Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 4, 2023


Perrin de Jong, (828) 252-4646,

Lawsuit Challenges ‘Nonessential’ Designation of Last Wild Red Wolf Population

World’s Most Endangered Wolf Left With Fewer Protections

RALEIGH, N.C.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to classify the world’s last wild population of red wolves as ‘nonessential.’

The red wolf is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and is among the most imperiled species in the world. Just 13 known wild red wolves survive in eastern North Carolina.

“It’s absurd for the Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude that the world’s last wild population of red wolves isn’t essential,” said Perrin de Jong, Southeast staff attorney at the Center. “It’s time for the agency to acknowledge that this persecuted population of endangered wolves is an irreplaceable part of Southeastern ecosystems. These severely imperiled animals deserve the highest level of protection.”

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, notes that the Endangered Species Act defines an experimental population as ‘essential’ if the loss of the population would significantly reduce the likelihood of the species’ survival in the wild. Because the red wolf experimental population is the only wild population of the species, its loss would eliminate the species from the wild.

The law therefore compels the Service to designate the population as ‘essential’ and provide greater protections to the red wolves, the suit notes.

Red wolves once roamed the American Southeast and beyond, from Texas to Florida and as far north as New York. But people relentlessly killed the predators after the colonization of the Americas until only a handful remained.

In 1986 the Service established an experimental population of red wolves in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and designated it as ‘nonessential.’ In 1995 the agency revised the management rule for this population and created allowances for private landowners to kill red wolves.

In 2016 the Center and allies petitioned the Service to reclassify the population as ‘essential’ and eliminate allowances for private landowners to kill non-offending wolves. In January 2023 the Service denied the Center’s petition. Today’s lawsuit challenges that decision. The suit also aims to remove the agency’s rules allowing private landowners to needlessly shoot red wolves.

“The agency must follow the letter and spirit of the Endangered Species Act and start treating red wolves with the utmost level of care,” said de Jong.

The Service last week released a final red wolf recovery plan that calls for important conservation measures, including the establishment of new wolf populations and a reduction in human-caused wolf deaths.

Adult red wolf. Photo by Rebecca Harrison/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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