ASHEVILLE, N.C. – State officials are urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work harder to save endangered red wolves from extinction.
The Albemarle Peninsula in northeastern North Carolina now is the only place in the country where red wolves can be found in the wild, and Heather Clarkson, southeast program outreach representative for the nonprofit group Defenders of Wildlife, said the red wolf population is in dire straits.
“That area of the state is one of the hardest hit from the effects of climate change,” she said. “So, not only are the red wolves facing these really terrible problems with vehicular mortality and gunshot morality and issues like that, but also, they’re losing ground, every single day.”
In letters sent this week to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gov. Roy Cooper – along with the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources – has asked the federal agencies to take immediate action to save the existing, wild red wolf population. For three decades, North Carolina has partnered with Fish and Wildlife to operate a red-wolf recovery program.
Clarkson said she sees the governor’s letters as a step in the right direction.
“This is really the first time that the executive branch within North Carolina has come out in strong support of the program,” she said. “We’ve always kind of held that the program would not be a success elsewhere in the country if it wasn’t a success in North Carolina.”
The recovery program increased red wolves’ numbers from 14 in 1973 to a peak of around 130 animals in the 2000s. Now, the population has shrunk back to what it was in the 1970s. Today, Clarkson said, only 14 red wolves remain in the wild.
“They suffered from the same slaughter over decades and decades, centuries even, when European settlers came here,” she said, “and unfortunately, because the East Coast urbanized so much more quickly than the West, they’ve just not had a foothold to really get on, on this side of the country.”
The governor’s letters call for the restoration of a coyote sterilization program and funding for public education efforts to help hunters and landowners distinguish red wolves from coyotes.