HOWL Colorado

Red Wolf’s Last Stand

It’s early November 2011 on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The infamous Halloween Nor’easter that brought an early snowstorm farther north has blown down many a house. Now, days later, another nor’easter has snuck up on this flatline of beach.

Along a row of stilt-legged homes, I set foot out of my car to see what the holdup is on Highway 12. Somewhere ahead the asphalt has cracked open under the weight of floodwaters. Sirens sound and the sheriff arrives to set up roadway barricades. Turning tail and heading for the mainland, he warns, is the only way out.

First stop off the Outer Banks is the 240-square-mile Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1984 to preserve the area’s unusual pocosin, or shrub bog, habitat. Three years later it became the core site for reintroduction of the red wolf, a species officially extinct in the wild. The effort—a biological first—is succeeding, but precariously. The animals’ hold in the refuge is subject to a host of snares—hunters’ stray (and not-so-stray) bullets; the lethal threat of vehicles on roads and highways;the apathy, if not outright antipathy, of farmers; territorial infringement by and hybridization with coyotes; diseases, such as sarcoptic mange; and an uncertain genetic heritage. The nor’easter is a warning that a rise in sea level may further threaten their limited habitat.

David R. Rabon, coordinator of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Red Wolf Recovery Program, is like the Route 12 storm sheriff come ashore. His job in five North Carolina “red wolf counties”—Dare and Hyde, where the refuge is located, and, to their west, Tyrrell, Washington, and Beaufort—is to protect the vulnerable wolf population. In the middle of the refuge lies the regularly targeted 72-square-mile Dare Bombing Range. One pack of red wolves dens nearby; to check on the pups in spring, biologists must approach on Sundays when the range isn’t “hot” (though usually only smoke bombs or dummy rounds are dropped)…

Read the entire article on naturalhistorymag.com: Red Wolf’s Last Stand

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