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A close-up photograph of a red wolf face
Information icon Red wolf. Photo by B. Bartel, USFWS.

The red wolf species status assessment, five-year review and future plans

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?

There is considerable scientific uncertainty about whether the red wolf is a distinct species or a hybrid. The science is not settled. As directed by Congress in March 2018, the Service is moving to work with an independent organization to determine within one year whether the red wolf represents a taxonomically valid species designation.

When was the red wolf classified as endangered?

The red wolf was classified as endangered in 1967 under the Endangered Species Protection Preservation Act, a forerunner to the Endangered Species Act. It was declared extinct in the wild in 1980.

What has the Service done to recover the red wolf?

Since its listing as endangered in 1967, the Service has worked with many partners including state agencies, non-governmental organizations and landowners. By the late 1960s, the red wolf population was decimated due to intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat. A remnant population of red wolves was found along the Gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana. In the 1970s, the Service captured many of these wolves to save the species, and 14 of those wolves became the founders of a successful captive breeding program.

In 1986, the Service started a non-essential experimental population (NEP) of red wolves in eastern North Carolina. (An NEP is a population that is geographically separated from other populations of the same species and is not essential to the survival of the species.) Rules for the five-county NEP in Eastern North Carolina were last revised in 1995.

In 2006, the eastern North Carolina NEP population peaked at an estimated 120-130 wolves in the wild, and it has been declining ever since.

In 2014, realizing steps were needed to improve management of the NEP, the Service contracted with the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) to conduct an independent appraisal of the Red Wolf Recovery Program. After two years, WMI issued its report, and the Service began to implement WMI’s recommendations. Learn more about the program evaluation and read related materials.

Read the frequently asked questions regarding that evaluation.

What is a Species Status Assessment (SSA)?

The SSA is an in-depth review of the species’ biology and threats, an evaluation of its biological status, and an assessment of the resources and conditions needed to maintain long-term viability. The intent is for the SSA to be easily updated as new information becomes available and to support all functions of the endangered species program from candidate assessment and listing to consultations and recovery. The SSA is a living document upon which other documents, such as listing rules, recovery plans, and 5-year reviews. The SSA does not make any recommendations about an animal’s status. It does provide a basis for those decisions to be made later.

What is a five-year review?

A five-year review utilizes the best available scientific and commercial data on a species to determine whether its status has changed since the time of its listing or its last status review. Upon completion of a five-year review, the Service can make four possible recommendations:

  • Reclassify the species from threatened to endangered;
  • Reclassify the species from endangered to threatened;
  • Remove the species from the list (delist);
  • Maintain the species’ current classification.

In the case of the red wolf, the Service is maintaining its current classification as endangered.

Could a red wolf population be introduced somewhere else?

The Service will continue to explore new possible locations for another NEP re-introduction where we have support and will work with landowners and partners across the red wolf’s historical range. At this point no site has been identified that will meet all needs.

Is the public able to comment on this proposal?

Citizens and interested organizations are always invited to share their perspective and experience related to this red wolf recovery effort. Although the 5-year review and the Species Status Assessment don’t specifically invite public comment and review, other parts of this process will offer opportunities for public review and comment.

The Service expects to release an environmental assessment (EA) and a new proposed rule by mid-summer with alternatives for public comment covering future management of the NEP of red wolves in eastern North Carolina. The EA and proposed new rules for the NEP will be available for public comment and review.

Read the press release associated with this set of frequently asked questions.


Phil Kloer, Public Affairs Specialist, (404) 644-7193

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