The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday it is dropping a change proposed under the Trump administration that would have drastically reduced the recovery area for the endangered red wolf.
“Based on recent court decisions involving the plan and having considered public comments submitted in response to the 2018 proposed rule, the Service determined that withdrawing the proposed rule is the best course of action at this time,” according to a news release.
Red wolves, which are native to the southeastern United States, have dwindled to only a handful in the wild scattered across parts of Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington and Beaufort counties.
A government study released in March 2019 found the endangered red wolves that roam the counties just inland of the Outer Banks are a unique species – and not coyote/gray wolf hybrids as some have claimed.
Announced in June 2018, the plan would have reduced federal management of red wolves to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Dare County Bombing Range.
The settlement of a federal law suit announced in 2020 mandated the Fish and Wildlife Service to update its plan for saving the red wolf by February 2023.
The lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure by the end of 2018 to revise the recovery plan from 1990.
The Endangered Species Act requires the agency to prepare plans that serve as roadmaps to species recovery, identifying measures needed to ensure conservation and survival, such as reintroductions.
According to a report from the center, five potential reintroduction sites were identified that together could support nearly 500 breeding pairs of red wolves. All the sites are on public lands in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
The center also said the Fish and Wildlife Service had not taken steps to reintroduce red wolves elsewhere and has stopped taking many actions — such as widespread sterilization of coyotes to prevent hybrid animals from harming the gene pool — that are necessary to conserve the remaining wild population.
Withdrawal of the 2018 proposed rule means red wolves will continue to be managed under existing regulations. The Service noted that will be clarified by relevant court orders.
Management under the 1995 rule recognizes the service’s authority to release additional wolves and conduct adaptive management. Within the “North Carolina nonessential experimental population”, the service will work with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to implement coyote sterilization on federal lands and non-federal lands subject to written landowner agreements.
Authorized take will be limited to protection of oneself or others from potential harm, protection of livestock or pets in immediate danger, and unintentional take.
The service will continue to work with stakeholders to identify ways to encourage and facilitate more effective coexistence between people and wolves, through programs such as Prey for the Pack, and to establish the support necessary for red wolf conservation.
The proposed rule that published June 28, 2018, to replace the existing regulations governing the NC NEP designation of the red wolf under section 10(j) of the ESA will be withdrawn on November 15, 2021, upon publication in the Federal Register.
The withdrawal of the proposed rule, comments, and supplementary documents are available at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2018-0035.
For more information on the red wolf recovery program, please visit: https://www.fws.gov/southeast/wildlife/mammals/red-wolf/.
This story originally appeared on OBXToday.com. Read More local stories here.