Today, activists delivered nearly half a million petition signatures to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) urging the agency to fulfill its legal duty under the Endangered Species Act to recover the critically endangered red wolf. It’s estimated just 45 red wolves remain in the wild.
A total of 498,369 petition signatures were submitted in a petition drive organized by local North Carolina high school students Ben Z. and Alex T., the Animal Welfare Institute, Care2, the Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Species Coalition and the Wildlands Network. The petition signatures comes a little over a year after the Service officially announced it was suspending red wolf releases into the wild.
“It’s shameful how the Service has bowed to political pressure and deliberately undermined the success of its program to recover red wolves,” said Jamie Pang, endangered species campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency’s inaction is condemning this species to extinction.”
Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild until a successful reintroduction program was established in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in 1987. This program pushed the population up to more than 150 wolves by 2001; since then, the animals have received ample support from conservationists, the public and even private landowners who live within the red wolf recovery area.
“Hundreds of thousands of members of the Care2 community are speaking up for red wolves, demanding that the howls of these amazing animals continue to sound through North Carolina. We hope our federal wildlife leaders hear this call and reverse course immediately,” said Aaron Viles, Care2’s Senior Grassroots Organizer.
“Until recently, the Service operated a successful red wolf recovery program with widespread public support for saving the wolves,” said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute. “However, without a valid reason, the agency has now turned its back on the species and, instead, is sitting idly by as red wolf numbers plummet.”
“It’s simply jaw-dropping that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is consciously deciding whether to issue a death sentence — knowingly allowing a wolf found only in the United States to go extinct. The red wolf has been one of our greatest wildlife success stories and could be again,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “It is a day I never thought I’d see.”
Following a successful lawsuit by nonprofit groups to limit the nighttime coyote hunting threatened the red wolf’s survival, USFWS faced increased political pressure to curtail the recovery program. In 2014, USFWS eliminated the program’s recovery coordinator position, and in June 2015, it stopped the introduction of new red wolves into the wild. The agency also ended its coyote sterilization program, which was helping to prevent hybrid animals from harming the red wolf’s gene pool, and curtailed law enforcement investigations of wolf deaths that would help bring poachers to justice.
“The red wolf is now one of the world’s most endangered mammal species. There are 37 times as many giant pandas, 100 times as many snow leopards, and 400 times as many African lions in the wild as there are red wolves left in eastern North Carolina,” said Ron Sutherland, a conservation scientist at Wildlands Network. “We hope Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will listen to the public and prevent the red wolf from going extinct in the wild again.”