Value of the Red Wolf

I am a hunter’s hunter, my track a sign of hope, its absence a warning.

— Christopher Camuto, Another Country: Journeying Toward the Cherokee Mountains In an article in the Fall 2009 issue of International Wolf magazine, former Red Wolf Recovery Program Coordinator David Rabon wrote about the value of restoring red wolves to the wild: Every species has intrinsic worth. In addition to the obvious aesthetic value, the red wolf plays a practical and positive role in maintaining healthy and balanced ecosystems. Restoring red wolves also enhances the Earth’s biodiversity. There are cultural and economic implications in restoring red wolves, as well, whether it is revering the wolf for its skills or what it represents in nature to the economic benefits of ecotourism or reducing crop damage caused by prey species. At the very least, there may be an ethical obligation to right past wrongs and learn from past mistakes that can only be realized or actualized with the restoration of red wolves and other predators.

And, in 2008, Dr. David Cobb of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) posed the following question to the Red Wolf Coalition: What is the conservation value of the red wolf?

Below is the first part of the response compiled by the RWC. If you would like to read the entire RWC response, please download The Value of Red Wolf Conservation.

Thank you for posing the question What is the conservation value of the red wolf? The Red Wolf Coalition gave serious consideration to a response for two reasons.

First, as an organization that advocates for the long-term survival of red wolf populations through accurate, science-based education, the Red Wolf Coalition must have solid justifications for encouraging public support for this endangered species. We appreciate your giving us an opportunity to once again think through this important issue and to respond.

Second, both gray and red wolves have returned to limited portions of their historic ranges in the lower 48 states because a significant number of people want them and value them enough to insist on their protection under federal law. The Coalition recognizes, however, that wolves can be troublesome when they live in proximity to people, especially as the human population increases and wild lands, where large carnivores thrive best, disappear. All stakeholders—state and federal agencies, property owners and conservation groups—need to come together to decide, through respectful discourse, what makes sense in terms of how many wolves we will have on the landscape and where they will live.

The Red Wolf Coalition has compiled an answer to your question in the context of biological (scientific), economic, social (and cultural), and political (and legal) elements. However, we feel it is also important to consider these elements in relation to the conservation value added to red wolf recovery in North Carolina using a comprehensive, collaborative process that is complementary to various missions and goals.

As you are aware, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered or threatened species is arrested, and threats are removed or reduced, thus ensuring the long-term survival of the species in the wild. Therefore, recovery is measured on a continuum. Some species can be fully recovered to healthy, self-sustaining populations. However, for most species, recovery requires the implementation of management actions for many years.

Regardless of the degree of management necessary to achieve or to sustain recovery, collaborative efforts are critical to recovery success. In fact, many conservation programs that have successfully recovered species have done so principally as result of management agreements between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the states, tribes, local agencies, and private landowners directly involved in the species’ conservation.

Unfortunately, the collaborative potential of red wolf conservation efforts has never been realized in North Carolina. The conservation value of red wolf recovery as it relates to biological, economic, social and political elements has not been addressed through a conflict resolution process. Thus, a mutually acceptable agreement has never been achieved. Furthermore, red wolf conservation opportunities have been lost, and will continue to be lost, until a fundamental collaborative framework is established. That is not to imply that wholesale collaboration will ultimately lead to self-sustaining red wolf populations in the wild. But to attempt red wolf restoration and to craft solutions to wolf-human conflicts without such partnerships will certainly prolong, and may indeed hinder, the species’ recovery.

We look forward to discussing with you the value of a collaborative and consensus-building approach to red wolf restoration.