The suit claims coyote hunting is taking a toll on the red wolf population, since the two species look very similar. Since January 2008, 50 endangered red wolves have been killed, including six in a six-week period last fall. Some hunters who killed red wolves reported to authorities that they had mistaken the wolves for coyotes.
“Coyote hunting in the red wolf recovery area posed a serious threat to these extremely rare animals,” said Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife.
Environmental organizations had lobbied the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to halt coyote hunting in red wolf territory but were unsuccessful and thus turned to the federal courts. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the suit on behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Welfare Institute.
The suit claims the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission violated the Endangered Species Act by jeopardizing red wolf populations. Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild until a species reintroduction in the 1980s restored them to a five-county area in coastal North Carolina.
In a press release, the Wildlife Commission called the red wolf re-introduction “non-essential” and “experimental.”
Meanwhile, the N.C. Wildlife Commission considers coyotes a pest for preying on livestock, pets and native wildlife. Hunting is one way to keep the sharply increasing coyote population in check.
“The Commission is deeply concerned about potential impacts to private landowners, hunters and native wildlife resulting from this order,” said Jim Cogdell, chairman of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
In North Carolina’s other 95 counties, coyote hunting is a no-holds barred affair, allowed by any means, day or night, year-round, with no limit. The Wildlife Commission estimated more than 27,000 coyotes were killed in the state in 2012-2013.
But the environmental groups argued that hunting coyotes in red wolf territory poses too great a risk while also questioning the effectiveness of ramped-up hunting on coyote populations.
The federal judge’s order to suspend coyote hunting in red wolf territory will hold until the final lawsuit is heard. The Wildlife Resources Commission’s board is meeting this week to consider other legal and procedural steps regarding the temporary injunction.