Red Wolf Recovery Threatened

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(06/04/1997) - Defenders of Wildlife today filed a Motion to Intervene in court on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which has been sued by two individuals and two North Carolina counties challenging the reintroduction of red wolves in North Carolina. The plaintiffs are asking the court to invalidate a federal rule that regulates wolf control on private property. If successful, the plaintiffs and other opponents of the red wolf program would have almost unlimited authority to trap and kill red wolves on private property.

Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen said, "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. This lawsuit not only threatens the recovery of the red wolf, but also other efforts to restore threatened and endangered species throughout the country."

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 up until 1967 when it was determined by the federal government to be an endangered species. In 1975, in an effort to prevent the red wolf_s demise, the FWS captured all remaining wild red wolves, which numbered fewer than 20, and began to successfully breed them in captivity. Reintroduction began in 1987 when captive animals were released into Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Northeast North Carolina, with later releases of additional wolves 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 adult animals has been established.

As a basis for their lawsuit, the plaintiffs have argued that the reintroduction program is causing them to live in fear of danger from red wolves. In response, Schlickeisen stated, "The parties challenging the red wolf program represent a small but vocal group of citizens who do not understand or care about the ecological role large predators play in healthy ecosystems, so they attempt to give credence to unfounded fears that wolves pose threats to humans." He continued, "There has never been a documented case in the United States of a healthy, wild wolf seriously injuring a human being. The bottom line is that wolves do not pose any threat to human beings."

Despite the lawsuit, recent studies have indicated that a majority of North Carolina residents surveyed support the red wolf recovery effort. Some of this support may be due to the fact that wolf restoration can also be a success for local economies by bringing in more tourist dollars. Studies conducted by the National Park Service determined that the restoration of wolves in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming would lead to more tourist visits and an increase in millions of tourist dollars. A red wolf study done by Bill Rosen of Cornell University found that, "More than 70 percent of the people we talked with said they want to visit one of the recovery regions, and 27 percent said they would be less likely to visit if the red wolves are removed." The same study also found that the Great Smoky Mountain region and the eastern North Carolina region would garner an economic benefit of many millions of dollars from the reintroduction project.

Schlickeisen concluded, "We must not allow a small minority of misinformed citizens to use fear tactics to prevent the recovery of this very important predator. Facts, not fear, must prevail."

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270

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