ManatakaAmerican Indian Council









Red Wolf In Peril

PhotoRed wolves are special. They are the only large predators ever to have been declared extinct in the wild, bred in captivity and successfully reintroduced to a portion of their former range. Bringing the red wolf back from the brink of extinction has been a pioneering venture, and thanks to the efforts of the people who worked diligently for years to ensure that red wolves would once again live in the wild, there is now hope and cautious optimism. But the future of the red wolf is not secure. Although red wolf numbers continue to rise slowly, the recovery effort faces major challenges.


Challenge #1 – Limited Release Sites

Under the terms of the recovery plan for the red wolf, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) must find two additional reintroduction sites. This is difficult for two reasons. First, there are few large tracts of land in the Southeast. Human density is high, development is rapid, and roads and interstate highways fragment the region. Second, there is no place in the Southeast that is coyote-free.

Challenge #2 –The Potential for Hybridization with Coyotes

Because of low numbers of red wolves in the wild (about 100), the potential for interbreeding with coyotes still exists, and the red wolf continues to face the possible loss of its genetic identity. In 1999, the USFWS partnered with various organizations and scientific experts to develop a zone-based Red Wolf Adaptive Management Plan to protect the wild red wolf population from hybridization with coyotes. The plan established three zones where red wolves will eventually replace coyotes. The first five years of adaptive management demonstrated that coyotes and interbreeding can be effectively managed, red wolves can be successfully restored, and red wolves can displace or kill coyotes. The wild red wolf population is expanding, and red wolf reproduction is increasing. The current recovery goal for the species is 550 animals (at least 220 in the wild), but that figure may change depending on the overall health of the population.

Challenge #3 – Illegal Red Wolf Mortality

Red wolves are intermediate in size between the larger gray wolves and smaller coyotes. The average adult red wolf weighs from 50 to 80 pounds, stands about 26 inches at the shoulder, and is about four feet long from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail. Red wolves have tall, pointed ears, long legs and large feet. Since coyotes, a non-native species, have spread into the recovery area, it is important to be able to distinguish between the two species. Adult coyotes weigh about one-half to two-thirds as much as adult red wolves and are approximately four inches shorter. Red wolves are more massive through the head and chest. However, red wolf yearlings can be confused with adult coyotes because of their similar size.

Concerned about the number of adult breeders killed by gunshot, the USFWS and the Red Wolf Coalition in partnership with Defenders of Wildlife developed and distributed a laminated pocket-sized card to help hunters distinguish between red wolves and coyotes. These cards were presented by state agencies at hunter education classes throughout North Carolina. A “Please Don’t Shoot” advisory was recommended for the five-county Albemarle Peninsula recovery area.

Challenge #4 – The Potential Negative Impacts on Red Wolves from the Proposed Navy Outlying Landing Field

Despite the opposition of many local residents in the five-county red wolf recovery area and the concerns of environmentalists about the nearby Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the red wolf population in the area, the Navy is actively pursuing its plan to build a jet landing strip on a site in northeastern North Carolina’s Washington County. The strip, called an Outlying Landing Field (OLF), would be located midway between Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia and the Marine Corps Air Station at Havelock, where the F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighters are to be based. The 8,000-foot runway would be located in the core 2,000 acres of the OLF, surrounded by approximately 28,000 acres of buffer zone. Included at the OLF site would be an air traffic control tower.

While sympathetic to and supportive of the military and its mission (the state is home to two of the largest military bases in the country, Ft. Bragg and Camp Lejeune), the building of the OLF in rural northeastern North Carolina adjacent to a national wildlife refuge has caused a firestorm of controversy. The refuge is one of the East Coast’s most important wildlife sanctuaries and is in the heart of the Atlantic flyway for migratory birds. It provides migratory habitat for more than 100,000 waterfowl. Ducks, tundra swans and snow geese spend the winter foraging on the refuge and on surrounding farmland. Opponents of the OLF are concerned about the danger of collisions between large birds and the aircraft.

The 8,000-foot OLF runway (painted like an aircraft carrier deck) would handle more than 13,000 practice flights a year, an average of 70 daily touch-and-go practice landings each day. These touch-and-go exercises would occur mainly at night to allow the jets to simulate night landing on aircraft carriers.

Additionally, there is concern about the potential negative impacts of the proposed OLF on the resurgent red wolf population, a federally endangered species. The Red Wolf Coalition, a nonprofit education organization working in partnership with the USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Team, has joined scores of other organizations, individuals and agencies in opposing the location of the proposed OLF.

While no one can predict with certainty what the outcome will be, enough scientific data have been gathered to demonstrate that the establishment of an OLF such as the one proposed by the Navy will have a significant negative impact on the only wild red wolf population in the world. Groups opposing the construction of this facility urge the Navy to consider the alternative sites that have been proposed.

Learn more about red wolves and red wolf recovery
Red Wolf Coalition information and position statement on the Navy OLF
Southern Environmental Law Center information on the Navy OLF
U.S. Fleet Forces Command information on the Super Hornet and proposed OLF in North Carolina


Submitted by Awi Anida Waya




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