Appeals Court Upholds Endangered Red Wolf Program

Red Wolves Allowed To Remain

(06/07/2000) - Washington, DC – A court decision upholding a federal regulation that forbids the indiscriminate killing endangered red wolves on private property is “a significant victory for the Endangered Species Act," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

Schlickeisen was commenting on the ruling in a case involving two North Carolina counties and landowners in the state who filed suit seeking to have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) regulation declared to be beyond the federal government’s authority. On Tuesday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the special regulation is constitutional because it ensures continued wolf-related activities pertaining to interstate commerce, including tourism and scientific research.

“This is a major victory for the survival of the red wolf and an even bigger victory for the Endangered Species Act because more than 90 percent of wildlife species have some or all of their habitat on nonfederal lands," said Schlickeisen. “The appeals court ruling reaffirms the authority of the federal government to protect our endangered species from indiscriminate killing on private lands."

The appeals court found that the taking – or killing – of red wolves, and endangered species in general, directly affects interstate commerce. Therefore, the court reasoned that the federal government does have the authority to regulate such killing under the Endangered Species Act. The court wrote:

The taking of red wolves implicates a variety of commercial activities and is closely connected to several interstate markets. The regulation in question is also an integral part of the overall federal scheme to protect, preserve, and rehabilitate endangered species, thereby conserving valuable wildlife resources important to the welfare of our country. Invalidating this provision would call into question the historic power of the federal government to preserve scarce resources in one locality for the future benefit of all Americans.

The court also recognized the economic importance of conserving natural resources, including wildlife, and stated:

Given the existing economic and commercial activity involving red wolves and wildlife generally, Congress could find that conservation of endangered species and economic growth are mutually reinforcing. It is simply not beyond the power of Congress to conclude that a healthy environment actually boosts industry by allowing commercial development of our natural resources.

The red wolf, a smaller and more slender cousin of the timber wolf, originally roamed throughout the eastern United States as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as central Texas. The red wolf was shot, trapped, poisoned, and clubbed to death until 1967 when the federal government declared it an endangered species. In 1975, in an effort to prevent the red wolf’s demise, FWS captured all remaining wild red wolves, which numbered fewer than 20, and began to breed them in captivity.

Reintroduction of the species began in 1987, when captive animals were released into Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeast North Carolina, with later releases into nearby Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. More than 100 red wolves have since been born in the wild, and a stable population of about 60 adults has been established in eastern North Carolina.

“This ruling affirms that protection of wildlife is a matter of national concern, even if the species is so depleted in numbers that it exists in only a single state, or even on only a single parcel of land,"said Tim Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund who represented Defenders of Wildlife in the case. “The court recognized that all Americans have an interest in preventing the extinction of our nation’s wildlife species, wherever those species exist."

In addition to creating a more diverse ecosystem, the wolves have the potential to generate millions of tourist dollars for the eastern North Carolina region. “People love the wolves. They are exquisite, mysterious creatures that belong on this land," said Schlickeisen.

Defenders of Wildlife, founded in 1947, is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of native wild animals and plants in their natural communities.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270