February 6, 2014

NC: Animal Rights Groups Challenges Wildlife Resource Commission Management Authority in Court

North Carolina recently joined a number of states where animal rights groups are challenging state wildlife-management authority.  The on-going issue between the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) and animal rights groups centers on the issues involving the reintroduction and recovery program of red wolves in the state. 

Three animal rights groups filed a federal lawsuit in December 2013 against the NCWRC asking for a temporary injunction against all coyote hunting practices allowed by the Commission in the five counties encompassing the red wolf recovery area.  Noting the similar appearances of coyotes and red wolves, and the potential hybrid coyote-wolves, the groups argue that incidental take of red wolves has increased given the NCWRC’s allowance of coyote hunting in the area.  If approved, the petitioning groups’ injunction would halt previously approved coyote hunting in the area immediately and impact the Commission’s ability to manage wildlife populations in the five counties part of the red wolf recovery area.

Native to North America, the red wolf has been labeled as ‘extinct in the wild’ since 1980.  In an effort to restore the species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the red wolf restoration program in 1987 and has been able to increase the number of red wolves in northeastern North Carolina as part of their recovery efforts.  Available statistics show that the program has established a net gain of four breeding pairs of red wolves in the recovery area in the last 27 years and spent over $28 million in doing so. 

North Carolina’s reintroduced red wolves are designated as an “experimental, non-essential population” – officially known as 10(j) – under the Endangered Species Act.  This designation provides the USFWS with added flexibility when developing management plans and regulations, oftentimes resulting in a management regime that can be more compatible with routine human activities in the reintroduction area and can allow for incidental take in certain circumstances. 

NCWRC is the state government agency created to conserve and sustain the state’s fish and wildlife resources through research, scientific management, and public input.  In recent years, the NCWRC has moved forward with year-round, 24 hours a day hunting for wild hogs and coyotes in an effort to curtail the extensive problems that can be caused by the respective animals. While invasive hogs are infamous for their reproductive capability and destruction to cropland and fish and wildlife habitat; coyote populations have significant negative impacts on deer and small game populations if not managed properly. Potentially confounding the NCWRC’s ability and authority to manage these animals is the aforementioned federal lawsuit filed in December 2013.  

Among the sportsmen’s group who have weighed in on the issue is Safari Club International (SCI) who filed an amicus brief on January 15 in support of the NCWRC authority and provisions of coyote hunting in the red wolf recovery area. In an email to their members, SCI said they “hope to explain to the court how halting coyote hunting will affect SCI members, the hunting community, and the public.” The hearing is scheduled for February 11 in Raleigh, NC.

As animal rights groups move forward with their request for a temporary injunction, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and other members of the sportsmen’s community will continue to keep an eye on developments which could potentially impact hunters, private landowners and other wildlife in North Carolina.

To read the lawsuit filed by the three animals rights groups click here

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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