CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to review the red wolf program, raising the possibility that the 27-year experiment to restore the rare predators in eastern North Carolina may come to an end.
The Charlotte Observer reports the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission asked the federal agency this month to “determine the appropriateness of continuing the experimental (wolf) program.”
The 90 to 110 endangered wolves roaming near Albemarle Sound have been under fire for several years. A growing number of gunshot deaths threaten the group's ability to reproduce.
A federal judge in May temporarily banned hunting for coyotes, which are often mistaken for wolves, in the five-county wolf territory. The ruling came after three advocacy groups sued to block the state's open season on coyotes, which often attack pets.
Gunshot deaths of wolves on the Albemarle peninsula have climbed in recent years, to nine cases in 2013. Only two wolves have died of suspected or confirmed gunshots in 2014, but most fatal shootings have occurred in the fall.
Fish and Wildlife ended a seven-year effort to establish red wolves in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1998. The state commission said too many pups died and adults weren't able to stay within the 521,000-acre park.
The commission questions whether the federal program can achieve its goal of establishing a “self-sustaining” wolf population on federal land. Much of the wolf range on the Albemarle peninsula is privately owned.
It quotes the federal Endangered Species Act as requiring the agency to estimate the time and cost to achieve the recovery goal.
Gordon Myers, the wildlife commission's executive director, declined comment Friday because of the coyote-shooting lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle is to review the ban in November.
The Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to do the review of the wolf program, which it said was due anyway.
“All the options, every time we do one of these evaluations, are on the table,” said Leo Miranda, an assistant regional director in Atlanta. “It's everything from status quo to modifying the program to canceling the program like we did back in 1998.”
But Miranda called the recovery effort “extremely successful” for meeting its population goal of 45 to 55 wolves in 1995 and saving the animals from extinction in the wild.
Information from: The Charlotte Observer, www.charlotteobserver.com