by Christian HuntWithin the past two years, a disturbing trend has developed. Fueled by special interests, more than 150 bills or riders have been introduced to “modernize” the Endangered Species Act (ESA), effectively weakening and undermining the world’s strongest law to protect threatened and endangered animals of all kinds. Seen by many as the gold standard for conservation, the ESA has prevented the extinction of more than 220 species. Without its protection, America’s iconic species such as the gray wolf, California condor, Florida manatee, and bald eagle would have vanished long ago, leaving a gaping hole in our natural heritage. The ESA is our nation’s most effective law for protecting wildlife, preventing 99 percent of listed species from going extinct. This is even the case in North Carolina.
The red wolf once roamed the entire Southeast. Early settlers noted its small stature and distinctive howl that could be heard echoing through the forest every night. Although red wolves pose little threat to humans or livestock, they were relentlessly slaughtered for 300 years. By the time the ESA was implemented, the red wolf had disappeared throughout virtually all its range. On the edge of extinction, efforts began to capture the few remaining survivors before it was too late.
Fourteen red wolves were ultimately saved, brought into captivity and established the population we have today. In 1987, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released red wolves into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, in North Carolina, where they flourished. Reaching nearly 150 in number, the reintroduction effort was so successful that it became the model for bringing back gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park.
The red wolf still faces many challenges, and its future in the wild is by no means secure. One thing is certain; its long-term recovery continues to be entirely dependent upon the strength of the ESA. To fully recover the red wolf’s lost Southeastern strongholds, our bedrock conservation laws like the ESA must be strengthened, protected and improved—not undermined.
Christian Hunt is a Defenders of Wildlife Southeast Program associate. For more information, visit Defenders.org/southeast/our-top-priorities.