Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 16, 2016

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

Red Wolf Population Plunges to as Few as 50 as Feds Gut Recovery Program

 Anti-wildlife Groups Spur Halt to Recovery Efforts, Poaching Investigations

WASHINGTON— The nation’s only population of red wolves is in an alarming free-fall, declining by 27 percent from 2014 to 2015 to as few as 50 individuals, according to new population counts released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Red wolf population graphThe total estimated population has declined by about 50 percent since 2012, from 100 to 120 individuals to just 50 to 75 in 2015. The declines have occurred since the Service bowed to political pressure from the state of North Carolina, eliminating the program’s recovery coordinator in 2014 and stopping the introduction of new red wolves into the wild in July 2015.  The agency also ended a coyote-sterilization program to prevent hybrid animals from harming the gene pool, drastically reduced law-enforcement investigations of wolf deaths, and stopped publicizing cases where poaching was determined to be the cause of deaths.

“Director Ashe and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are deliberately condemning the red wolf to extinction,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The red wolf recovery program was once a shining example of successful conservation. Under the direction of Dan Ashe, the program has been quietly dismantled to appease a few anti-wildlife zealots. It’s disgraceful.”

Red wolf releases in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge began in the mid-1980s and pushed the population to more than 100 wolves by the mid-2000s. The population stopped growing in 2011 as gunshot mortalities increased. Red wolf mortality skyrocketed after North Carolina authorized nighttime hunting of coyotes because red wolves and coyotes are nearly indistinguishable in the dark. Following a successful lawsuit to stop nighttime hunting, the Fish and Wildlife Service faced increased political pressure to curtail the red wolf recovery program.    

“Conservation scientists have shown that recovering the red wolf is completely achievable and know what steps need to be taken next,” said Hartl. “Rather than following the science, the red wolf program is in disarray because the Service won’t stand up to this political pressure.”

A 2014 report from the independent Wildlife Management Institute 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.

There is strong local and national support for red wolves. Recently 100 citizens who live in the red wolf recovery area in North Carolina sent a petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service expressing their support for keeping endangered red wolves in the wild. In addition, 110,000 people from around the United States, including more than 1,500 North Carolina residents, submitted letters in support of the red wolf program.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Go back