Three advocacy groups said Tuesday they intend to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect the endangered red wolf in North Carolina.
Twice since last year, the agency gave permission to private landowners to kill wolves on their land. One landowner shot a mother wolf in June.
The wolves run wild only on North Carolina’s Albemarle Peninsula. Their numbers have dropped quickly in the past three years as gunshot deaths mounted.
Fish and Wildlife had estimated their numbers at 50 to 75 this summer, down from 100 last year. The agency now says it is not confident of those numbers and does not know whether the population has dropped.
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Advocates quote the agency as reporting that 23 of 58 wolf deaths since 2012 were due to gunshots.
The federal agency said in June it will suspend new releases of wolves in North Carolina as it assesses “the feasibility of recovery for the species.”
North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission has urged the federal agency to end the program in North Carolina, which began in 1987.
The advocates’ notice gives the agency 60 days to remedy the problems or face a lawsuit. It was filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the North Carolina-based Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Welfare Institute.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must rededicate itself to ensuring the survival of America’s rarest wolf and restore the former successful recovery of this endangered species,” law center attorney Sierra Weaver said in a statement.
In a June news release, the agency said an unidentified landowner had previously won permission to trap two wolves on his property, one of which died in the trap. When wolves continue to be seen, the agency allowed the landowner to legally kill a wolf.
“We’re comfortable that we have the authority to take these management actions,” Fish and Wildlife spokesman Tom MacKenzie said.
The advocates, however, say the agency cited no “problem” or “offending” behavior by the wolf as is required before it was allowed to be killed.
The advocates also say Fish and Wildlife has failed to conduct a status review of the species every five years, as required. The most recent review was done in 2007.