Defenders Fights Legal Challenge of Red Wolf Program in North Carolina

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(10/27/1999) - Defenders of Wildlife today announced that it will fight the latest legal maneuvering attempting to lessen protection for endangered red wolves in North Carolina. Just one week after North Carolinians showed overwhelming support for red wolves by celebrating Wolf Awareness Week, two landowners and two North Carolina counties will file an appeal Thursday in Richmond seeking to overturn a December 1998 federal court ruling that ensured protections for red wolves on private property. Defenders will contest this new appeal, set to be heard in the 4th District Court in Virginia.

“The opposition against red wolf recovery in North Carolina has been small but incredibly vocal," said Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife. “They’ve had this case in court for years, and they just refuse to see that not only is it legal to revive the red wolf population in North Carolina, it is our moral duty to do so."

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, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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 in eastern North Carolina.

“Most of the people who live in North Carolina are as pleased as I am in knowing that these wolves are back where they belong and that they will continue to add diversity to the ecosystem," said Schlickeisen. Studies demonstrate the majority of North Carolina residents support red wolf recovery.

“The plaintiff’s lawsuit is a threat not just to red wolves, but also to the entire Endangered Species Act program", said Michael Senatore, wildlife counsel for Defenders of Wildlife. “The 1998 ruling clearly reaffirmed the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve our nation’s endangered species and it bolstered ongoing efforts to restore wolves in other parts of the country. This latest appeal is something we anticipated, and it’s something we are prepared to fight."

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. “The people accept these wolves, the land in North Carolina accepts these wolves, and so does the law."

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270

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