An Open Letter to All Red Wolf Fans, Supporters, and Advocates from the Executive Director and the Board of Directors of the Red Wolf Coalition
Since the Red Wolf Coalition (RWC) was founded in 1997, it has worked productively with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Red Wolf Recovery Program in a shared commitment to protect, educate and advocate on behalf of endangered red wolves.
A component of our education mission has been the public presentations at the Red Wolf Education Center (REC) Red Wolf Exhibit, located on the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (PLNWR). Conducted by RWC Executive Director Kim Wheeler, these lively interactive programs inform people about red wolves, red wolf recovery, and national wildlife refuge values. Most importantly, the programs engage people in the stewardship of our wildlife and our public lands. Hundreds of people, young and old, have attended these presentations where they have learned about red wolves while watching them in their woodland habitat. Hank and Betty, the two ambassador red wolves at the REC, have provided visitors with the chance to observe red wolves; their wild counterparts are elusive and rarely seen. For past two years, programs at the Red Wolf Exhibit have been free to the public. Additionally, Kim has served as the day-to-day caretaker of the REC’s resident wolves, which involves feeding the animals and informally monitoring their health and their interactions with each other.
THE RED WOLF EXHIBIT
The Red Wolf Exhibit at the REC opened in October 2012 after two years of planning and preparation. The RWC obtained all of the federal funding for the habitat enclosures and the perimeter fencing by securing a Rural Development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Additionally, we obtained private foundation grant money for the veterinary holding pens. The RWC also raised the money for the Pollination Garden planted near the REC, and the organization paid for the bleachers in the woods where program attendees could sit and watch the red wolves. At the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the REC, the Red Wolf Coalition officially donated the Red Wolf Exhibit, which is located on federal land, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
MEMORANDUM OF AGREEMENT WITH USFWS
Since November 2012, the RWC and the USFWS have operated under a specific three-year Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the REC. This MOA clearly sets forth the responsibilities and expectations of each party regarding the programs at the REC. The RWC has been an excellent partner throughout this period, providing all of the public outreach at the Center (the RWC hosted approximately 750 visitors in 2015). The RWC received high praise from visitors and from the Pocosin Lakes NWR.
THE CURRENT SITUATION
The three-year MOA was due for renewal the end of November 2015. The RWC met recently with the USFWS to discuss the MOA. At that meeting, the USFWS informed RWC that the MOA would not be renewed. No reasons for this decision were provided by personnel at PLNWR or by the USFWS Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE RWC AND THE PUBLIC
The Red Wolf Coalition will no longer be able to conduct wolf programs at the REC, nor will our Executive Director be involved in the care of the wolves. However, please be assured that the wolves will be well cared for by USFWS personnel.
We are actively seeking an official explanation for the decision. Until we have some information, we do not recommend any action on the part of our supporters. Please do not contact PLNWR, USFWS or any other related agency about this issue. We will keep you updated as to if and when we need to mobilize on this issue.
This action on the part of the USFWS has only strengthened our resolve and commitment to red wolves. We will need the Red Wolf Pack (that’s you) to stand strong for red wolves more than ever. We know we can count on you. Thank you for your loyalty and your commitment to one of the world’s most endangered animals.