WASHINGTON— A new report reveals that approximately 20,000 square miles of public land across five sites in the southeastern United States would be well-suited to reintroducing red wolves. This critically endangered native species has dwindled to just 14 known individuals in the wild.
The report, released today by the Center for Biological Diversity, identifies suitable public lands in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Together the five sites could support nearly 500 breeding pairs of red wolves.
Today’s report urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take steps immediately to return red wolves to these areas before they go extinct in the wild.
“Red wolves could thrive again across these vast areas, but only if the Trump administration returns them to the wild,” said Collette Adkins, the Center’s carnivore conservation director. “Without more reintroductions the red wolf could soon be extinct in the wild. These incredibly imperiled animals can’t afford any more delays.”
Relying on scientific studies of remaining habitat, the report describes five sites for red-wolf reintroduction. Each area meets basic requirements for successful reintroductions. Those include adequate prey, potential for reproductive isolation from coyotes to reduce hybridization, connectivity to other possible reintroduction sites, and few humans or roads.
The proposed reintroduction sites focus on publicly owned land, including the following national forests: Apalachicola and Osceola national forests in Florida; Monongahela, George Washington and Jefferson national forests in West Virginia and Virginia; Ozark and Ouachita national forests in Arkansas; Croatan, Pisgah and Nantahala national forests in North Carolina; and Talladega National Forest in Alabama.
The report recommends that the Fish and Wildlife Service develop a new red wolf recovery plan to outline actions necessary for red wolf conservation, including additional reintroductions. According to the report, a new recovery plan is “critical to saving this species and fostering a future where they can survive and ultimately thrive.”
“It’s inspiring that so many places remain ideal for returning red wolves to the wild,” said Adkins. “I'm hopeful this report will spur the Service to finally walk its talk and move forward with more red wolf reintroductions.”
Once common throughout southeastern United States, the red wolf has been reduced to a single wild population in eastern North Carolina. The Service has stopped taking actions necessary to conserve the remaining wild population, such as releases of captive-bred wolves and sterilization of coyotes to prevent hybrid animals from harming the gene pool.
In response to a 2016 petition for a revised recovery plan filed by animal protection and conservation organizations, the Service pledged to update the wolf’s plan by the end of last year. It has not done so. In June the Center launched a lawsuit against the Trump administration for failing to update its decades-old recovery plan.