Questions & Answers

Final Revised Recovery Plan for the Red Wolf Frequently Asked Questions

Below you will find frequently asked questions regarding the Final Revised Recovery Plan for the Red Wolf.

What does recovery mean?

Recovery is the process that stops the decline of an endangered or threatened species by removing or reducing threats. Recovery ensures the long-term survival of the species in the wild. When recovery is achieved, the species no longer meets the definition of a threatened species or endangered species, and protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is no longer necessary. 

Why is the final revised recovery plan shorter than the last version updated in 1990?

The revised recovery plan follows the Service’s Recovery Planning and Implementation (RPI) guidance. Under this approach, the Service uses a three-part process to develop recovery plans. In the past, information in the following three documents were included in a single recovery plan document. The process of recovery planning includes: 

The Species Status Assessment (SSA) or Species Biological Report (SBR) informs the recovery plan. It describes the biology and life history needs of the species, includes analysis of each species’ historical and current conditions, and includes discussion of threats and conservation needs of each species. The SSA or SBR’s format is structured around the conservation biology principles of resiliency, redundancy, and representation. These principles are used to assess the species’ ability to maintain populations over time (viability) (Shaffer and Stein 2000, pp. 307-310; Smith et al. 2018, entire; Wolf et al. 2015, entire). The SSA for the Red Wolf was completed in 2018 (Service 2018). 

The Recovery Plan contains a streamlined overview of the recovery strategy for the species (indicating how its recovered state (viability) will achieve redundancy, resiliency, and representation), as well as the elements required under section 4(f)(1)(B) of the Act including: 

  • Objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in a determination, in accordance with the provisions of this section, that the species be removed from the list; 

  • A description of such site-specific management actions as may be necessary to achieve the plan’s goal for the conservation and survival of the species; and  

  • Estimates of the time required and the cost to carry out those measures needed to achieve the plan’s goal and to achieve intermediate steps toward that goal.  

In cooperation with our partners, we will prepare a Recovery Implementation Strategy (RIS), which serves as an operational plan for stepping down the site-specific recovery actions into more detailed activities. The RIS is a short-term, flexible operational document focused on how, when, and by whom the site-specific recovery actions from the recovery plan will be implemented. This approach allows us to incorporate new information and adapt to changing circumstances with greater flexibility and efficiency as that information becomes available and to improve coordination with the states and other partners to achieve recovery. We note, however, activities in the RIS must be consistent with and contribute to implementing actions in the recovery plan and cannot revise or add actions without a recovery plan revision. The RIS will focus on the period of time and scope of activities that work best for our partners to achieve recovery goals. 

Using this approach, new information on species biology, recovery implementation, or detailed activities that support the recovery plan actions may be incorporated by updating the SSA/SBR or RIS without concurrent revision of the entire plan, unless changes to statutorily required elements are necessary.    

Who contributed to the development of the final revised recovery plan? And what was it based on?

The final revised recovery plan was developed by the Red Wolf Recovery Team, with input from the public during the open comment period. The Red Wolf Recovery Team includes representatives from federal and state agencies, Tribal representatives, county government, academia, zoos/conservation centers, non-profit organizations, non-governmental organizations, and landowners (see Appendix A of the final revised recovery plan for a list of members and affiliated organizations). Members of the team were selected based on their knowledge of the species and/or their expertise in elements of recovery plan design or implementation, including expertise related to Red Wolf recovery (e.g., prey species biology, wildlife disease, coyote management, human-wolf conflict, etc.).  

This revised recovery plan is based on the Services 2018 Red Wolf SSA, which describes the life history and biology of the species, the current status of the species, and the threats that impact the species, and Recovery Planning for the Red Wolf, Workshop Report (CPSG and Service 2021) and  Recovery Planning for the Red Wolf - Part 2: Revisions and Updates, Workshop Report (CPSG and Service 2023), developed by the Red Wolf Recovery Team, and the Population Viability Analysis (PVA) of the Red Wolf (Canis rufus) (Miller et al. 2023). These supplemental documents are available free to the public online in the Service’s publication archive: 

The recovery plan uses “contributors” when discussing collaborative conservation. What are “contributors”?

“Contributors” are the various parties whose participation is critical for effective recovery. These parties include Tribal governments, state and federal agencies, landowners and other community members, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), zoological institutions and wildlife centers, and scientific researchers. Each of these parties has an important role to play and unique perspectives that will make Red Wolf recovery possible. These unique roles and perspectives are described in the recovery plan. The use of the term “contributors” recognizes and honors the unique contributions of these parties.

Has the Service identified locations for establishing future populations of Red Wolves? How will those specific locations for Red Wolf populations be selected?

The Service has not yet identified locations for establishing new Red Wolf populations. Available published and unpublished literature evaluate specific sites for suitability or evaluate the historical range for potential sites, but they do not assess whether the sites could potentially support a viable population of Red Wolves. Using population characteristics needed for a viable population, described in the recently completed population viability analysis (PVA), we can identify locations that could potentially provide for those characteristics and support a viable population of Red Wolves. Other factors evaluated in available literature, such as distance from towns or roads, habitat type, prey density, human population, minimum area, etc. may also be used in combination with information from the PVA to determine sites that will provide the Red Wolf the best chance at success. However, the establishment of a Red Wolf population must be a collaborative effort between the Service and state wildlife agencies, as well as other contributors.  

State wildlife agencies will be engaged early in the site selection process to work alongside the Service to develop criteria, using information from the PVA, information in available studies, along with information within this recovery plan, for and identify all potentially ecologically and socially suitable reintroduction sites that could support a viable population of Red Wolves across its historic range. State wildlife agencies will then be further engaged, as well as other contributors, in discussions and collaborative effort to determine locations for new Red Wolf populations. Given the patchwork of landowners in the Southeast and that federal land ownership accounts for less than 10 percent of land ownership in the region, suitable areas will likely include not only federal land, but also state, municipal, and private land. Furthermore, given land ownership in the Southeast, establishing Red Wolf populations must be a collaborative effort with not only state wildlife agencies, but Tribal governments, state, county, and municipal government agencies, other federal agencies, landowners, and the local community in order for populations to be successful. 

Will state agencies and other entities have the opportunity to comment on the RIS before the actions are implemented?

In accordance with the Office of Management and Budget's Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer reviews, the Service has an established Peer Review Process that notes that each agency shall conduct a peer review on all influential scientific information that the agency intends to disseminate. If the RIS relies on previously peer reviewed documents, the RIS would not be peer reviewed; however, if the RIS includes original findings/conclusions, the RIS would also be peer reviewed. Furthermore, establishment of Red Wolf populations will be a collaborative effort between the Service and the state wildlife agency, among others. As such, state wildlife agencies will have input on activities to be implemented in their state.    

How did the Service calculate the estimated time and cost of recovery actions for the species?

The ESA requires that recovery plans include estimates of the time required and the cost to carry out those measures needed to achieve the plan’s goals. The estimated time and costs of recovery actions in this plan are highly uncertain. The time needed to implement recovery is a guide for meeting the recovery goals and criteria discussed in this plan. The total cost of recovery is only an estimate and is based on many assumptions and may change substantially as efforts to recover the species continue. Cost estimates include not only federal funds but may include financial assistance as well as volunteer and in-kind support from other parties. These estimates may be clarified in the RIS as activities are implemented and through collaborative work among contributors. 

If all actions are fully funded and implemented, including full cooperation of all partners needed to achieve recovery, we expect the status of the Red Wolf to improve such that we can achieve delisting criteria around 2072. The estimated 50 years assumes more than one population at a time can be established and grown through releases and pup fostering supported by the SAFE population and any established wild population. We expect that as one population increases and becomes stable, support needed from the captive population will decrease, allowing the captive population to support another wild population. Additionally, we expect that as a wild population increases and reaches viability, it will be capable of providing support to another wild population in addition to the captive population. 

Projecting costs into the future, the total estimated cost associated with implementing recovery actions for Red Wolf would total $327,930,911. A table of cost breakdown is included in the recovery plan. 

Fifty years is a long time, and the price tag is staggering? Why?

The “price tag” of recovery is a much talked about issue. For many species, their decline towards extinction has taken place over many decades. Recovering those species may take equally as long, if not longer. Therefore, there is no “quick” fix, or easy fix. Costs are then calculated over that long period of time; in the case of the Red Wolf, they are calculated over 50 years. These costs are uncertain and vary from smaller short-term actions to large-scale actions or actions that are implemented over the entire 50 years. What is unseen in the costs of recovery for threatened and endangered species are the tangible benefits from ecological restoration efforts that support them. Benefits like clean air and water, flood control and storm surge protection, reduction of wildfire potential, and the incalculable totals provided to “at risk” species that do not, and may not ever, receive protections of the ESA. Preventing more species from making a trajectory towards extinction benefits us all.  

The Service alone cannot recover species. Partnerships are key.