A report on the Red Wolf Recovery Program in eastern North Carolina is highly critical of various aspects of the nearly 30-year old effort to re-introduce the endangered animal into the wild.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contracted out the report to evaluate the program. Currently about 100 red wolves live in a five-county area in and around the Alligator River National Wildlife refuge.
Among other things, the report criticizes the original estimate for how much land would be needed to support the population.
“Wolves don’t recognize boundaries,” said Steve Williams, the director of the Wildlife Management Institute, the outside contractor that wrote the report. “The idea that they would stay on those federal lands doesn’t make sense and isn’t what’s happening today.”
The report also cited problems with public outreach and containment of red wolves. About half of the animals were released on private lands over the years, says the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The report was not entirely critical. It praised many of the efforts by the local U.S. Fish and Wildlife personnel over the years.
“The Red Wolf Recovery Program is a very complex, very difficult program to undertake,” said Williams. “It’s difficult for ecological reasons, legal reasons, and social issues.”
The effort has come under increased scrutiny over the last several years, as coyotes have come into the area and, at times, bred with the wolves. Local landowners frequently shot the wolves, mistaking them for the coyotes. A ban on hunting coyotes in the five-county area was recently lifted.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service spends more than $1 million per year on the Red Wolf Recovery Program. The report is part of a larger effort to evaluate it and determine its future.
“We’ll use it together with other information to help our agency address and determine the program’s future in eastern North Carolina,” said Leopoldo Miranda, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Assistant Regional Director for Ecological Services.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could expand or end the Red Wolf Recovery Program. It will make that decision in early 2015.