Wildlands Network is merging science with activism to ensure that red wolves in the southeastern U.S. remain wild and free. Red wolves are among the most critically endangered mammals in the world. In fact, recent published estimates indicate that of the world’s remaining terrestrial top carnivore species, the red wolf has lost the greatest percentage of its global habitat (>99%). Only 30–50 red wolves currently exist in the wild, all of them inhabiting eastern North Carolina. Unless the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) takes urgent measures on their behalf, red wolves may soon be gone from the wild forever.
Red wolves (Canis rufus) are native to a broad range across the eastern U.S. Due to decades of persecution and habitat degradation, red wolves were declared extinct in the wild in 1980—when the last wild wolves were brought into captivity. Seven years later, the FWS reintroduced red wolves to North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. This program served as the model for carnivore reintroduction efforts around the world, including the well-known reintroduction of grey wolves into Yellowstone National Park. By 2006, the red wolf population had expanded to more than 130 individuals.
This success was short-lived, however, and the population has once again dwindled due to a surge in the number of wolves killed by humans. Today, after spending millions of dollars to increase the red wolf population in North Carolina, the FWS has caved to political pressure from a wealthy real estate developer (the leader of the anti-wolf movement in NC) and is on the brink of abandoning the Red Wolf Recovery Program altogether.
In 2015, the agency stopped all releases of captive wolves into the wild, and also stopped their innovative coyote management program that was helping minimize the rate of hybridization between red wolves and coyotes.
In 2016, FWS announced plans to scale back the recovery area to include only public lands in Dare County, North Carolina—which could sustain a maximum of 15 red wolves. Any wolves outside of this area will once again be brought into captivity. Anti-wolf agitators have spread false rumors about red wolves preying on too many deer, and even the FWS has misled the public by stating that the captive red wolf population is at risk of extinction—a blatant attempt to justify their disastrous plan.
Why Red Wolves?
Red wolves are native to the southeastern U.S., and presumably once played a vital role in regulating populations of deer, keeping them from overbrowsing rare plants, tree seedlings, and other vegetation. Red wolves also likely helped control raccoons and possums, preventing these smaller predators from overpopulating to the point of endangering native songbirds. Coyotes—even those having some wolf genes—do not appear to be filling the red wolf’s ecological niche.
To address some common misconceptions about the red wolf and its impact on wildlife and people, we prepared a detailed Myths and Facts summary that combats these myths with scientific fact.
Wildlands Network wants to see healthy red wolf populations restored to all core natural areas in the Southeast, and connected by safe habitat corridors. If we lose North Carolina’s red wolf population, we might never see another attempt at recovery—nor another red wolf in the wild.
In 2018, the FWS is expected to release their updated proposal on whether they will end or continue the red wolf program. The agency solicited comments from the general public in 2017 regarding the scope of recovery efforts for the red wolf.
To be sure the comments were counted correctly, Wildlands Network organized a team from a range of organizations and volunteers to quickly tally all 55,000+ public comments. In the end, we showed that 99.8% of the comments were in favor of doing more—not less—to save the red wolf! Sign up for our e-newsletter to be sure to receive an action alert when the FWS does release its new plan.
Wildlands Network’s red wolf fieldwork was also recently featured in a full-page article in the Washington Post—read it here.
Film: Red Wolf Revival
Roshan Patel’s award-winning short film, Red Wolf Revival (2015), tells the story of the last remaining wild population of red wolves. Centered on the historic recovery effort in Eastern North Carolina, and co-starring Wildlands Network’s Ron Sutherland, the film documents the struggle to reintroduce one of the rarest animals on Earth in the face of cultural, economic, and biological challenges.
Film: Staring Down Fate
Another award-winning red wolf film is due to be released soon—Staring Down Fate (2018) by filmmaker Jeff Mittelstadt. The film tells the heartbreaking yet inspiring story of a red wolf biologist, Chris Lucash, who spent his career working to save the wolves before suddenly contracting ALS in 2015.
Wildlands Network is focused on 3 primary activities to help save the red wolf.
- Conducting an ambitious wildlife camera-trapping project in North Carolina’s red wolf recovery area. Our ongoing results seem to disprove any notion that wolves have eaten all of the deer or other game animals in the region. View our photographs at www.flickr.com/photos/redwolfreality/albums.
- Promoting political pressure on the FWS to continue the Red Wolf Recovery Program. In 2016, we helped deliver a petition with nearly half a million signatures to FWS leaders, urging them to fulfill their legal duty on behalf of red wolves under the Endangered Species Act. In 2017, we led an effort to properly tally the red wolf comments received by FWS regarding their proposal to scale back the recovery program—an astounding 99.8% of the 55,000+ comments were pro-red-wolf! We also organize informational meetings with Congressional and FWS staff in Washington, D.C.
- Advocating for red wolves in North Carolina via newspaper editorials, public presentations, and spirited rallies. A few of Dr. Ron Sutherland’s editorials are listed below.
- Talk About Government Waste, June 2017
- By Night, Hunters Would Blast Red Wolves Into Extinction, March 2017
- Leaders Failed Red Wolf Program, October 2016
- Red Wolves Need to be Preserved, April 2016
- Red Wolf Debacle shows U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lacking Spine, July 2015
- Deer, Wolves and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, February 2015
In our efforts to save red wolves in the wild, Wildlands Network collaborates with numerous organizations, including:
- Animal Welfare Institute
- Center for Biological Diversity
- Defenders of Wildlife
- Endangered Species Coalition
- North Carolina Wildlife Federation
- Red Wolf Coalition
- Wild South
Help us share our camera-trap results from the Red Wolf Recovery Area with as many people as possible view so they can see for themselves the diversity of wildlife in this area. Please circulate the link to our photos widely: www.flickr.com/photos/redwolfreality/albums, and support the field project with your donation.
You can also check out our new Instagram account about the iconic red wolves of North Carolina! Featuring our camera trap images from red wolf country, the Instagram account tells the survival story of these hardy creatures, who coexist with the wild around them. Visit @redwolfreality on Instagram to learn more.
Also, with the election of a new governor in North Carolina, we have an exciting chance to change the political dynamics of red wolf protection.
For more information about our work to save red wolves, please contact Ron Sutherland, Conservation Scientist, email@example.com.