Judge Orders Federal Government to Continue Captive Red Wolf Releases
Raleigh, NC

Last week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must resume releasing captive red wolves into the wild, a major victory for the species. The case, filed on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Red Wolf Coalition and Animal Welfare Institute by the Southern Environmental Law Center, will help bolster the wild population which resides in the Red Wolf Recovery Area in Eastern North Carolina.

“We are grateful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will finally abide by its responsibility to protect this critically endangered wolf,” said Ben Prater, Southeast program director at Defenders of Wildlife. “Releasing wolves into the wild is a common sense, science-backed approach to boost this population and stave off the red wolf’s extinction. While the species has a long way to go, this is a major step in the right direction.” 

U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle ruled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must develop a plan by March 1, 2021 to resume its longstanding and successful practice of releasing captive red wolves into the Red Wolf Recovery Area in North Carolina. The court order temporarily prohibits the agency from implementing its recent policy change barring the release of captive wolves into the wild. As few as seven red wolves remain in the wild today.

“Contrary to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent actions, this order confirms once again that the Endangered Species Act requires recovery of the red wolf in the wild,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center which represents the conservation organizations in court. “The agency has to stop managing for extinction and instead take meaningful action to rebuild the wild red wolf population in North Carolina.” 

On November 16, 2020, the conservation groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina for violations of the Endangered Species Act caused by new, illegal agency policies that bar the use of proven management measures to save wild red wolves. Southern Environmental Law Center filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in the case on November 19, 2020. 

“This is a vital ruling that will breathe new life into the Red Wolf Recovery Program,” said Johanna Hamburger, director and senior staff attorney for AWI’s terrestrial wildlife program. “The Court held that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s passive efforts to manage the wild red wolf population are woefully inadequate to recover the species. By ordering the agency to once again release wolves from captivity into the wild population, the Court is requiring much-needed action to prevent the continued downward spiral of this species.”

“The Red Wolf Coalition is grateful that the court saw the importance of releasing captive red wolves to the wild population,” said Kim Wheeler, Executive Director of Red Wolf Coalition. “These additional red wolves will add genetic diversity and breeding opportunities to the wild population in northeastern North Carolina.” 

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

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