The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit Monday, alleging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was withholding requested information on the endangered red wolf population in eastern North Carolina.
The Freedom of Information Act lawsuit claims that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is breaking public records law by refusing to release information on the wolves, whose population in the wild has shrunk to around a dozen.
The red wolf once roamed much of the southeastern United States, but was declared extinct in 1980, edged out by predators like gray wolves and coyotes. Fourteen remaining red wolves were captured in Texas and Louisiana before the extinction declaration and were used to establish a breeding program.
In 1987, a few mated pairs were released as an experiment in reintroduction at the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge. That experiment grew to a population of more than 100 red wolves covering five eastern North Carolina counties, including Dare and Hyde.
But in recent years, a “vocal group of landowners pushed the government to abandon recovery efforts, arguing the animal is a coyote hybrid,” according to the Associated Press. This year, there have been no breeding pairs in North Carolina, and only 14 red wolves are believed to remain.
In 2015, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission asked the federal government to end the red wolf conservation program and began removing some protections for the endangered canines. Last year, the federal government considered a proposal to reduce the conservation area to just Dare and Hyde counties.
The SELC says it is seeking to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s management the remaining wild red wolf population. But, the group alleges, “the agency continues to stall in responding to the requests, leaving SELC and the public in the dark as to what the government agency is currently doing, and plans to do, regarding the last wild red wolves.”