Population size of the red wolf population in North Carolina. Graphic: USFWS

24 April 2018 (USFWS) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a five-year status review and Species Status Assessment [pdf] outlining the latest science and data supporting its recommendation for no change in the red wolf’s overall status as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The status review is required every five years and is based on the latest science and data included in a Species Status Assessment (SSA) that serves as the foundation for the recommendation.

In addition, the Service expects to release an environmental assessment and a new proposed rule by late summer with alternatives for public comment covering future management of the non-essential, experimental population (NEP) of red wolves in eastern North Carolina. An NEP is one that is considered not essential for the continued existence of the species. The Service is also beginning work with an independent organization as directed by Congress to determine within one year if the red wolf represents a taxonomically valid species designation.

The red wolf was listed as endangered in 1967 and declared extinct in the wild in 1980. In 1995, a special rule was put in place to manage a nonessential, experimental population of captive-bred red wolves in five eastern North Carolina counties.

Today’s announcement is part of a comprehensive examination of all the science, data and management experience the Service has invested in the ongoing evaluation of the overall red wolf recovery program begun more than three years ago.

Currently, there are about 40 red wolves in the wild in eastern North Carolina in the NEP and more than 200 wolves in captive breeding facilities around the United States. The red wolf NEP in North Carolina peaked at about 120-130 wolves in 2006. It has declined steadily to about 40 today, and hybridization with coyotes remains a challenge.

In September 2016, the Service announced it had completed a two-year evaluation of the entire red wolf recovery program with a peer-reviewed assessment by the Wildlife Management Institute. At that time, the Service announced several conservation actions:

  • Maintain a sufficient captive breeding population;
  • Propose, through public notice, comment and rulemaking, to reduce the NEP management area to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Dare County Bombing Range in eastern North Carolina; this will include a Section 7 consultation, National Environmental Policy Act requirements, and any other environmental compliance actions that may be needed;
  • Complete a [comprehensive SSA]() for the red wolf to guide the Service’s recovery planning in the future; and
  • Complete a five-year status review of the red wolf.

Learn more

Contact

Phil Kloer, Public Affairs Specialist
Philip_kloer@fws.gov, (404) 679-7299

Status review shows the red wolf remains endangered


Analysis boundary and mean sea level in 125 years for the habitat of red wolves in Dare County, North Carolina. Graphic: USFWS

24 April 2018 (USFWS) – In the wild, hurricanes and storms could result in mortality through mechanisms such as wind intensity or flooding. One male wolf died on Bulls Island shortly after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, while the injuries sustained during the hurricane were suspected, it was unclear what caused his death (M. Morse, 2017b, pers. comm.). Two separate hurricanes (Isabel (2003) and Sandy (2012)) have resulted in three captive red wolf deaths (Bartel and Rabon 2013, p. 111); currently, however, this does not seem to be a significant source of mortality. In the future, climate models largely predict a decrease in tropical cyclone numbers, but an increase in intensity for the strongest storms and increased rainfall rates. In addition, sea level rise will likely contribute to increased storm surge risk, though this is also influenced by other factors, as well. (Walsh et al. 2015, p. 65, 77). While there are clear increases in intensity of tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic in the previous few decades, the basin is noted for having substantial variability in activity levels across multiple decades (Walsh et al. 2015, p. 69).

Walsh et al. (2015, p. 72) noted, “Projections are uncertain on whether relative SST [sea surface temperature] (or tropical storm frequency) in the Atlantic basin will increase during the 21st century under GHG [greenhouse gas] forcing. In addition, the role of tropopause temperature trends in observed changes in the PI [potential intensity] appears unresolved, thus reducing our confidence in future projections of this relationship.”

Sea-level rise and potential habitat inundation

WMI (2014, pp. 40-45) summarized information available at the time of the review on climate change effects to the Albemarle Peninsula and future prospects for red wolves. Recently, additional information has further refined understanding of these effects, which are summarized below. Locally, the North Carolina coast is experiencing land subsidence and rising water levels due to global sea-level rise (North Carolina Coastal Resources Science Panel (NCCRSP) 2015, p. 5; Center for Natural Hazards Research (CNHR) 2008, p. 3). The local rate of sea level rise varies within North Carolina with two main factors: (1) vertical movement of the Earth’s surface (e.g., subsidence). […]

The RSLR projections do not account for storm events, flooding frequency and duration, changes in coastal geomorphology, wind pattern shifts, tidal variations, or man-made alterations. The aforementioned events, while influential to coastal processes, are speculative and could lead to significantly variable outcomes when determining what the landscape may look like in 125 years.

However, while not combined in these projections, flooding could still be a significant issue. As previously noted by WMI (2014, p. 40) the Albemarle Peninsula experiences significant erosion and much of it is less than one meter (3.28 ft) above sea level, while the remaining two-thirds is less than 1.5 meters (4.9) above sea level. In addition, Poulter and Halpin (2007, pp. 12-13) found that the drainage systems (e.g., canals and ditches) in the low near-shore environment would worsen flooding at lower levels of sea-level rise (<0.4 m (1.3 ft)), given the topographical complexity, as they could water to reach area s via ditches which otherwise might not flood.

Recently, NCCRSP updated the 2010 Report and 2012 Addendum on Sea Level Rise in North Carolina. The panel concluded, “If existing conditions continue for the next 30 years, sea level would be expected to rise between approximately 5 – 15 cm (2 and 6 in) across the North Carolina coast, with the highest sea levels expected north of Cape Hatteras. This computation assumes that the trends at each gauge will remain the same as historical trends over the 30-year time frame,” (NCCRSP 2015, p. 16). Regardless of the rate of rise, increased flood events and frequent flooding in low-lying areas should be expected as the sea level rises (NCCRSP 2015, p. 25; Kopp et al. 2014, p. 7; Kopp et al. 2015, p. 705). Ezer and Atkinson (2014, p. 380) note that the U.S. East Coast (most specifically the coastal area north of Cape Hatteras along the mid-Atlantic) is a “hotspot of accelerated flooding” and that minor flood duration is highly correlated with acceleration in sea level rise. Therefore, both frequency and duration of flood events is expected to worsen with sea level rise.

To calculate the inundated area of NEP, we applied the calculated mean RSLR (Table 1) to the analysis area which returned the area remaining above MSL. The 5 counties that constitute the NEP currently encompass 1,622,152 acres of emergent land. Relative sea level rise projections reduce total emergent lands in the 5 counties from ~1,622,152 acres to ~1,223,806 acres in 125 years representing a 24.5% loss of land above mean sea level (MSL). The East side of the NEP area experiences the most significant effects of RSLR, with respect to inundation, as illustrated by the RSLR maps at current MSL and MSL in 125 years (Figures 9 & 10).

In a 2016 memorandum (see p. 9), the USFWS recommended reducing the focus of the NEP to federal lands within Dare County. To assess the impacts of sea level rise for this potential scenario, we calculated the inundated area of federal lands within Dare County. The federal lands within Dare County account for ~168,943 acres (10.4%) of the emergent land which would be reduced by 44.5% to ~93,828 in 125 years due to RSLR (Table 3) (Figures 11 & 12).

We recognize that there is a high degree of uncertainty with these projections, especially beyond 50 to 75 years into the future. However, these scenarios are presented here not as certain to occur but as an indicator of possible trend.

Regardless of the pathway of future emissions, Kopp et al. (2015, p. 701) indicates that it is virtually certain (Probability > 0.998) that both Wilmington and Duck will experience a rate of sea level rise over the 21st century and very likely (Probability > 0.90) that the rate of that rise will exceed the rate observed during the 20th century. Overall, uncertainty in North Carolina’s projected rate of sea level rise comes from two primary sources: oceanographic and Antarctic ice sheet responses to climate change, the former contributing the larger source of uncertainty through most of the century (Kopp et al. 2015, p. 702).

Red Wolf Species Status Assessment Report, April 19, 2018

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