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Fate of World's Last 45 Red Wolves in the Wild in Hands of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), which has been managing a recovery operation for the critically endangered red wolf, will decide the fate of the species this month. Just 45 animals remain in and near the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.
Red wolves, like this one at the Wolf Conservation Center in New York, have been saved from extinction by captive breeding programs.Dan Zukowski
Most Americans are familiar with the majestic gray wolf, which has made a remarkable comeback due to conservation efforts. Although populations are far lower than pre-colonial times, today there are about 5,000 in the lower 48 and 7,000 to 11,000 in Alaska. Canada is home to a thriving population of up to 60,000 wolves. In North America, Arctic wolves inhabit the tundra of Alaska and Canada, Mexican gray wolves were once endemic to Mexico and the American Southwest, and red wolves roamed the American Southeast. There is debate among scientists whether these are separate species.
Wild red wolves went into decline after initial recovery efforts.Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Predator control programs and loss of habitat decimated red wolf populations. They were listed as an endangered species in 1973, and declared extinct in the wild by the USFWS in 1980. Prior to that, 17 animals had been placed in a captive breeding program at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. This allowed the reintroduction of red wolves to the North Carolina refuge in 1987 and later to additional areas in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and islands off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
As a result of the captive breeding program and reintroduction, wild red wolf populations increased throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, peaking at 130 animals in 2006. Populations then went into decline, followed by a severe crash beginning in 2014. The only surviving population is in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.
In March of 2016, the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against the USFWS for violating the Endangered Species Act, claiming mismanagement of the reintroduction program. In its press release issued at the time the suit was filed, the organization stated, "Bowing to political pressure, the Fish and Wildlife Service has stopped virtually all aspects of the recovery program for red wolves and is conducting a 'feasibility review' as a pretext to further dismantle the program." It is the result of that study that is expected to be announced this month.
"It's simply jaw-dropping that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is consciously deciding to issue a death sentence—knowingly allowing a wolf found only in the United States to go extinct," Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, said. "The red wolf has been one of our greatest wildlife success stories and could be again. It is a day I never thought I'd see."
Results of a poll of North Carolina voters released on Aug. 17 showed that 73 percent support red wolf recovery efforts. The numbers were almost identical among registered Republican and Democratic voters. Following that, on Aug. 29, 27 members of the North Carolina legislature signed a letter to the Secretary of the Interior expressing "grave concerns" about the actions of the USFWS. The letter asks that the USFWS be directed to resume and improve the recovery program.
Red wolves are generally smaller than gray wolves, growing to about 4.5-5.5 feet long, including the tail. Adults will weigh 50 to 80 pounds. They have a lifespan in the wild of just six to seven years.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to photograph two red wolves at the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in New York. The WCC has been part of the captive breeding program since 2004 and two litters have successfully bred there. One has returned to the wild, and 10 are currently at the WCC. They inhabit a large, fenced enclosure and fiercely patrol the perimeter of their area.
Seeing these wolves up close creates a connection to their place in nature and an understanding of why they need the help of the reintroduction program. Aside from the 45 animals in the wild, there are now about 200 in various captive breeding programs across the U.S.
Gray wolves have seen a successful recovery but are now being hunted in several areas.Dan Zukowski
The USFWS has been criticized for repeated attempts to delist gray wolves from protection. In 2003, they began reducing protection for wolves until stopped by court action. In 2009, hunting was allowed in the Northern Rockies and Western Great Lakes. Even though that was overturned, in 2011, the USFWS came back with another effort to remove protections in the region. Meanwhile, Congress removed protection for wolves in all of Montana and Idaho, the eastern third of Washington and Oregon, and a small portion of northern Utah.
Today, we are witnessing the massacre of the Profanity Pack of 11 gray wolves in northeast Washington. The killing is in response to rancher's complaints about cattle predation, but a study release last Thursday showed little scientific justification for such killings. The study looked at previous research on the effectiveness of killing predators to prevent livestock losses. They found that most of these studies showed that eliminating predators either didn't stop attacks or actually increased predation. The researchers recommended "that policy makers suspend predator control efforts that lack evidence for functional effectiveness and that scientists focus on stringent standards of evidence in tests of predator control."
For now, the fate of the last 45 wild red wolves is in the hands of the USFWS.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.