Pat Byington: We should encourage nature
Posted: Wednesday, March 4, 2015 12:00 am
Let’s give up on brook trout. Their future doesn’t look good. Brookies need cold, clear water – and a lot of streams aren’t as clean or as shaded as they used to be. Plus, introduced trout species are outcompeting them. The brook trout’s range in North Carolina has decreased by 80 percent. So, can we just call brook trout extinct and eradicate the last of them?
Obviously, the idea is preposterous. But that’s what the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has proposed to do with the red wolf: declare the species extinct in the wild and then make it so by rounding up red wolves and removing them. In late January, the Commission asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to end its 27-year effort to reintroduce red wolves in eastern North Carolina.
Red wolves once ranged throughout the Southeast – but, by the 20th century, they were nearly wiped out. At one point, there were only 17 red wolves left. Efforts to save it have resulted in a tenuous recovery. Now, there are over 200 red wolves alive in captivity and a wild population of over 100 in eastern North Carolina.
The red wolf was reintroduced to North Carolina in 1987, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released four pairs at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Dare County. Since then, the red wolf has been making a comeback. Red wolves now range through five counties of the Albemarle peninsula.
It’s not exactly easy to bring a species back from the edge of extinction. There have been setbacks. Some landowners have objected as red wolves migrate from public land to private land. Coyotes have expanded into the area, interbreeding with the wolves. And some wolves have been killed in connection with coyote hunting. Those are real challenges that we need to address. Instead, the Wildlife Resources Commission is saying, “This is too hard. Let’s give up.”
What if we had given up on the bald eagle? In 1982, when 29 juvenile bald eagles were released near Lake Matamuskeet in Hyde County, they were like the red wolf today. Now, bald eagles are no longer endangered.
What if we had given up on the wild turkey, the black bear, the white-tailed deer? Many North Carolinians can remember when these now-abundant game animals were scarce.
When Europeans first arrived here, they came to a land that people shared with bear, deer, elk, turkey, beavers, red wolves, eastern cougar, bobcats, buffalo and woodland bison. But by the mid-20th century, nearly all of those animals were gone – due to habitat loss, overhunting and extermination. Fortunately, Americans have changed our course. Over the last half century, we have taken action to bring wildlife back, by setting aside habitats, managing hunting and reintroducing species. The hunting community took the lead in re-establishing many wildlife populations, which included restocking white-tailed deer and wild turkey in North Carolina.
Wild creatures form a community, and top-of-the-food-chain predators such as red wolves play an important role.
Recently, Pope Francis offered wise words urging us to care for nature. On Feb. 9, he said, “A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us.” He called on people to “protect creation, make it grow.”
Whatever our tradition, the call to be good stewards of this Earth is not just a call to do less damage, but to actively restore nature, to “make it grow.” So, let’s keep up our work to bring back the red wolf.
Take action to help save the red wolf.
Pat Byington is executive director of Wild South.