Choosing Extinction: An Inconvenient Species
By Taylor Barnhill
Last spring, North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission petitioned the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to end its red wolf reintroduction program and to declare the red wolf extinct in the wild. The FWS is considering the state’s petition and first announced it would rule by the end of December, 2015. In late October it postponed that ruling deadline, and is expected to “gather additional science and research to guide recovery of the red wolf…. and to rule in late summer on whether to keep the program, change it, or recall the animals into captivity.” Meanwhile, FWS has reconvened a multi-faceted red wolf recovery team to address current and future management activities.
At its peak, the wild population once reached 131 individuals, growing from a reintroduction total of eight resilient wolves. The estimated wild population is down to less than 75 wolves, with an estimated 12 wolves killed in 2015 by gunshot, vehicular collisions, and disease.
The red wolf and Wild South share much of the same “historic range”, the red wolf being the Southeast’s native wolf. With this extinction threat at its doorstep, Wild South has set out to determine the best use of its expertise and resources, taking a close look at the current state of red wolf recovery, the status of red wolf program work among potential partners, and assessing potential opportunities and challenges for Wild South’s red wolf work within the broader conservation community.
As with any endangered species issue, red wolf recovery is complicated by politics, funding, private property rights, ignorance of predator ecology, species hybridization, and historic mythology. Current funding, while extremely low compared to other endangered species funding, is threatened. Yet, the issue is about the prospect of extinction for a major mammal species that has successfully reestablished its presence despite the odds. As we await the decisions of government, we can choose which side of history to reside. Extinction is forever, and it is a decision that we own, today, at this point in time. Supporting the recovery of canis rufus is primary.