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Poaching, Politics and the Price Tag Have Undercut the Recovery of the Wolf

posted Jun 30, 2019, 7:54 PM by chloe owens

5/23/2019, The Associated Press, Colorado Public Radio

Poaching, Politics and the Price Tag Have Undercut the Recovery of the Wolf

Illegal killings and longstanding political resistance have undercut the return of two species of endangered wolves to the wild, frustrating government efforts that already cost more than $80 million but have failed to meet recovery targets. The number of red wolves roaming the forests of North Carolina has plunged to fewer than three dozen in recent years — the most precarious position of any U.S. wolf species. In the Southwest, a record number of Mexican gray wolves turned up dead in 2018, tempering an increase in the overall population to 131 animals. With such small numbers in the wild, biologists say poaching has a big effect. Over the last two decades, more than half of Mexican wolf deaths and about one in four red wolf deaths resulted from gunshots or were otherwise deemed illegal…Red wolves are in an area dominated by farms and private land. At least 96 red wolves died of gunshot wounds over nearly three decades…Legal protections for red wolves have been solidified by the recent scientific conclusion that they’re a distinct species, not a wolf-coyote hybrid as some landowners argued. But conservationists worry the news comes too late, with only 25 to 30 of the canines left in the wild and 200 or more in captive breeding programs…a 1990 federal recovery plan goal for 220 animals in the wild was never met. Wolf numbers were bolstered by releases of captive-born pups and sterilization of coyotes that competed for space. But those approaches were halted in 2015 amid pressure from conservative politicians and landowners who deemed wolves a nuisance. Conservationists contend the government abandoned proven techniques. “The biggest problem now is not the mortality, it’s the lack of releases,” said McGee, the lawyer…an eastern North Carolina landowner, complains wolves have made it harder to fight coyotes that kill deer on game land. A federal judge in 2014 banned night hunting of coyotes in red wolf territory because the canines are easily mixed up.