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 about 20 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 North Carolina) 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.
Wildlands Network’s red wolf fieldwork was also featured in a full-page article in the Washington Post—read it here.
- 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.
- Protect Wolf Population, April 2018
- 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
- Assessing red wolves as protectors of bobwhite quail. In 2020 we launched a new field project in the red wolf recovery area, using science to determine if there is a relationship between the presence of the wolves and the local abundance of bobwhite quail. Quail are an economically and culturally important game bird species across the longleaf pine belt of the southeastern U.S., but their populations in the region have been declining steeply for decades. Apart from habitat loss, one potential contributing factor for the decline of quail is the overabundance of mesopredator mammals such as raccoons and opossums, which eat the eggs of the ground-nesting quail. Mesopredators have benefited from the loss of top carnivores such as the red wolf, while raccoons and other species also benefit from food subsidies obtained by raiding urban trash cans. In the years of fieldwork we conducted at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, we noticed that quail, in fact, seem to be doing very well. We heard and saw the birds on all of our summer trips to Alligator River. Since red wolves are known to kill and eat racoons and other mesopredators, we hypothesized: Could it be that the presence of the wolves is actually providing a strong positive benefit for quail nesting productivity? In the summer of 2020 we conducted a large series of point counts for quail to find out. We’ll compare the quail data to our camera trap detection rates for wolves and mesopredators to try to establish whether there is a relationship between these species (while also taking habitat into account). This project has been supported by a generous grant from WildAid Canada Society.
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
- Southern Environmental Law Center
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.