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A red wolf in captivity in Florida. Mark Conlin / Getty Images

Here at EcoWatch, we love red wolves. Seriously, I challenge you to watch this video of "Four Weeks Young" wolves at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina and not fall in love:

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The same scientists who provided the population viability analysis to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the red wolf have sent a rebuttal to the agency, accusing it of "many alarming misinterpretations" in its justification for removing most of the remaining animals in the wild.

Last month, the USFWS announced that it would recapture 32 of the 45 wolves in the wild and leave only those on federal lands. Currently, there are about 200 red wolves in captive breeding programs in the U.S. as part of the agency's Species Survival Plan (SSP).

The letter, released to the public today, bluntly counters the agency's proposal to recapture 32 wolves and place them in captive breeding programs:

"A singular focus on the SSP will no doubt result in extinction of red wolves in the wild."

On Sept. 29, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction ordering the USFWS to stop capturing and killing—and authorizing private landowners to capture and kill—members of the rapidly dwindling population of wild red wolves.

"There's no need to capture wild wolves in an effort to save the captive population, which is what the service contends," said Defenders of Wildlife attorney Jason Rylander.

In their letter, the three scientists, from Lincoln Park Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and the AZA Population Management Center, dispute the agency's contention that the captive breeding program needs more wild red wolves for greater genetic diversity.

"The scientists' letter makes clear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's proposal to withdraw red wolves from most of their range in North Carolina has no scientific basis and confirms that the agency's conclusion that the captive population is at risk is wrong," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.

A poll of North Carolina voters and the state legislature have shown strong support for the efforts to restore the red wolves to their native habitat. For now, the injunction remains in effect. No court date has been set for a hearing and it is not expected until sometime in 2017.

The letter asks the agency to "edit or append" its decision memo. "This letter confirms what red wolf advocates have been saying all along: capturing wild red wolves and placing them into captivity isn't the answer. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to recommit to red wolf recovery in the wild," Clark said.

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Sending a mixed message for the future of red wolves, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday it will confine red wolf recovery to just federal lands in Dare County, North Carolina, but will identify new sites for wolf introductions and double the number of captive-breeding pairs. The long-delayed announcement comes after the agency announced back in June 2015 that it was suspending red wolf reintroductions into the wild while it re-evaluated the feasibility of the recovery program.

Nearly 500,000 red wolf supporters signed a petition delivered last month to the Fish and Wildlife Service calling on the agency to continue to work to recover the dwindling red wolf population, with only a reported 45 red wolves left in the wild.B. Barte/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

"It's good the service is acknowledging that we need more breeding pairs and new reintroduction sites to spur red wolf recovery," said Jamie Pang, endangered species campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. "But we're extremely disappointed in the agency's highly political decision to confine red wolves to only federal public lands. The best opportunity for red wolf survival is to allow these animals to expand onto the private lands surrounding the refuges."

The best available science demonstrates that red wolves are still recoverable. A 2014 report written by the Wildlife Management Institute at the behest of the service concluded that if the red wolf is going to recover, two additional populations need to be established in the wild and additional resources need to be invested to build local support for red wolf recovery.

A recent population viability analysis, released in June, also concluded that red wolf survival is possible if more captive populations are released into the wild and mortality is reduced. The Center for Biological Diversity submitted an emergency petition to revise the 10(j) rule requesting the service reduce shooting deaths on private lands and identify additional reintroduction sites.

Nearly 500,000 red wolf supporters signed a petition delivered last month to the Fish and Wildlife Service calling on the agency to continue to work to recover the dwindling red wolf population, with only a reported 45 red wolves left in the wild.

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