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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Announces Disastrous Decision on Endangered Red Wolves

Contact: Haley McKey

WASHINGTON (September 12, 2016) –The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced today that it intends to remove from private and public lands most of the world's only remaining population of red wolves in the wild, threatening the continued existence of this highly imperiled species. Though the red wolf recovery program was once a model for successful recovery of wolves, consistent mismanagement by the FWS has led to a rapid decline in North Carolina's red wolf population, down from 130 just two years ago to fewer than 45 today.

Statement from Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark:

"This is a devastating blow to the world's most endangered wolf. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has abandoned its obligations to protect and recover the red wolf.  This retreat flies in the face of what the majority of people in North Carolina want.  

"Never before has the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so directly turned its back on an endangered species recovery effort. The agency is essentially giving up on the red wolves in the wild today, with vague promises of reintroduction efforts elsewhere, sometime in the future.

“Defenders of Wildlife urges the agency to recommit to red wolf recovery by resuming the release of captive red wolves into the wild, reinstating coyote management in the recovery area and establishing new release sites in the Southeast region. With 81 percent of North Carolina registered voters saying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should make every effort to help the endangered red wolf population recover, there is plenty of support for the agency to redouble its efforts in the state.

“Defenders will do everything we can to ensure that the howl of the red wolf continues to be heard."


Red wolves once ranged across the Southeast from Texas south to Florida and as far north as Pennsylvania. Due to habitat loss and extermination by humans, red wolves were reduced to a handful of individuals by the 1970s. In 1980 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured the 14 remaining red wolves and declared them extinct in the wild. The first captive-bred red wolves were released in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on September 14, 1987. The program was successful and became a model for wolf recovery in the United States, with nearly 150 red wolves in the wild by 2012.

But just as red wolves began to thrive, coyotes, which are not native to the East, swept into the area. Coyote hunters have shot red wolves in a tragic case of mistaken identity. At the same time, FWS has been pulling back on conservation efforts for the wolf with catastrophic results. FWS has suspended releasing captive-bred red wolves into the wild and stopped managing coyotes in the red wolf recovery area to prevent hybridization. The agency sharply increased its removal of red wolves from the wild by landowner request, and in 2015 allowed a landowner to kill a mother wolf believed to be nursing.

Defenders of Wildlife joined the Red Wolf Recovery Team, convened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2015. But with no progress and the possibility of terminating the program on the table as an option, Defenders resigned from the team in early 2016. Since then, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has continued its suspension of red wolf recovery activities. Because of this mismanagement, the red wolf remains the world's most endangered canid. Fewer than 60 red wolves remain in the wild.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 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 For the latest news from Defenders, follow us at @DefendersNews.


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