End­ing red wolf pro­tec­tions vi­o­lated law, judge rules

The Herald Sun - - Local - BY AB­BIE BEN­NETT aben­nett@new­sob­server.com

A fed­eral judge ruled Mon­day that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice vi­o­lated fed­eral law in its roll­back of pro­tec­tions for the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered North Carolina red wolf.

Chief Judge Ter­rence W. Boyle of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled that the agency vi­o­lated the En­dan­gered Species Act and the Na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy Act, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

“The wild red wolf is again close to ex­tinc­tion, with as few as forty wolves iden­ti­fied in the wild in April 2018,” the or­der reads.

The wolves were des­ig­nated an en­dan­gered species in 1967, one year af­ter the En­dan­gered Species Preser­va­tion Act went into ef­fect. In 1980, the species was de­clared ex­tinct in the wild, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

The wildlife ser­vice was tasked in 1986 with try­ing to help the species re­cover through man­age­ment and rein­tro­duc­tion pro­grams.

In 2015, un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, the agency was ac­cused in a law­suit filed by four con­ser­va­tion groups of al­low­ing “red wolves that were not caus­ing any prob­lems to be shot and killed by pri­vate landown­ers.” The law­suit also ac­cused the fed­eral agency of rolling back mea­sures that had helped the red wolf pop­u­la­tion grow from 16 in 1987 to more than 130.

“Since the USFWS aban­doned its red wolf re­cov­ery re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, the red wolf pop­u­la­tion has plum­meted,” ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease from the plain­tiffs – the Red Wolf Coali­tion, the An­i­mal Wel­fare In­sti­tute and De­fend­ers of Wildlife. The South­ern En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Cen­ter rep­re­sented the plain­tiffs.

“Taken to­gether, these ac­tions go be­yond the agency’s dis­cre­tion and op­er­ate to vi­o­late (the USFWS’) man­date to re­cover this species in the wild,” Boyle wrote in his or­der is­sued Mon­day.

“Boyle also made per­ma­nent the court’s Septem­ber 29, 2016, or­der stop­ping the USFWS from cap­tur­ing and killing red wolves and au­tho­riz­ing pri­vate landown­ers to do the same,” the con­ser­va­tion groups said.

In June, of­fi­cials with the wildlife agency, now un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, pro­posed a new rule that would limit red wolves to a Na­tional Wildlife Refuge and Air Force bomb­ing range in eastern North Carolina. Any wolves out­side that area could be legally killed – re­duc­ing the pre­vi­ous re­cov­ery area by nearly 90 per­cent.

“In 2016, a group of 30 sci­en­tists con­demned such a sce­nario be­cause the lim­ited area pro­posed by the USFWS could not sup­port a vi­able pop­u­la­tion of red wolves and its pro­posal was in­con­sis­tent with the best avail­able science,” ac­cord­ing to the news re­lease from the con­ser­va­tion groups.

The wildlife ser­vice al­lowed the pub­lic to com­ment on its pro­posal, and nearly all of the more than 108,000 com­ments op­posed lim­it­ing the wolves’ pro­tected area. Fewer than 50 com­ments sup­ported the pro­posal, and at least 13 of those were from one real es­tate de­vel­oper, the con­ser­va­tion groups said.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper asked fed­eral of­fi­cials not to limit pro­tec­tions for the wolves in a July let­ter, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

“The wild red wolf is part of the cul­tural and eco­nomic fab­ric of our state and is the only wolf unique to the United States,” Cooper wrote.

‘‘ THE WILD RED WOLF IS AGAIN CLOSE TO EX­TINC­TION, WITH AS FEW AS FORTY WOLVES IDEN­TI­FIED IN THE WILD IN APRIL 2018.

Ex­cerpt from the rul­ing

“There is a vi­able path for­ward for North Carolina’s red wolves liv­ing in the wild.”

Cooper said he in­structed state agen­cies to work with fed­eral of­fi­cials on red wolf con­ser­va­tion.

Fewer than 40 red wolves re­main in the wild to­day, and all of them live in eastern North Carolina. A decade ago, there were more than 100. An­other 200 red wolves live in cap­tive breed­ing pro­grams, ac­cord­ing to the wildlife ser­vice.

“The ser­vice knows how to pro­tect and re­cover the red wolf in the wild, but it stopped lis­ten­ing to its sci­en­tists and started lis­ten­ing to bu­reau­crats in­stead. The law doesn’t al­low the agency to just walk away from species con­ser­va­tion, like it did here,” Sierra Weaver, se­nior at­tor­ney for the South­ern En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Cen­ter, told The News & Ob­server in an emailed state­ment Mon­day.

GERRY BROOME AP File

Par­ents keep an eye on their 7-week-old red wolf pup at the Mu­seum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C. Con­ser­va­tion­ists told a judge on Oct. 17 that an im­mi­nent fed­eral plan to shrink the ter­ri­tory of the only wild red wolves would has­ten the an­i­mal’s ex­tinc­tion.

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