Conservationists Claim Victory for Red Wolves: Defenders Commends Judge's Ruling

(12/30/1998) - The conservation of nearly 200 North Carolina red wolves is assured following U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle's rejection last week of a challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) red wolf reintroduction program. Intervening on behalf of FWS, Defenders of Wildlife began the court battle nearly a year ago when two landowners and two North Carolina counties filed a lawsuit to overturn the FWS regulation that governs the killing or trapping of endangered red wolves on private property. The plaintiffs alleged that the federal regulation to protect endangered red wolves on private property was unconstitutional, but the court disagreed.

"The reintroduction of the red wolf is one of the Endangered Species Act's greatest success stories and the first recovery program in the United States of any species that was officially extinct in the wild," explains Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "This decision represents a significant victory for the endangered red wolf and the Endangered Species Act itself."

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 successfully 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.

"Most of the people who live in North Carolina are as pleased as I am in knowing that these wolves will remain safe and continue to add diversity to the ecosystem," Schlickeisen says. Past studies indicated the majority of North Carolina residents support red wolf recovery.

"The plaintiff's lawsuit was a threat not just to the red wolf but also to the entire Endangered Species Act program", Michael Senatore, wildlife counsel for Defenders of Wildlife says. "This ruling clearly reaffirms the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve our nation's endangered species and should bolster ongoing efforts to restore wolves in other parts of the country. The success of this case is likely to further educate the public and help generate a wider acceptance of wolves."

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," Schlickeisen says. "The people accept these wolves, the land accepts these wolves, and I am relieved to see that the law has accepted these wolves."

Defenders' case was argued by Timothy J. Preso of the Washington, D.C. based law firm Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, L.L.P.



Mike Senatore, 202-682-9400 x292 (Legal)
Jesal Mehta, 202-682-9400 x265 (Media)