Red Wolf
© Corbis

Red Wolf


Habitat Loss

A recent global study found that the red wolf has lost 99.7 percent of its historical territory—more than any other large carnivore. What remains of its historical range is 1.7 million acres of private and public land in Eastern North Carolina. This matrix of agricultural fields, pine plantations, pocosin wetlands and forests, provides sufficient connectivity and prey for the time being, but is inadequate for the long-term sustainability of red wolves.


The greatest threat to the red wolf is the way in which the species is being managed. Unnecessary removals from private lands, lethal take permits for non-problem wolves, the abandonment of the adaptive management strategy, and a reluctance to address poaching has led to a drastic decline of the red wolf's population over the course of just a few years. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) fails to take proactive measures, the species could go extinct in the wild in less than a decade.

However, the FWS has signaled its reluctance to take the necessary action to continue red wolf recovery efforts. In fact, in 2016, the FWS proposed a plan to largely abandon recovery efforts. In particular, the agency proposed removing most red wolves from the wild, shrinking the species' wild territory by 88 percent and confining wolves to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the adjacent federal lands. This would only leave room for a single wild pack of red wolves, and would effectively extinguish what remains of the red wolf's historic territory.

In addition, the FWS has all but abandoned pup-fostering techniques, refused to release any additional wolves, terminated hybridization management efforts, failed to address poaching, allowed landowners to shoot non-problem wolves, and has actively aided in the removal of non-problem wolves from private property.

Recently, lawmakers included a provision in the Fiscal Year 2018 Senate Appropriations Committee’s spending bill for the Department of the Interior to terminate the red wolf recovery program and declare them extinct in the wild.  

Climate Change

Given that the entire current range of the red wolf in the wild is located in a small coastal area at roughly three feet in elevation, the impacts of climate change – including storm surges and sea level rise – loom large as a threat to their future.

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The red wolf (currently recognized as a different species than the gray wolf) once ranged as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as central Texas. Because of its wide distribution, the red wolf played an important role in a variety of ecosystems, from pocosin lowlands to forested mountains.