Breaking! Court Stops U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service From Jeopardizing Red Wolf Survival After The Department Violated Protection Acts

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Today, a federal judge issued an order declaring that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in its rollback of protections for the world’s only wild population of red wolves, who live in eastern North Carolina.

As reported by WAN last week, the controversial plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to drastically reduce protection for the nation’s only wild population of endangered red wolves, had met nearly unanimous opposition from more than 100,000 members of the public.

Out of 108,124 comments submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service on the proposal, 99.9% spoke out in favor of the red wolves and their need for strong federal protections. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper also spoke out in support of the continued recovery of the nation’s only wild population of endangered red wolves.

Fewer than 50 comments, with 13 of these coming from a single real estate developer, supported the USFWS’ proposal to restrict red wolves to federal lands in Dare County.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina Chief Judge Terrence W. Boyle also made the court’s September 29th, 2016 order stopping the USFWS from capturing and killing red wolves and authorizing private landowners to do the same, permanent.

In examining the USFWS’ previous decisions, Judge Boyle wrote that “taken together, these actions go beyond the agency’s discretion and operate to violate the USFWS mandate to recover this species in the wild.”

“For four years now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been dismantling one of the most successful predator reintroductions in United States history,” Sierra Weaver, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center said in a statement.

“The service knows how to protect and recover the red wolf in the wild, but it stopped listening to its scientists and started listening to bureaucrats instead,” continued the Center which, along with the Animal Welfare Institute, the Red Wolf Coalition, and Defenders of Wildlife, sued the USFWS. “The law doesn’t allow the agency to just walk away from species conservation, like it did here.”

“The district court’s ruling today makes it clear that the USFWS’ recent management decisions have failed to protect the red wolf population,” said Johanna Hamburger, wildlife attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute. “Scientists have warned that if the USFWS continues to ignore the recovery needs of the red wolf, these animals may once again be extinct in the wild by 2024. The court has ruled that this is unacceptable and that the USFWS has a duty under the Endangered Species Act to implement proactive conservation measures to achieve species recovery.”

The USFWS attempted to avoid court action on the conservation groups’ lawsuit by proposing a new rule in June of 2018 to restrict wild red wolves to one National Wildlife Refuge and a bombing range in eastern North Carolina, while allowing the immediate killing of any wolves that live on or wander into nonfederal lands. Previously, these wolves could roam a designated 1.7 million-acre, five-county Red Wolf Recovery Area.

Before the USFWS began dismantling successful conservation actions, the red wolf recovery program served as a model for reintroduction efforts and was widely celebrated as a success for 25 years. Once common throughout the Southeast, intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat drove the red wolf to extinction in the wild in the late 1970s. In an attempt to recover the population, red wolves bred in captivity were reintroduced in the late 1980s on a North Carolina peninsula within their native range.

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