Hybridization isn’t the only problem coyotes pose. Local farmers and landowners want to keep coyotes off their land — sometimes at the expense of wolves.
“This is amplified because folks want to do night coyote hunting,” MacKenzie said. “But you can’t really tell a red wolf from a coyote, especially through the scope of a rifle at night.”
MacKenzie said there are many supporters of the program in the state that would like to see it continued. UNC junior John Jacobi organized a rally on Polk Place on Wednesday in support of maintaining the program.
“Continuing the protection status is really important for maintaining the current population,” he said. “(The red wolf) is a top predator which is really important for keeping other populations in check beneath it.”
Red wolves are the first predators to become completely extinct in their natural habitat and then be successfully reintroduced into the wild.
The red wolf population in North Carolina is the result of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s captive breeding program in zoos across the U.S.
“These zoos produce and maintain the stock of red wolves all around the country,” MacKenzie said.
The goal is to return these wolves to the wild, he said. But, not everyone wants them back.
Nemecz said one issue is keeping wolves on public land, which can be intermingled with private land.
“We’re hoping a partnership can be reached where some landowners would be willing to host wolves on their land if they had incentives,” he said. “Some of the farmers have dug in their heels.”
Nemecz said if the Fish and Wildlife Service decides to end the program and bring the remaining wolves into captivity, they would have trouble introducing them back into the wild anywhere in the southeast.
“There’s a movement across the country of people who are interested in privatizing public land,” Nemecz said. “Some of that comes across as anti-wolf sentiment, but it’s more of a general sentiment against the federal government.”