For Immediate Release
January 11, 1999

Contact: Tom MacKenzie
404/679-7291

FEDERAL COURT UPHOLDS FEDERAL
AUTHORITY TO REGULATE "TAKING" OF RED WOLVES

redwolf.jpg (86083 bytes)
Photo: Red wolf, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

On December 21, 1998, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina granted the Federal Government's (and Defenders of Wildlife's) Motion for Summary Judgment in a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the federal regulations regarding red wolves on private lands.

Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild in 1980, and were reintroduced to northeastern North Carolina in 1987. Currently, about 75 red wolves live in a patchwork of one million acres of federal, state and private lands in five northeastern North Carolina counties.

Reintroduced red wolves are designated under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as experimental non-essential. This designation provides the opportunity to relax the "take" (e.g., harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect) provisions of the ESA and provides for public input as a component of formulating the regulations governing the species. The regulations for red wolves allow the public to take red wolves in defense of human life or when such taking is not intentional or willful.

Any taking of a red wolf must be reported within 24 hours.

Landowners have the option to request that the Service remove wolves from their land. Landowners may also harass wolves using methods that are not lethal or physically injurious, take red wolves in the act of killing livestock or pets, and take wolves after efforts by project personnel have been abandoned -- when approved in writing, provided such taking is reported within 24 hours.

"The regulations reflect the Service's commitment to balance the needs of private landowners with our mandate to recover a species," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Director Sam D. Hamilton.

There are no restrictions on how landowners may use their land when red wolves are present, he added.

Statistics covering the 11-year red wolf reintroduction program in northeastern North Carolina do prove that actual conflicts between red wolves and local residents are manageable, according to Red Wolf Coordinator Gary Henry.

"Private landowners have filed 77 complaints concerning red wolves," said Henry. ALess than half -- 32 complaints -- actually involved wolves. Of the 32 complaints involving wolves, the majority (81%) were simply that wolves were present where they were not wanted -- they were not causing a problem. Of the six remaining incidents involving wolves, only two could be confirmed as actual depredations involving loss of livestock or pets."

"When red wolves are confirmed as the cause of a depredation, money is paid for animals lost," said Henry. "Depredating wolves may also be removed from the population and placed in captivity or euthenized, if necessary, to stop the loss of livestock. Both solutions have occurred in northeastern North Carolina."

Henry reports that three independent surveys (two of residents in the reintroduction area and one of people in eight southeastern states) have indicated widespread support for red wolf restoration. Likewise, analysis of the economic impact of red wolf restoration reveals significant economic benefit to local economies. Research conducted at Cornell University predicted an annual regional economic benefit between $40 million and $184 million for northeastern North Carolina due to increased tourism. Additionally, the 1997 Cornell study indicated that the American public is willing to pay more than $3 million dollars per year in the eight states surveyed and more than $18 million per year nationally to support the red wolf project in northeastern North Carolina.

The reestablishment of red wolves to northeastern North Carolina is a landmark program in species conservation. It is the first successful restoration of a species declared extinct in the wild to a portion of its former range. In the 1970s, the Service removed the last 14 red wolves from the wild to establish a captive breeding program with the goal of eventually restoring wolves to the wild. From these 14 founder animals, there are currently a total of between 232 and 321 red wolves in captive breeding facilities, on island projects, and in the wild population in northeastern North Carolina.

The current red wolf recovery plan requires the Service to establish three separate wild populations of red wolves totaling at least 220 individuals. The Service is now in the process of reviewing 11 years of restoration data and is consulting with other experts to identify additional reintroduction sites. The success of the Service's northeastern North Carolina red wolf program illustrates that restoration is possible in areas with diverse public and private land use.

The success of the northeastern North Carolina red wolf program also provides a heretofore unavailable opportunity to learn more about red wolf biology, behavior, and ecology, such as the relationship between coyotes and red wolves. Interbreeding between coyotes and red wolves contributed to red wolf endangerment after poisoning, killing and habitat loss had reduced their numbers.

Understanding this phenomenon is important for red wolf recovery, but may also have implications for the recovery of other species. In the years since it was first identified in red wolves, such interbreeding has been identified in other species of wild canids, such as the gray wolf.

The Service is currently working with North Carolina State University, North Carolina Department of Transportation, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, and others to collect such data.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprising more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.

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Release #: R99-007


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