The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must update its plan for saving endangered red wolves within the next 30 months, according to a legal agreement reached over a lawsuit in federal court.
Red wolves, which are native to the southeastern United States, have dwindled to only a handful in the wild scattered across parts of Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington and Beaufort counties.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to release a draft revised red wolf recovery plan next year.
“With only nine wolves known to remain in the wild, the red wolf desperately needed this good news,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The science shows that the red wolf can be saved, and I’m hopeful that a new recovery plan will put the species back on the road to recovery.”
A government study released in March 2019 found the red wolves that roam the counties just inland of the Outer Banks are a unique species – and not coyote/gray wolf hybrids as some have claimed.
The agreement, approved Oct. 2 by U.S. Chief District Judge Terrence Boyle of the Eastern District of North Carolina, requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete a final revised recovery plan for red wolves by Feb. 28, 2023.
A lawsuit filed by the center challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure by the end of 2018 to revise the recovery plan from 1990.
The Endangered Species Act requires that the agency prepare plans that serve as roadmaps to species recovery, identifying measures needed to ensure conservation and survival, such as reintroductions.
According to a report from the center, identifying five potential reintroduction sites that together could support nearly 500 breeding pairs of red wolves. All the sites are on public lands in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
The center also said the Fish and Wildlife Service has not taken steps to reintroduce red wolves elsewhere and has stopped taking many actions — such as widespread sterilization of coyotes to prevent hybrid animals from harming the gene pool — that are necessary to conserve the remaining wild population.
“Time is running out to save red wolves and government foot-dragging has only made the problem worse,” Adkins said. “It’s frustrating that we’ve had to sue time and again to get action. Hopefully this win finally gets these vulnerable wolves the help they need.”
Another lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center is still pending in federal court that claimed the government was withholding requested information about the red wolf population.