The red wolf, Canis rufus, currently exists only as a small population in one part of North Carolina. It’s listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered, which means it’s one step away from being extinct in the wild.
That’s why it strikes us as odd that, hidden in a Senate report related to funding for the Department of the Interior, is an order to end the red wolf recovery program that’s currently being run by the federal government.
“The Committee acknowledges the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s request that the [Fish and Wildlife] Service end the Red Wolf recovery program and declare the Red Wolf extinct,” it said.
It cites impacts on “landowners and other species” as being the reason, also noting that “the program has failed to meet population goals for the red wolf.” The text contains no citations to any research that backs up these claims.
“The Committee encourages the Service to consider ending the program in the fiscal year 2018,” it concludes.
Right now, thanks to habitat destruction in the 1960s, there are only around 45 to 60 red wolves left in the wild. They had to be reintroduced after an extensive breeding program succeeded in bringing them back from being extinct in the wild in 1987.
At the time of writing, it still says on the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) website that red wolves are “one of the world’s most endangered wild canids.”
“Currently, adaptive management efforts are making good progress in…building the wild red wolf population in northeastern North Carolina,” it adds.
Despite this, the aforementioned North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission has for several years now wanted to end the recovery program for the reasons cited in the report. Landowners and hunters generally support the move to push red wolves into extinction.
Most scientists and conservationists, however, disagree, and it seems the FWS has been on their side until the recent changing of the guard.
The original aim of the program was to get 220 red wolves back into the wild, and it’s safe to say that the program hasn’t achieved that yet. Interbreeding with coyotes is also threatening to derail the program.
Progress has been made, though. We’d argue that since we are responsible for wiping them out in the wild in the first place, it’s also our responsibility as a species to reintroduce them. Sure, there have been some speed bumps, but canceling recovery efforts altogether and declaring this creature extinct is not the way to go.
Either way, the ultimate fate of the red wolf rests in the hands of the Senate subcommittee that deals with the Interior Department and the Environment. Both the subcommittee and the Interior Department are under Republican control.
“Senate Republicans are trying to hammer a final nail in the coffin of the struggling red wolf recovery program,” Perrin de Jong, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
“It is morally reprehensible for Senator Murkowski and her committee to push for the extinction of North Carolina’s most treasured wild predator.”
It has to be said that Republican Party isn’t exactly known to be particularly fond of conservation – or scientific evidence in general.
Many of its members have advocated for abortions to be banned from 20 weeks, for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to have no scientific input, for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cancel climate and pollution research, and for elephant trophies to be brought back from several African countries – all despite there being no factual data to support these decisions.
This fairly sneaky attempt to end conservation efforts for the red wolf is just another addition to the litany of brash, regressive pieces of legislation the GOP have brought in. Any lawmaker that actively ignores or harms science should be held to account, of course, but it seems that the Republican Party are really pulling out all the stops.