The nine members of Congress who penned a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell say they blame the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the state of the endangered red wolf population that calls eastern North Carolina home, citing specific examples of how bad decisions have pushed the species to the brink of extinction.
Representatives Raul Grijalva, Debbie Dingell, Jim Langevin, Mark Pocan, Donald Beyer Jr., Alan Lowenthal, Peter DeFazio, Jared Polis, and Betty McCollum—all Democrats, none from North Carolina—say the government has failed the "iconic animal" by abandoning its responsibility to protect the wolves under the Endangered Species Act. They argued that the USFWS's ruling this fall on the future of the Red Wolf Recovery Program, one the feds painted as a victory for the species, would actually all but ensure the wild wolf population would end up in captivity.
"Over the last three years, the [USFWS] has failed to follow the best available science, has ignored the management recommendations made by independent analyses, and has undermined the recovery of the red wolf, causing the population to fall by 50 percent," the letter reads. "The [USFWS] has now proposed to abandon management of red wolves in the wild, and shift focus away from 'trying to establish a self-sustaining population.' This is troubling."
In mid-September, USFWS officials claimed they had figured out a way to save the species from extinction. The feds' plan would focus on securing the captive population of two-hundred-plus wolves living in zoos and other facilities across the county. As USFWS southeast regional director Cindy Dohner said, "The most stunning data shows the captive population is not secure" and "losing the captive population could mean losing the entire species."
But wolf advocates say that the population-viability analysis used by the USFWS to chart its path forward was misinterpreted—in fact, the findings were contrary to several actions taken by the feds before they addressed the Red Wolf Recovery Program. Clearly, at least nine members of Congress agree.
"Unfortunately, 2012 proved to be the high-water mark in red wolf recovery," the letter says. "Soon thereafter, likely in response to complaints by a small number of vocal opponents ... the [USFWS] eliminated the position of the red wolf recovery coordinator, redirected staff to other programs, ended its successful pup fostering and coyote sterilization activities, halted red wolf introductions into the wild, and suspended the red wolf education program."
And the feds also have not been "pursuing prosecution of suspected illegal takes, allowing local opponents of recovery to believe that they can kill wolves with impunity. Of the 17 wolves killed by gunshot since 2013, there has not been a single prosecution."
So the members of Congress asked that Jewell direct USFWS to bring back programs cut since 2012, including landowner education and coyote sterilization. They urged her to see to it that the feds resume reintroductions of captive red wolves into the wild and put an end to a recovery program they say serves the interest of those who want these wild wolves placed into captivity. And they want to see those who kill members of this endangered species prosecuted.
Those members of Congress aren't the only friends the wolves have in high places. This fall, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle ordered a temporary injunction that both restricts the feds' ability to remove the animals from private property and prohibits landowners from shooting them.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Extinction Events."