Reports show there are thought to be around three-hundred wild red wolves in North Carolina, and the United States government has agreed to release more of these endangered canines into the state as part of a court settlement with conservation organizations.
After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discontinued the release of captive-bred wolves in 2020, the conservation organizations filed suit. Outside of zoos and natural preserves, they are exclusively found in eastern North Carolina.
The Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Welfare Institute filed the action via the Southern Environmental Law Center. Papers submitted to U.S. District Court in North Carolina on Wednesday indicate a settlement deal was struck.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Services, the red wolf’s comeback was first hailed as a triumph for conservation. A tiny coastal region in southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas was all that was left of the species by 1972.
The FWS started catching wild canids in the region from 1973 to 1980 to develop a breeding program in captivity with the goal of returning the species to the wild. Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and the Service began a captive breeding effort for red wolves in the early 1970s. The red wolf was declared extinct in its native environment in 1980 after persecution by humans, and the destruction of its natural habitat led to a precipitous decrease in the species’ population.
Before being returned to North Carolina in 1987, red wolves had been almost wiped out by trapping, killing, and the destruction of their natural habitat throughout the Eastern United States. They can only be found in the five counties of North Carolina. The captive population of over 300 wolves has been maintained in recent years by scientists in zoos and other venues.
After the red wolves were returned, the state’s natural population reached 100 and remained steady through 2012.
Reports show Wolf populations increased by releasing captive-born pups and sterilizing space-competing coyotes. In 2015, conservative lawmakers and landowners who considered wolves a nuisance stopped such methods.
Wolves have made fighting coyotes tougher for some landowners. A federal court outlawed night hunts of coyotes in the red wolf area in 2014 because the animals are easily misidentified.