Chapel Hill, NC—A North Carolina court halted a temporary state rule that allowed spotlight hunting of coyotes at night in the five-county area of eastern North Carolina inhabited by the world’s only wild population of red wolves (Canis rufus) on Wednesday, November 21. The ruling came in response to a preliminary injunction motion and request for expedited hearing filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) in Wake County Superior Court on behalf of the Animal Welfare Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Red Wolf Coalition.
“We are grateful that the court recognized the lethal threat spotlight hunting of coyotes at night poses to the few remaining red wolves,” said Tara Zuardo, a legal associate at the Animal Welfare Institute. “We need to focus on protecting and restoring this population in the wild, as it is essential to the conservation of the species. The red wolf needs these areas of protected habitat to survive.”
At least four of the 100 or so wild red wolves 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 was 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 to allow night hunting would “have the potential to result in unauthorized take of red wolves.”
An identical permanent rule that would allow spotlight hunting of coyotes at night in North Carolina could still go into effect if it is not blocked by the state legislature in January. SELC 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.
“Today, the court acted to prevent the killing of more endangered red wolves,” said Derb Carter, an SELC senior attorney who represents the groups. “Now the Commission should make sure its permanent rule to allow spotlighting of coyotes will not further harm red wolves.”
North Carolina is home to the world’s only wild population of these wolves. Captive-bred red wolves were reintroduced into a portion of their native range in the late 1980s after the wolves were declared extinct in the wild. Once common throughout the Southeast, intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat had eliminated all wild red wolf populations.