Thursday, January 1, 2015

Decision on North Carolina's Red Wolf Recovery Program On the Horizon

A red wolf at the Red Wolf Education and Health Care Facility in Columbia, North Carolina.

It has been 27 years since federal wildlife officials reintroduced the critically endangered red wolf in the wild through a recovery program which gathered approximately 100 of the animals in few counties in the state of North Carolina. A decision on whether to continue the efforts to protect the only wild population of red wolves is expected to come in early 2015. According to Tom Mackenzie, a spokesman for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, the decision on the future of the program is predicted in the first three months of 2015 but could not be more specific. As part of their assessment, federal officials instructed an independent review in late 2014 that revealed faults in how the program is operated. These flaws range from poor understanding of population movements to inadequate coordination with local managers. The review also advised that red wolves be reintroduced in other areas. An assistant regional director for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service named Leopoldo Miranda indicated that the agency tried to catch all wolves and return them back to captivity when a program to bring them back to the Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina ceased in 1998. In November 2014, conservation groups won a court battle to enforce tougher rules for hunting coyotes in eastern North Carolina's five counties in order to protect red wolves. These rules include banning nighttime hunting. The groups alleged that gunshots are the prominent cause of death for wolves, even though it is illegal to kill them in most situations. However, a settlement agreement allows for hunting coyotes during daytime hours on private land by permit. Tara Zuardo, a lawyer for the Animal Welfare Institute, stated that she hopes daytime hunting will satisfy landowners and decrease political pressure that wildlife officials might be feeling. She is also hopeful that federal officials will decide to continue or reshape the red wolf program and maybe reintroduce the wolves in other sites.

It is absolutely essential to take necessary measurements to bring the red wolf back from the brink of extinction. When a recovery program is found to contain flaws that could affect the species' survival, then it is crucial to improvise the program by any means necessary. The red wolf has long been decimated throughout its historical home range in the southeastern United States. Currently, the last remaining populations of this magnificent species of wolf are found mainly in few North Carolina counties. Although these animals number around 100 individuals, they are still under tremendous threat from human hunters who mistake them for coyotes and these intentional or unintentional killings hinder the efforts to revive the red wolf. The red wolf is not the only wolf in the U.S that is struggling to make a comeback in its historic range; its relative the Mexican wolf is also fighting to successfully thrive in the American Southwest. Recently, a wolf sighted near the Grand Canyon was said to be shot down by a hunter who thought it was a coyote. Most news sources indicate that this act was done by accident. But whether this is true or not, it is a clear indication that wolves require a great deal of adequate protection because they are keystone species that play a major role in maintaining the ecological balance in their native ecosystems. The Mexican wolf is a dominant predator in the American Southwest after the puma and has played a significant role in keeping the desert ecosystem in balance before the arrival of early European settlers in the region. Similarly, the red wolf is an apex predator in southeastern United States before being virtually wiped out throughout much of its historical range. Therefore, it is essential to take necessary measurements to bring these wolves back from the brink of extinction before either one completely disappears in the wilds of the U.S. Such steps should include educating sport hunters about differences between wolves and coyotes to prevent any further accidental or intentional killings and providing ranchers with livestock guardian dogs to prevent livestock predation from wolves and coyotes. Last but not least, any recovery program found to contain any faults should be thoroughly improvised and additional sites should be looked into in order further expand recovery efforts of Mexican and red wolves in the country.

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