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Eco-activists Use Red Wolf Sightings as Obstacle to Navy Airfield

by Catherine Komp

Sept. 18, 2006 – Conservationists fighting a military proposal to build a new landing field next to a wildlife refuge in North Carolina say the already controversial field could displace endangered red wolves in the area.

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According to Diane Hendry, outreach coordinator of the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Red Wolf Recovery Project, at least eight red wolves in several packs have been seen within the Navy’s proposed airfield. Red wolves have been listed as endangered by the federal government since 1993.

A spokesperson for the Navy's Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virgina told the Associated Press that the Navy did not have the federal tracking data of the red wolves and said it would be inappropriate to comment.

The Navy wants to buy 30,000 acres in the area to use for jets taking off from military installations in Virginia Beach, Virginia and Cherry Point, North Carolina. The Outlying Landing Field would be built in an area that incorporates a large swath of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in the northeastern part of the state. In a letter to the Navy, the group said one pack lived entirely within the site, and at least 32 other red wolves had been spotted in neighboring areas.

Federal wildlife-eradication programs, in addition to habitat loss, killed off the once-populous red wolf population. Federal officials declared the species extinct in the wild in 1980. The USFWS has run a red wolf recovery program since 1967, but it has only succeeded in reestablishing about 100 red wolves in the wild, all of which live in eastern North Carolina. About 150 more remain in captivity.

The USFWS has run a red wolf recovery program since 1967, but it has only succeeded in reestablishing about 100 red wolves in the wild, all of which live in eastern North Carolina.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation in a suit against the Navy to stop the project, speculates that construction and operation of the field would "jeopardize the existence and recovery of the red wolf."

Bud Fazio, USFWS coordinator of the Red Wolf Recover Project, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that construction of the landing field would drive the wolves from their dens, and the noise from the project could disrupt howling, used for communication, for packs throughout the area.

Derb Carter, attorney for The Southern Environmental Law Center, said the Navy has legal obligations under the Endangered Species Act to refrain from activity that would threaten the species’ existence.

"Any comprehensive analysis will show that the Navy’s preferred site for the [landing field] is not only harmful for waterfowl, harmful to the adjacent wildlife refuge and harmful to the people of eastern North Carolina but will jeopardize recovery of the only significant population of red wolves in the wild," Carter said in a statement.

Groups sued the Navy in 2004 before the discovery of the red wolves, arguing it had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by choosing an area for its landing field that would harm more than 100,000 tundra swan and snow geese that winter in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. In 2005, a federal court ruled in favor of the environmentalists, stating the Navy’s initial Environmental Impact Statement was "inadequate."

The court ordered the Navy to conduct a new review of the environmental impact of the proposal, which it has yet to complete. Navy officials say they plan to release the new review this fall, after which it will schedule public hearings in counties affected by the landing-field proposal.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Catherine Komp is a contributing journalist.

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