This story was written for North Carolina News Service by Mary Kuhlman:
RALEIGH, N.C. – The shooting death of a mother red wolf in the Red Wolf Recovery Area of eastern North Carolina is a significant loss, conservation groups say.
The state’s red wolves are the only wild population of the species in the world, and were reintroduced decades after being on the brink of extinction. Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowed the animal to be killed after a landowner’s claim that attempts at trapping were unsuccessful.
Sierra Weaver, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the agency can authorize a killing after it has abandoned efforts to remove unwanted wolves.
“What we understand is that the landowner in this case actually didn’t allow the Fish and Wildlife Service access to the land,” she said. “So, how it could have considered itself to have abandoned efforts is a really tough question, and an especially tough question in light of how endangered this species is.”
Weaver said the slain wolf had four previous litters, adding that the loss of any breeding adult red wolf is damaging to conservation of the species.
Meanwhile, the Fish and Wildlife Service contended that it must respect property rights and said the landowner had conducted prior wolf trappings on his own.
Mike Senatore, vice president for conservation law for Defenders of Wildlife, said the landowner prevented the Fish and Wildlife Service from doing its job, but the agency was under no obligation to approve the kill. In his view, the agency should remove the provision that allows landowners to ask for removal or lethal control.
“This rule enables landowners, without any showing the species is creating conflict, to simply request that they be removed is actually undermining what ultimately is Fish and Wildlife’s mission under the Endangered Species Act – which is to actually recover the species in the wild,” he said.
Senatore said private lands in North Carolina are essential for red wolf recovery, and suggested that state and federal conservation agencies commit to funding outreach efforts to landowners.
Defenders of Wildlife also is asking the Fish and Wildlife Service to ban all red wolf lethal control and increase the number of captive-bred wolves released into the wild.
For more on the red wolves’ reintroduction into North Carolina and native species’ interaction with human populations, read Xpress‘ story from November 2014, “Taming the Wild: Urbanization pits humans against animals.”