Judges pauses changes to federal red wolf protections

A federal judge is order the government to hold off on its plan to roll back measures to protect the red wolf in North Carolina.

District Judge Terrence Boyle ordered Thursday that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) hold off on its plan to remove wild red wolf populations from private land, unless they can show certain harms being caused by the wolves, in a major win for conservationists.

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Boyle agreed with conservationists that the red wolf is in peril, and said they are likely to win on the merits in their challenge to the FWS’s decision to stop the managed reintroduction plan for wild red wolves, and limit their population to a small swath of federal land.

“Following reintroduction, the wild red wolf population in the red wolf recovery area grew steadily, with a peak population of an estimated 130 red wolves in 2006 and as many as twenty breeding pairs in a given year,” he wrote.

“In November 2013, there were an estimated 100 red wolves in the wild with an estimated eight breeding pairs,” Boyle said. “In March 2016, defendants estimated there to be only 45-60 red wolves in the wild. Such rapid population decline has been described as a catastrophic indicator that the wild red wolf population is in extreme danger of extinction.”

Conservationists cheered the judge’s order as a major win.

“This is a great day for red wolves and for anyone who loves nature in eastern North Carolina,” Sierra Weaver, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement. “The court was clear that it’s the Fish and Wildlife Service’s job to conserve this endangered species, not drive it to extinction. The agency cannot simply abandon that responsibility.”