown wide support in North Carolina for red wolves. Photo: Heather Clarkson, Defenders of Wildlife

No, it is time for them to listen to the American people, to the nearly 500,000 people who signed a recent petition in support of the red wolf recovery program, or the 73% of North Carolinians who support red wolves, or the 60% of local residents in the recovery area who want to see red wolves remain wild. It is time for the USFWS to show strength, to show integrity for the agency they represent, to show they are willing to preserve our country’s wild heritage for future generations.

For anyone who has ever caught a glimpse of a wolf or bear or another animal out in the wild, it is an experience you don’t easily forget. Yet that is exactly what the USFWS would have us do with their decision to significantly restrict the red wolf recovery area. We cannot allow red wolves to move quietly into captivity, and we cannot allow them to slip from our wild memories forever.

Wildlands Network is working hard to protect the critically endangered red wolf, but your support is crucial at this moment. Right now, the USFWS is gathering public comments until July 24 as they decide the fate of wild red wolves. Let them know it’s unacceptable to abandon one of America’s most endangered mammals — a species rarer than the Siberian tiger or giant panda — by attending public meetings or submitting comments directly to the agency.

Submit Comment

Public Meetings:

June 6, 2017, 6:30–8:30 p.m. in Swan Quarter, NC
Mattamuskeet High School cafeteria
20392 US–264, Swan Quarter, NC 27885

June 8, 2017, 6:30–8:30 p.m. in Manteo, NC
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge auditorium
100 Conservation Way, Manteo, NC 27954

Tell us what you think!