UPDATE #1: When I wrote this last week, I thought the review undwerway was a formal 5-Year Review (which is required periodically for endangered species programs) and it’s legally required that public notices for these are to be published in the Federal Register. However, this morning (9/2) I was informed by the Red Wolf Recovery Program assistant coordinator that it’s not a 5-Year Review; it’s a special review that was requested by the State of NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and then later requested by the NC Farm Bureau, and the NC Sportsmen’s Caucus. I’m not clear where this leaves things legally in terms of public notification requirements — although a lawyer involved in the recent red wolf/coyote hunting lawsuit against the State of NC told me she believes the FWS was legally obligated to announce the review in the Federal Register but that they hadn’t in order to (from her perspective) better fly under the radar and make the program dissappear overnight.
UPDATE #2: The assistant coordinator apparently had no knowledge
that the FWS intended to issue their press release the Friday before a national Holiday, or that they were going to hold a press teleconference that afternoon. (I couldn’t call in due to previously scheduled appointments — which is probably exactly what the SE Regional Office of the FWS was counting on for most media members the Friday afternoon before Labor Day weekend.) I find it triply suspicious that the regional FWS office failed to notify the Red Wolf Recovery program in advance of its intention to issue a press release and hold a press conference. (My earlier posting for Update #2 was based on a statement I misunderstood — the asst. coordinator clarified by email that she did know of the press release in advance, but not of the press teleconference. My apologies for disseminating incorrect information.)
For a few weeks now, I’ve been suspecting that something awfully fishy is going on in Red Wolf Country. I can’t escape the premonition that higher-ups in the Fish and Wildlife Service are positioning their pawns to kill or significantly alter the red wolf reintroduction program. Three years have passed since I finished writing my book on red wolves, and it’s been one year since it was published. But so much has changed since then I can only shake my head in disbelief. All the hope I held onto when completing the book is wavering.
Red wolves are globally endangered, and though a captive population exists in some 40-plus breeding facilities across the U.S., the planet’s only wild red wolves, a mere 90 or so, inhabit 1.7 million acres on a spit of coastal swamp and forest known as the Albemarle Peninsula. The first reintroduced red wolves were released into Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on September 14, 1987. Nearly 27 years later, the FWS appears to be coming under intense pressure from anti-wolf advocates to shut down the red wolf program entirely.
On Friday, August 29, the FWS Southeast Regional Office issued a press release announcing the beginning of a 60-day review of the program and asking for public input. There’s information at the bottom of this post about how to submit comments. But first, there are a few importat things to note about what’s happened, and what hasn’t… taken together, something very fishy is brewing on the horizon:
1. The FWS issued this press release — perhaps the most important red wolf program press release ever — on the Friday before Labor Day. In other words, they dumped the news in such a way as to ensure few media outlets might pick up on it right away… it’s the best strategy in the world to let the information land with a soft poof and not make many waves until after the Labor Day weekend had passed — that is, if reporters even find the release in their inboxes by then.
2. The release stated a very short window of time for people to submit comments: a mere two weeks. Comments will be closed on Sept. 12. (I can’t help but dwell on the irony of that date, as it falls so close to the 27th anniversary of the red wolf program.) When the FWS last held a 5-year review of the red wolf program in 2005, they allowed two months for comments — this time, they’re only allowing two weeks for comments, three days of which are consumed by a national Holiday!
3. The program review is being conducted by a third party, the Wildlife Management Institute. Never having heard of this organization before I googled them only to discover their Board is composed primarily of people working in sportsmen’s organizations: the Boone and Crocket Club, Pheasants Forever, ATK Security and Shooting, and Pheasants Forever. Really? This is the crew who will decide the fate of the red wolf program? A sportsmen’s wildlife management group? By awarding the contract to WMI, it appears the FWS is all but signaling its desire to cut the red wolf program off at the knees.
4. The FWS has yet to publish in the Federal Register the initiation of a program review, or their solicitation of public comments. I’m fairly sure this may be an illegal avenue to holding a review at all: their regulations require the announcement to be published in the Federal Register. (9/2 Edit: See Update #1 above.)
5. Nor has the FWS published in the Federal Register the two planned open houses in northeastern North Carolina, where they have announced (in the press release) that the public is welcome to offer comments on the red wolf program.
Call me cynical, but something smells awfully rotten here. Combined, all of these elements reek that the SE Regional Office is harboring intentions of either significantly changing the red wolf program or perhaps eliminating it all together.
What can you do? Write an email attesting to your support of the red wolf recovery program. Send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The press release states the FWS is interested in hearing about “the public’s perspectives regarding red wolves, and red wolf recovery efforts in Eastern North Carolina . . . Interested individuals may submit comments, concerns, or information regarding the Eastern North Carolina non-essential, experimental red wolf population and the program evaluation . . .” The advocacy group The Red Wolf Coalition has posted an informative action alert on their website. I’m shamelessly cutting and pasting it below:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Red Wolf Recovery Program is currently undergoing a 60-day review, which is to be completed by 10 October 2014. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is gathering public perspective and opinion via three three methods: (1) email, (2) an online survey and (3) public focus group sessions. The future of the Recovery Program will depend to a significant degree on public input, and the red wolves are depending on YOU to be their voice. Below are ways you can show your support for red wolves and red wolf conservation.
- Send an email message to the Red Wolf Recovery Program at email@example.com. Please remember that positive comments get more attention than negative ones! Also, please be sure to send your email message by the end of business on 12 September 2014.
- Complete the online survey at http://jgassett.polldaddy.com/s/red-wolf-restoration-recovery-program. As above, be sure to complete your survey by the end of business on 12 September 2014
- Plan to attend a public focus group session. Details about these sessions are not yet complete, so watch this page for future information. In the meantime, here’s what we know as of 29 August 2014:
- The first session will be in Swan Quarter, North Carolina, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday, 10 September 2014, in the Mattamuskeet High School Cafeteria, which is located at 20392 U.S. Highway 264.
- The second session will be held in Columbia, North Carolina, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, 11 September 2014, in the Columbia High School Auditorium, which is located at 902 East Main Street.