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Red wolf (Canis rufus) with radio collar. Photo by Ryan Nordsven, USFWS.

Red wolf proposed 10j rule and draft environment assessment announcement

What is a red wolf?

The red wolf is a native North American canid, a family that includes wolves, jackals, foxes, coyotes and the domestic dog. Adult red wolves can weigh 53-84 pounds and are about four feet from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail.

Is the red wolf a true species?

The most recent scientific publications continue to provide conflicting interpretations and support for various recommendations on the correct taxonomic status, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) continues to recognize the red wolf as the species Canis rufus.

In March, Congress directed the Service to initiate a study through an independent entity, such as the Smithsonian Institute, to address outstanding questions about the red wolf’s taxonomy. It wants the study to be completed within one year (March 2019) and provides the possibility of extending it up to two years more for research if needed to complete the study.

When was the red wolf classified as endangered?

The red wolf was first classified as “threatened with extinction” in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, a forerunner to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It was declared extinct in the wild in 1980.

What has the Service done to recover the red wolf?

View a detailed account of recovery efforts for the red wolf.

What is a nonessential experimental population (NEP)?

An experimental population is a special designation under section 10(j) of the ESA. The Service can apply this designation to a population of threatened or endangered species prior to reestablishing that species in an unoccupied portion of its former range.

There are two types of experimental populations: (1) essential and (2) nonessential. Essential experimental populations are defined as those populations whose loss would be likely to appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival of the species in the wild. All other experimental populations are classified as nonessential. Congress envisioned that in most cases, experimental populations would be nonessential.

Why does the Service designate experimental populations?

Designating an experimental population is one tool to facilitate reintroduction and recovery of federally-listed species. Most importantly, an experimental population designation allows us to customize protective regulations under the ESA. The ESA bars designation of critical habitat for nonessential experimental populations (critical habitat may be designated for essential populations). This regulatory flexibility and discretion can make a reintroduction more palatable to stakeholders who are concerned about the potential impacts of reintroducing a threatened or endangered species. Despite this increased flexibility, the 10(j) rule for each experimental population must still ensure that the reintroduction will further the conservation of the species.

What is the Service proposing to change?

Currently, the NEP management area covers five counties in northeastern North Carolina: Beaufort, Hyde, Dare, Tyrrell, and Washington counties. The Service is proposing to change the geographic scope of the current red wolf NEP management area to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and Dare County Bombing Range in North Carolina. Wolves outside of the new NEP management area would remain part of the NEP, but take of these animals on non-federal lands would be allowed. The primary role of this population would change from establishing a self-sustaining population to a propogation population providing a source of wild red wolves that are raised in and adapted to natural conditions for the purpose of facilitating future reintroductions. If the Service is able to develop future release sites elsewhere within the red wolf’s range, the wild offspring would have a greater chance of being successfully released in the wild.

The rule specifies allowable forms for the taking of red wolves within and outside the NEP management area. Within the NEP management area, take provisions are limited to incidental take associated with management practices, in defense of human life and research purposes. On state-owned and private lands outside the NEP area, take of red wolves would be permitted.

What is the proposed NEP management area?

Alligator River NWR is approximately 158,000 acres and Dare County Bombing Range is approximately 46,000 acres in both Dare and Hyde Counties.

What happens to red wolves outside the new NEP management area?

Under this new proposal, red wolves outside of the NEP management area would continue to be part of the NEP management area. However, prohibitions on the take of red wolves on non-federal lands outside the NEP area would be relaxed provided the take occurs in conjunction with an otherwise lawful activity. Red wolves on Pocosin Lakes NWR and or any other federal lands would be treated as threatened, but will not be managed as intensively there as at Alligator River and the Dare County Bombing Range.

What does the proposed revision to the NEP mean for landowners in the current recovery area?

Under this proposal, prohibitions on the take of red wolves on non-federal lands outside the NEP area would be relaxed provided the take occurs in conjunction with an otherwise lawful activity. As always, the Service is prepared to support work partners may pursue to towards the red wolf’s recovery. The Service’s role outside the proposed management area will be limited to providing technical assistance if requested by landowners. Conservation partners may help manage red wolf populations on a voluntary basis outside the NEP management area.

What is technical assistance?

We provide technical information to private landowners and other conservation partners primarily through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife and the Coastal Program on, for example, the implementation of on-the-ground habitat restoration actions; help landowners identify priority habitat improvement projects and opportunities; transfers information regarding state-of-the-art restoration and management techniques. We also provide technical assistance to conservation partners at national, regional, state, and field office levels to maximize benefits to federally listed and managed fish, wildlife, and their habitats.

Will there be a public meeting on this proposed new management rule?

Yes. A public meeting will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on July 10 at Roanoke Festival Park in Manteo, North Carolina, to gather input about the proposed 10(j) rule, and the environmental assessment that examines how the proposed management changes for red wolves in North Carolina may affect both the species and the residents of the area.

Could a red wolf population be introduced somewhere else?

Yes. In the Service’s September 2016 memorandum describing decisions and recommended actions and the five-year status review completed in April of the Red Wolf, the Service reiterated its commitment to identify potential new reintroduction sites within the historical range of the species. A new reintroduction will require cooperation between various stakeholders including other federal agencies, state agencies, industry land holdings, conservation lands, and most importantly private landowners. So far, no reintroduction locations have been identified.

Will this rule affect the red wolf captive-breeding population?

No. This proposed rule does not affect captive red wolves, which are managed under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP will continue to manage the captive population of more than 200 red wolves. The Service is working with SSP cooperators and other partners to expand capacity to increase the captive population in order to support future reintroduction efforts.

Is the public able to comment on this proposal?

Yes. The Service will seek public comment on the draft Environmental Assessment and the proposed 10(j) rule. The public comment period is part of a 30-day process that begins with the publication of the proposed 10(j) rule in the Federal Register on June 28, 2018, and will continue through July 30, 2018. The Service will consider all comments on the scope of the draft Environmental Assessment and the proposed 10(j) rule that are received or postmarked by that date. Comments received or postmarked after that date will be considered to the extent practical.

You may submit written comments by one of the following methods:

  1. Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: regulations.gov. Search for FWS-R4-ES-2018-0035, which is the docket number for this action. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
  2. By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2018-0035; Division of Policy, Performance, and Management Programs; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

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