FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Diana M. Hawkins February 4, 1997 PUBLIC HEARING SCHEDULED ON EXPANDING RED WOLF PROGRAM TO NORTHWEST FLORIDA'S LITTLE ST. GEORGE ISLAND
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a public hearing at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve to present an outline of the Service's plan to expand the red wolf program on St. Vincent Island to Cape St. George Island (Little St. George Island) off the coast of the Florida Panhandle. "Because the support of the public has been important to the St. Vincent Island project," said Service Southeast Regional Director Noreen K. Clough, "the public is invited to ask questions and make comments on the proposal." The hearing will take place at 7 p.m. on March 3, 1997, at 261 7th Street, Apalachicola, Florida.
The endangered red wolf once roamed throughout what is now the southeastern United States, but predator control programs and shrinking habitat have caused a serious decline in its numbers. In the 1960s, wildlife biologists found that the species was in danger of extinction unless action was immediately taken to save the remaining wolf populations. Passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 was the stimulus that provided resources and funding needed to assist the red wolf. By 1980, the species was, however, considered to be extinct in the wild.
In the late 1970s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established a captive-breeding program for the red wolf. Animals were trapped and taken out of the wild and placed in captive- breeding facilities. Of more than 400 wild canids caught during this period, only 14 proved to be viable, reproducing, red wolves. These 14 founders represent the origin of the present red wolf program.
Efforts to reestablish red wolf wild populations have met with significant success. From 1987 through 1992, 42 captive animals were released into the Service's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina. As of November 1996, there are 41-69 wolves living in and around the refuge. A second release site was established in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, in 1991. Since November 1996, there have been 9-16 wolves living in the Park. Three island propagation projects have also been established--on Bulls Island, a component of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina; on Horn Island, a component of Gulf Islands National Seashore, Mississippi; and on the Service's St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, Florida.
St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge has been a part of the recovery program since 1990. "The Service's role in the recovery of the red wolf is to provide red wolves with wild experience in a somewhat controlled setting before they are released at mainland release sites," Clough said, noting that the Service is not attempting to establish a permanent population of free- ranging red wolves on St. Vincent Island.
Because of the limited space available for red wolves in wild settings, Little St. George Island, Florida, has been selected as a site to be included in the red wolf recovery program. Initially, one or two red wolves are to be released on the island to determine if the area will prove to be suitable habitat for the wolves. "If those animals do well, the project will continue," Clough said. The role that Little St. George Island will play is to provide red wolves with wild experience or maintain wolves in a wild setting until they can be transferred to mainland release sites.
The Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, which manages the island, is enthusiastic about returning a top level predator to the system. The wolves will help to control raccoon numbers, which in turn will reduce depredation to sea turtle nests.
The red wolf is a shy, secretive animal that preys mostly on small to medium-sized mammals. It will prey on a variety of species from rodents to white-tailed deer. It is not as pack- oriented as the larger gray wolf, and it is believed that red wolves mate for life.
Since November 1996, there have been 243-297 red wolves in existence, most of which are found in various captive-breeding projects in the United States. The species is one of the most critically endangered mammals in North America.
Questions and comments regarding the hearing and the red wolf captive breeding program can be directed to St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box 447, Apalachicola, FL 32329, phone 904-653-8808.
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1997 News Releases