North Carolina’s Tillis Wants to Further Reduce the Endangered Species
Tillis, a Republican, was behind a single paragraph in a 148-page spending bill of the Senate Appropriations Committee that could doom the species.
“There is a less than respectful history of dialogue between folks in North Carolina and the Fish & Wildlife Service,” Tillis said in 2016.
Red wolves were once found across the eastern United States, but by the 1970s they were only found in parts of southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana. Red wolves were one of the first animals listed under the Endangered Species Act. They were declared extinct in the wild in 1980 but reintroduced in North Carolina after a breeding program in zoos.
The animals, which weigh 45 to 80 pounds as adults, are notoriously shy. They eat deer, rats, rabbits and other animals. Red wolves are in five northeastern North Carolina counties, but their numbers have dropped to less than 45 in the wild from about 130 in the mid-2000s.
At least some have been illegally killed. Seventeen wolves died of confirmed or suspected gunshot wounds from 2013 to 2015, and one was poisoned. More than 500 private landowners and farmers told the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to keep red wolves off their land.
The wildlife service is considering limiting wolves to federal land in Dare County which would effectively reduce the wild population to a single pack of red wolves. Nearly 55,000 people submitted comments on that proposal, most in favor of protecting the red wolves.
“Americans support red wolf conservation and want the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do the right thing and restore this species throughout its native range in the southeastern United States,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.
A 2014 review of federal recovery efforts by the Wildlife Management Institute found not enough oversight and support. Much of the program’s $1.3 million in annual expenses was spent on sterilizing area coyotes to try to prevent them from breeding with red wolves.
Wolf expert Linda Rutledge said hybrid animals still play a crucial role as predators.
“If it can kill deer in eastern landscapes, it’s worth saving,” she said.