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Working with Landowners to Advocate for Red Wolves

In this closeup shot, a red wolf stares straight at the camera, his ears alert and snout pointed downward.
The fate of red wolves is uncertain. Photo: Becky Bartell, USFWS

At Wildlands Network, we continuously strive to find innovative ways to advocate for carnivores in the East. In North Carolina, the red wolf is one of the most endangered species in the world, with only about 20-25 animals left in the wild today. While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with recovering the species, their most recent recovery plan shrunk the wolves’ recovery area by 90 percent, restricting the wolves to only five counties in North Carolina (Dare, Tyrrell, Hyde, Beaufort, and Washington counties). In addition, the FWS issued two take permits that did not meet the criteria set by the original management plan.

In the fall of 2018, a federal U.S. judge released a court ruling stating the FWS cannot authorize an illegal take of a red wolf in the five counties of the red wolf recovery area in North Carolina. We considered this ruling a victory in the fight to protect red wolves—but there is much more work to be done. So we continue our on-the-ground efforts to protect this iconic and uniquely American species.

Learn more about red wolves

In January and February, Wildlands Network held two listening sessions to hear from and meet residents of the five counties of the red wolf recovery area. These sessions allowed us to develop relationships with people who live around red wolves and other canids on a daily basis. From these listening sessions, our outreach efforts have expanded even further into the dense, sparsely populated swamps of eastern North Carolina in the form of a landowner camera-trapping project.

Carly shows a landowner the ins and outs of a camera. Photo: Wildlands Network

The landowner camera project is the latest part of our already established camera trapping efforts on Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges. Our Chief Scientist, Dr. Ron Sutherland, designed the landowner camera project in 2018 as an outreach strategy to reach the people in red wolf country who would otherwise be difficult to reach due to isolation. Using contacts created from our on-the-ground efforts like the listening sessions, we recruited more than 20 individuals to host a trail camera on their private land throughout the red wolf recovery area.

Camera traps are securely tied to trees on landowners’ properties. Photo: Wildlands Network

As our Coastal Plain Conservationist in North Carolina, I am actively organizing and recruiting volunteers to participate. I meet each participant at his or her home or farmland to deploy the trail camera. To get optimal photos, it is essential we find a tree in a good location that will not fall during the course of the camera deployment. Moreover, it is important to find a tree near a small clearing with minimal vegetation so the animal will be visible in the photograph. As you can probably imagine, visible wildlife trails are also key indicators of an optimal spot for a camera. Once the landowner and myself agree on a good tree, I mount the camera, which is protected with a bear-proof box, cable, and lock. The deployment length will vary for each landowner and location but will last anywhere from two to four months.

There are several benefits to the landowner camera project. First, the deployments give me a chance to forge relationships with local landowners and speak with them face to face, allowing me to teach them about our important work in red wolf country, the rest of the East, and across the continent. Second, this particular project allows Wildlands Network to reach people who live in rural areas and who are often not necessarily avid Internet users.

A canid looks directly at a camera trap. Photo: Wildlands Network

Most importantly, however, by educating people about native wildlife such as bears, wolves, and coyotes, we aim to amend any misconceptions that may surround these ecologically important species. We hope that as participants develop more interest in the natural world around them, the coexistence barriers that currently exist will slowly start to fall in red wolf country. As these landowners talk with neighbors, coworkers, family members, and friends, we hope they become an integral part of our mission to advocate for wolves.

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