New red wolf recovery plan calls for more reintroductions, fewer killings

Red Wolf. Credit: B. Bartel/USFWS.

In response to a legal victory by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a new recovery plan for the red wolf, the world’s most endangered canid.

The final plan calls for several measures to promote red wolf conservation, including the establishment of new wolf populations and a reduction in human-caused wolf deaths.

“This new plan gives me hope for these critically endangered red wolves,” said Will Harlan, Southeast director at the Center. “We’ll keep pushing the Fish and Wildlife Service to quickly identify several sites for new red wolf populations.”

The plan’s recovery vision is to have three “wild and free” populations of red wolves coexisting with people across portions of the species’ historic range in the Southeastern United States. But the Service’s plan fails to name any specific sites for reintroduction despite the fact that scientists have identified more than 20,000 square miles of suitable habitat that could support nearly 500 breeding pairs of red wolves.

The plan identifies several important measures to address human-caused wolf deaths, such as public outreach to promote coexistence. It also recognizes the need to enforce laws protecting red wolves from poachers. Reflective orange collars worn by wolves and more signs along roads aim to reduce vehicle collisions.

In the spring the Milltail red wolf family, which lives in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, gave birth for the second year in a row. The Service placed a foster pup from a captive litter with the five puppies born in the wild den. In June scientists spotted the family with six pups, confirming that the red wolf mother adopted the foster pup.

“It’s so encouraging to see the agency proactively working to return red wolves to their rightful place on the landscape,” said Harlan. “We can save the red wolf if the Fish and Wildlife Service continues to follow through and implements the plan’s life-saving conservation measures.”

Once abundant across the Southeast, red wolves now live in just five counties in eastern North Carolina near the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. According to the Service’s most recent estimate, just 13 confirmed red wolves remain in the wild.

In 2019 the Center sued the Fish and Wildlife Service after the agency failed to follow through on its commitment to update the red wolves’ decades-old recovery plan by the end of 2018. A 2020 agreement required the Service to complete a final recovery plan this year.

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