RALEIGH — Seventeen North Carolina legislators have joined a dozen lawmakers from other states in condemning a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to reduce the federal red wolf recovery area in northeastern North Carolina to land within the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the adjacent Dare County Bombing Range.
In a joint statement submitted Monday, the 29 state legislators said the plan to reduce the recovery area by 90 percent would wipe out the population of red wolves, of which fewer than 30 remain in the wild.
The proposal, announced June 28, would also allow land owners to kill any wolves found outside the restricted area. The public comment period on the plan ended Monday.
The Animal Welfare Institute of Washington, D.C., said most of the more than 50,000 comments received were opposed to the agency’s plan.
“North Carolina, its citizens, legislators and a majority of Americans believe that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should expand its efforts to recover the red wolf and its habitat,” said North Carolina Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, who signed the statement. “The agency is blatantly neglecting its job and its duty under the Endangered Species Act.”
Harrison was joined in signing the statement by North Carolina Reps. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover; John Autry, D-Mecklenburg; Verla Insko, D-Orange; Gale Adcock, D-Wake; Joe John, D-Wake; Bobbie Richardson, D-Franklin; Marcia Morey, D-Durham; Susan C. Fisher, D-Buncombe; Grier Martin, D-Wake; Yvonne Lewis Holley, D-Wake; Evelyn Terry, D-Forsyth; Mary Belk, D-Mecklenburg; and Sens. Floyd McKissick Jr., D-Durham; Paul Lowe Jr. D-Forsyth; Valerie P. Foushee, D-Chatham; and Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe. Also signing were state legislators from Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana, Connecticut, Washington, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Alaska, Michigan and Ohio.
The USFWS proposal comes nearly two years after a federal court ordered the agency to stop capturing and killing endangered red wolves, in response to a lawsuit brought by the Animal Welfare Institute, Defenders of Wildlife and the Red Wolf Coalition, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The animal protection and conservation groups are challenging the USFWS in federal court.
In their statement, the legislators urged the USFWS to consider an alternative plan, “Alternative 2,” which recommends regular reintroductions of new individuals to boost the wild population of red wolves, a renewal of efforts to prevent interbreeding of red wolves and coyotes, stepped-up law enforcement against poachers and broader outreach to local residents.
“Rather than reverse red wolf recovery and accelerate population loss by diminishing the North Carolina recovery area, (the USFWS) should work to better protect the existing wild population through actions such as reducing gunshot mortality and gaining support from adjacent landowners,” the legislators wrote.
The red wolf recovery program was once considered successful. Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild in 1980. Four pairs of captive wolves were transferred to the Alligator River refuge in 1987 and a five-county recovery area was created in 1995. By 2006, an estimated 130 to 150 wolves roamed the recovery area.
Supporters say the animals are naturally reclusive and not a threat to humans or livestock. “Rather, they preyed on animals such as the nutria—which the state has spent millions to eradicate—while keeping the coyote population in check,” according to the Animal Welfare Institute.
But landowners in the northeastern part of the state say that wolves that have ventured outside the refuge and onto their properties have destroyed crops, killed livestock, wiped out deer and rabbit populations and other wildlife and interbred with coyotes. They see the recovery program as a violation of their private property rights. Some have accused federal officials of mismanaging the program.