Red wolf protections could disappear, along with the species

The effort to save red wolves in North Carolina has lasted 30 years, but could end soon depending on a U.S. Senate panel decision.

That Senate committee, at the request of Sen. Thom Tillis, has asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to end the program aimed at saving red wolves from extinction. The species, native to North Carolina, went extinct in the wild in the 1980s. Captive wolves were released shortly after and were able to re-populate in the wild -- however, the Red Wolf Coalition told FOX8 it's only aware of 25 remaining red wolves in the state.

In an explanatory statement regarding the program, the Senate Appropriations Committee wrote:

"The program has failed to meet population goals for the Red Wolf and has impacted North Carolina landowners and the populations of several other native species. The Committee encourages the Service to consider ending the program in the fiscal year 2018 and expects the Service to work closely with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission during fiscal year 2018 as it determines further actions on this matter."

The statement also referenced the 2015 request from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to end the program and declare red wolves extinct.

Rep. Pricey Harrison said in a Wednesday interview that she's disappointed the proposal is even being considered.

"It's one of the most endangered species on the planet, native to northeastern North Carolina, and I think it's a shame, I'm heartbroken about it," Harrison said. "It's a species that doesn't thrive in captivity so we are just looking at the demise of red wolves on this planet and I don't know why anyone thinks its a good idea."

The North Carolina Zoo has been instrumental in maintaining the red wolf population in captivity. The zoo currently has 18 red wolves in an off-site breeding area and two on zoo property for guests to see.

Zoo officials issued this statement to FOX8 regarding the proposal:

"The American red wolf is the most endangered canid in the world and is the only wolf indigenous to the United States. The North Carolina Zoo plays a key role in its survival. The Zoo has been actively involved in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) for more than 24 years and has partnered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the American red wolf from extinction. The second largest population of American red wolves under human care is at the North Carolina Zoo. There are 18 American red wolves living at the Zoo’s off-site breeding area, in addition to the two that are visible to guests. Three pups were born April 18, 2017 as part of the Zoo’s American red wolf breeding program. Additionally, one of our animal care specialists, Chris Lasher, is the vice coordinator for the Species Survival Plan for American red wolves.

"The North Carolina Zoo is a conservation organization, and our mission is to protect wildlife and wild places, both locally and globally. We believe it is our responsibility to look after endangered species, such as the American red wolf. According to the AZA’s Species Survival Plan, limiting the American red wolves to Federal lands in one county is not a sustainable plan. We all need to work together to find a way to protect the iconic American red wolf from extinction while minimizing the impact on landowners. Your Zoo is committed to saving the American red wolf, a native North Carolina species and the most endangered wolf in the world. We will continue to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to save the American red wolf."

Senator Thom Tillis' office also released a statement on the proposal:

“The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) Red Wolf Recovery Program has been a mismanaged, bureaucratic failure that has fallen short of its original goal of protecting the Red Wolf population. For years, the FWS violated its rule and released 132 Red Wolves into the wild where they were free to move from government lands onto private property, causing damage and terrorizing North Carolinians. Senator Tillis has personally met with property owners who have been harmed by the FWS’s mismanagement of the Red Wolf Recovery Program.”