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Howling Mad? Groups Fight for Protection of NC Red Wolf

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comment on the future of the Red Wolf Recovery Program. (Valerie/Flickr)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comment on the future of the Red Wolf Recovery Program. (Valerie/Flickr)
June 8, 2017

COLUMBIA, N.C. — North Carolinians are being asked to weigh in on the future of a landmark program responsible for bringing an animal back from near extinction.

The Red Wolf Recovery Program has been in operation for more than 30 years, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken steps in recent years to scale it back, announcing a 60 day public comment period in May. While the current red wolf population is contained to five counties in eastern North Carolina, Kim Wheeler, executive director with the Red Wolf Coalition, said the decision has historical significance.

"I think it's also important that they hear from people that live outside the recovery area, because everybody has a stake in this program,” Wheeler said. "I mean, they've learned a tremendous amount; there have been management strategies they've used that other endangered species have used. "

When it was in full operation, the Red Wolf Recovery Program saw the animal’s population grow to more than 100, but the numbers dwindled because of human involvement and a 2015 Fish and Wildlife Service decision to stop introducing the animals into the wild.

Comments are being taken online on the FWS website, and there will be a public meeting Thursday night in Manteo at the National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.

Heather Clarkson with the group Defenders of Wildlife said the Red Wolf Recovery Program has a proven track record of success that the government needs to recognize.

"The science and the research is there,” Clarkson said. "What we need is the motivation by the federal government to implement that research, and commit to seeing this program through."

Some landowners oppose the growth of the red wolf population as a nuisance to their pets and farm animals or way of life. While Wheeler said she understands there's room for improvement in managing the red wolf, she thinks now isn't the time to quit.

"I just hope that the Fish and Wildlife decides that this animal deserves a chance on the landscape and doesn't take the easy way out and just say, 'It's too difficult, we're just going to remove them and only have a captive population,’” she said.

A 2016 poll by Defenders of Wildlife found that 73 percent of North Carolinians support recovering what is one of the world's most endangered wolf species and returning it to the wild.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC