After four endangered wolves were killed, a North Carolina court today granted conservation groups’ request to stop a temporary state rule that allows spotlight hunting of coyotes at night in the five county area of eastern North Carolina inhabited by the world’s only wild population of about 100 red wolves. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the motion for preliminary injunction and a request for expedited hearing in Wake County Superior Court on behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Welfare Institute.
“Today, the court acted to prevent the killing of more endangered red wolves,” said Derb Carter, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the groups. “Now the commission should make sure its permanent rule to allow spotlighting of coyotes will not further harm red wolves.”
An identical permanent rule that allows spotlight hunting of coyotes at night in North Carolina may still go into effect. The law center notified the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission that it is in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing spotlight hunting of coyotes and the groups will file a federal enforcement action unless the commission takes steps to protect the wolves.
At least four of the few remaining wild red wolves (Canis rufus) have been killed since the rule went into effect. Red wolves and coyotes are similar in size, coats, and coloring so red wolves are frequently mistaken for coyotes, even in daylight. Gunshot deaths are a significant threat to red wolf recovery and a leading cause of red wolf mortality.
By allowing night hunting of coyotes, the commission is committing an unlawful take (i.e., harass, harm, hunt, or kill) of the red wolf. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated in its public comments that the Commission’s rule “amendments to allow night hunting have the potential to result in unauthorized take of red wolves.”
North Carolina is home to the world’s only wild population of red wolves. Red wolves bred in captivity were reintroduced on a North Carolina peninsula within their native range in the late 1980’s after red wolves were declared extinct in the wild. Once common throughout the Southeast, intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat eliminated wild red wolf populations.