From Tara C. Zuardo
Wildlife Attorney at the Animal Welfare Institute
To Whom It May Concern:
On October 29 2012 and you did stories on the red wolves being found shot dead in North Carolina (by Jake Frankel). There is a hearing on the next step of this campaign on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 in case you are interested for Mountain Express: We are suing the North Carolina state wildlife agency for authorizing day and night hunting in the red wolf’s recovery area of an identical looking animal – coyotes – and hence violating the Endangered Species Act, which the red wolf is listed under. Again, the hearing on our injunction is this coming Tuesday, February 11, 2014. I have included below a list of facts about this red wolf population, and I am happy to send you anything else you need – a press release, mortality statistics, court documents, etc.:
-The red wolf (Canis rufus) once ranged throughout the eastern and southcentral United States. Intensive predator control programs and the degradation and alteration of the species’ habitat had greatly reduced its numbers by the early 20th Century, however. Designated as an endangered species in 1967, the red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980. In 1987, an experimental population of red wolves was reintroduced into eastern North Carolina. Four pairs were released into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The red wolf recovery area is approximately 1.7 million acres along North Carolina’s Albemarle Peninsula. This is the home to the only population in the wild.
-Between June 2013, when the Red Wolf Education Center opened, to December 2013, there were approximately 2,000 visitors from around the world who came to learn about red wolves. The Red Wolf Coalition gave 40 scheduled programs and about 12 special programs for various organizations. There is much local support of and interest in the wolf population.
-Total current estimated population is only 90-110 wolves, making the red wolf one of the most endangered species in the world. –
-USFWS has determined that gunshot mortality is the single biggest threat to the recovery of the wild red wolf population. Since 2008, up to ten percent of the wild population has been shot each year (confirmed death for 20 wolves, suspected cause of death for additional 18 wolves). The number of wolves killed by gunshot increased between 2012 and 2013.
-Because of the similarity of appearance between red wolves and coyotes, it is nearly impossible for individual hunters to avoid shooting red wolves, during the day or night. Larger coyotes can weigh 35 to 40 pounds, and while red wolves are typically in the 60-pound range, smaller females can weigh 45 to 50 pounds, infringing on the typical size of a large coyote. Judging 60 pounds versus 40 pounds at a distance might be incredibly difficult. U.S. Fish and -Wildlife Service (USFWS) red wolf recovery team members believe the wolves tend to be killed because they are considered to be large coyotes and thus make for larger hunting trophies.
-To combat interbreeding and lower coyote populations in the area, the USFWS captures and sterilizes coyotes. Sterilized coyotes are then outfitted with radio collars, released back into the wild and utilized by the USFWS to expand the range of red wolves. Hunting coyotes in the red wolf recovery area – and thus the shooting of sterilized “placeholder” coyotes — allows unsterilized coyotes to move into red wolf territory, increasing opportunities for inbreeding between red wolves and coyotes, decreasing the genetic integrity of the wild population, and injuring red wolves by disrupting population dynamics.
-Daytime coyote hunting has been authorized in the recovery area by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) since 1993, and they proposed adding night time hunting with spotlights in February of 2012. A coalition of conservation organizations (Animal Welfare Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, Red Wolf Coalition and Southern Environmental Law Center) sued and obtained a temporary injunction to block the temporary rulemaking (authorizing night time hunting with spotlights in the recovery area) in November 2012. However, the North Carolina General Assembly then allowed the permanent rulemaking (again, authorizing night time hunting with spotlights) to go into effect in July 2013. There is no language in the state regulations indicating the red wolves should be avoided when killing coyotes, and no information distributed to hunters to let them know that red wolves live in the recovery area and should be avoided when hunting or simply shooting coyotes.
-Just between Oct 28 and Nov 19, 2013, USFWS recovered the bodies of five red wolves with gunshot wounds, and a collar for a sixth. A month later, they found a bullet-ridden body of a seventh red wolf. Nearly 10 percent of the population died during this time span.
-Anyone found responsible for illegally “taking” or killing red wolves is subject to up to a year in prison and $100,000 fine, but the threat of this punishment and the $25,000+ reward offer still has not led to any leads for fall 2013 deaths.
-According to USFWS, red wolves rely heavily on the set social structure of a pack, comprised of five to eight wolves, to grow and maintain the population. One component of that pack involves breeding pairs, or “breeders” — two wolves that bond for life and mate once a year in February. All seven wolves killed during the fall 2013 span were adults, and by extension, potential breeders. These breeder deaths can damn populations in the future because they are what actually contribute to the growth of the population. In addition, the total number of red wolf pups born during whelping season has decreased each of the last three years, from 43 pups in 2010, to 34 pups in 2013.
-The 60 day notice of intent to sue for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission for violations of the Endangered Species Act; causing the illegal take of endangered red wolves by authorizing day and night hunting was filed on July 30, 2013. The federal complaint was filed on October 17, 2013. The motion for a preliminary injunction was filed on December 16, 2013. The hearing on the injunction is February 11, 2014.