USFWS reinforces wolf protection

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently reinforced red wolf protections by withdrawing a proposed rule that would have limited the species’ protection under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2018, the USFWS proposed revising existing regulations that govern the nonessential experimental population of reintroduced red wolves (Canis rufus) in North Carolina. Under the revision, the agency intended to reduce the red wolf recovery area consisting of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Dare County Bombing Range by 90%. Wolves that wander outside of the defined recovery area can be killed under select circumstances without being considered “take” under the ESA.

The withdrawal of this proposed rule was based on recent court decisions and consideration of the findings of a 2018 species status assessment. The decision means that red wolves will continue to be managed under the 1995 regulations, and the USFWS will continue to be able to release additional wolves into the wild.

At the time of the 2018 proposed rule, an estimated 30 to 35 red wolves lived in the wild. Currently, there are an estimated 15 to 17 wild red wolves, with about 241 living in captive breeding facilities across the United States.

This decision comes as wolves elsewhere continue to be a source of legal controversy. This includes a recent court case brought before a federal judge in California arguing whether the 2020 delisting of gray wolves (Canis lupus) from the Endangered Species Act was warranted. The court case is part of a series of lawsuits challenging the delisting, as western states continue to implement controversial wolf management.

The USFWS is currently conducting a comprehensive status review of the gray wolf in the western U.S. after two petitions were deemed by the agency to have provided credible information indicating relisting under the Endangered Species Act may be warranted. The USFWS is requesting input from the public for any new information or data on the status of the species across the western United States.

For more information, check out TWS’ issue statement on wolf management in the contiguous United States.

Header Image: The USFWS reinforced red wolf (Canis rufus) protections. Credit: Steve Hillebrand/USFWS