There is still mystery and majesty in the American landscape, in the form of a little-known and critically-endangered species indigenous to the east coast – A shy, modestly sized native singer who used to roam large portions of the US from New York to Florida and westward to Texas. After an initially brilliant cooperative recovery effort, though, this jewel is being abandoned by the very government agency entrusted with it’s survival.
Canis rufus, the Red Wolf is in a death spiral.Their tenuous population has plummeted from 120 to only 50 individuals in just a few years, not due to natural causes, but by organized, fear-mongering hunters, anti-government forces, and haters – not to mention a complete lack of will by those charged with facilitating their recovery. Despite initially successful efforts to assist this unique, elusive and beautiful animal in reclaiming it’s rightful place, starting in a select North Carolina ecosystem, recent failures by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, under the directorship of Dan Ashe, threaten to doom the red wolf to extinction in the wild.
The Red Wolf is indigenous to the Eastern US, meaning, the species was born here and exists no where else on Earth.That makes it pretty special, and America should be proud. The Red Wolf deserves full protection and respect.
Indeed, they’re a true treasure; a fascinating species with a strikingly different look than their gray wolf counterparts. Red wolves are smaller, sleeker, with larger, more pointed ears and sporting a smart-looking agouti-style coat patterned in warm, rich autumnal hues – a coat that wears like a slicker in the summer and grows dense and shaggy in winter. They are different than gray wolves in other ways, too. Rather than tackling big game like bison or elk in packs, these modestly-sized wild canids living mostly in bonded pairs, feed on smaller prey like rats, rabbits, nutria, squirrels, insects, reptiles and amphibians (and the occasional young deer), which makes them valuable for keeping populations of many so-called ‘pest’ species in check.
Plus, to add a note of inspiration, they are the improvisational tenor jazz-singers of the forest. They can be heard here, in a recording from the Red Wolf Recovery team of the US Fish and Wildlife service. Their music enriches the landscapes in which they still roam, swelling the hearts of wildlife lovers everywhere.
Red wolves are beautiful, melodious, shy and beneficial for the environment. Who wouldn’t want these good citizens to resume their rightful places in our wild-lands? In fact a large majority of North Carolina and other US citizens strongly support red wolf recovery efforts. So why are a couple anti-wolf forces being allowed to derail the survival of an entire species? That comes down to the familiar-sounding anti-government rants we’re used to lately, disinformation from the hunting lobby, politics and a deep, fatal weakness in the implementation of the endangered species program by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which, under Obama appointee Dan Ashe, seems to have lost the backbone to stand up against even a tiny, malevolent anti-wildlife force. In fact, actively dismantling the ESA would be a more precise description, and is a grievous disservice to the most important tool against loss of biological diversity at our disposal. The USFW has outlined their take on the issue, here. But if their efforts are truly on the behalf of a recovered and genetically viable wild population of red wolves, why have numbers of this gravely imperiled species plummeted? And why are the big conservation watchdogs like the Center for Biological Diversity crying foul?
“Director Ashe and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are deliberately condemning the red wolf to extinction,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The red wolf recovery program was once a shining example of successful conservation. Under the direction of Dan Ashe, the program has been quietly dismantled to appease a few anti-wildlife zealots. It’s disgraceful.” The situation is grim, a gross betrayal by our own government of one of the most imperiled species on the planet. Humans are driving the loss of not just wolves, but a staggering number of species around the globe. In fact, humans are responsible for this 6th mass extinction event in our planet’s history. And it’s getting worse – which doesn’t bode well for our future.
The release on red wolves goes on to say, “The total estimated population has declined by about 50 percent since 2012, from 100 to 120 individuals to just 50 to 75 in 2015. The declines have occurred since the Service bowed to political pressure from the state of North Carolina, eliminating the program’s recovery coordinator in 2014 and stopping the introduction of new red wolves into the wild in July 2015. The agency also ended a coyote-sterilization program to prevent hybrid animals from harming the gene pool, drastically reduced law-enforcement investigations of wolf deaths, and stopped publicizing cases where poaching was determined to be the cause of deaths.”
The coyote situation threw a real wrench in the works. “Red wolf mortality skyrocketed after North Carolina authorized nighttime hunting of coyotes because red wolves and coyotes are nearly indistinguishable in the dark. Following a successful lawsuit to stop nighttime hunting, the Fish and Wildlife Service faced increased political pressure to curtail the red wolf recovery program.”. The crazy part about this whole battle is that, before red wolves were very nearly driven to extinction by humans, coyotes were unheard of in the eastern half of the country – It was only when we removed the red wolf that the opportunistic and resourceful coyote, seeing a newly available ecological niche, moved in to former red wolf territory. Presumably a reinvigorated population of native red wolves would reduce eastern coyote populations naturally, just as the restoration of gray wolves in Yellowstone park has repaired the balance there.
Politics should have no place in species preservation, nor should the whims of hunters, who already exert power all out of proportion to their numbers. Unfortunately a strident minority has so far been successfully pressuring our government to make disastrous decisions against the public good. Something precious that was being welcomed by people around the country (even the world), short-circuited by an obstructive and selfish few? Something is very wrong here. Should we petition for the removal of Dan Ashe? Will the people continue to sit passively while a few haters cow the USFWS into capitulating to their demands? Shall politics trump sound science, as well as the will of the people, the majority of whom strongly support red wolf recovery?
For more information or to get involved, follow the Center for Biological Diversity, and Red Wolf Coalition.