Protecting Critically Endangered Red Wolves is an Urgent Need for Wildlife Crossings This Season

In the heart of Eastern North Carolina, amidst the sprawling wilderness and dense forests, the red wolf roams as a symbol of resilience and beauty. For generations, these elusive creatures have called this rugged terrain home, their presence a testament to the delicate balance of nature in this untamed wilderness.

But tragedy struck the red wolf community with the sudden and heartbreaking loss of 2323M, the esteemed breeding male of the Milltail pack. Struck down by a vehicle collision, his untimely demise sent shockwaves through the conservation community, casting a somber shadow over the future of these magnificent creatures.

As news of the tragedy spread, conservationists and wildlife advocates rallied together, recognizing the urgent need for action to protect the remaining red wolves from similar fates. With vehicle strikes posing a significant threat to the survival of this endangered species, rapid and judicious measures must be taken to safeguard their fragile existence in Eastern North Carolina.

Under the canopy of ancient trees and amidst the haunting calls of the wild, discussions ensued among experts and stakeholders, seeking solutions to mitigate the risks faced by red wolves traversing these perilous roads. From increased signage and speed limit reductions to the implementation of wildlife corridors and roadside fencing, a multifaceted approach was deemed necessary to address this pressing issue.

But beyond mere infrastructure improvements, the conservation community recognized the importance of raising awareness and fostering a culture of coexistence between humans and red wolves. Education initiatives were launched, aimed at promoting responsible driving behaviors and highlighting the critical role these apex predators play in maintaining the ecological balance of their native habitat.

With the memory of 2323M serving as a poignant reminder of the fragility of life, efforts to protect red wolves in Eastern North Carolina gained newfound urgency and purpose. Through collective action and unwavering dedication, conservationists vowed to honor his legacy by ensuring that future generations of red wolves could roam these wildernesses free from the threat of vehicular harm.

As the sun sets over the rugged landscape of Eastern North Carolina, casting an ethereal glow over the forests and marshlands, a renewed sense of hope fills the air. With each step taken to safeguard the red wolf population, the conservation community reaffirms its commitment to preserving the natural heritage of this unique and cherished region, ensuring that these majestic creatures continue to thrive for generations to come.

In the delicate ecosystems of Eastern North Carolina, the red wolf stands as a symbol of resilience and conservation effort. Yet, despite strides in protecting this critically endangered species, the threat of vehicle collisions looms large, claiming the lives of these majestic creatures at an alarming rate. The recent tragic demise of red wolf 2323M, the breeding male of the Milltail pack, underscores the pressing need for immediate action to safeguard these animals and their habitats.

Red wolves, once abundant throughout the southeastern United States, now teeter on the brink of extinction, with only a few dozen individuals remaining in the wild. Their plight is exacerbated by the relentless encroachment of human infrastructure, particularly roads and highways, which slice through their dwindling territories, leading to fatal encounters with vehicles.

The loss of red wolf 2323M serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for wildlife crossings in Eastern North Carolina. These crossings, also known as ecoducts or wildlife bridges, are elevated structures spanning highways and roads, allowing animals to safely traverse these barriers without risking collision with vehicles. Such measures have proven effective in numerous regions worldwide, reducing wildlife fatalities and promoting connectivity within fragmented habitats.

Implementing wildlife crossings in key red wolf habitats is not merely a matter of conservation ethics; it is a pragmatic solution to mitigate the human-induced threats that imperil this species. By facilitating safe passage across roadways, these structures can help prevent the tragic loss of breeding adults like 2323M, thereby bolstering the prospects of red wolf recovery efforts.

Moreover, wildlife crossings yield broader ecological benefits beyond safeguarding individual species. They promote genetic diversity by facilitating the movement of wildlife populations, essential for the long-term viability of ecosystems. Additionally, by reducing the incidence of vehicle collisions, these crossings enhance public safety and alleviate financial burdens associated with property damage and healthcare costs resulting from such accidents.

The call for wildlife crossings in Eastern North Carolina is not new, but it has gained newfound urgency in the wake of red wolf 2323M’s untimely demise. Conservationists, wildlife advocates, and concerned citizens must unite in demanding the swift implementation of these essential infrastructural solutions. Furthermore, governmental agencies and policymakers must allocate adequate resources and prioritize the construction of wildlife crossings as part of comprehensive conservation strategies.

Inaction is no longer an option when the fate of a critically endangered species hangs in the balance. Let us honor the memory of red wolf 2323M and countless others by advocating for the protection of their habitats and the implementation of wildlife crossings to ensure a safer future for red wolves and all wildlife sharing their fragile ecosystems. Time is of the essence, and decisive action is imperative to prevent further tragedies on our roads and pave the way for coexistence between humans and the magnificent red wolf.

With the tragic vehicle strike death of red wolf 2323M, the breeding male of the Milltail pack, rapid and judicious measures need to be taken to protect red wolves in Eastern North Carolina from vehicle strike collisions.

Please encourage the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to work together to implement wildlife crossings and improved safety measures for the red wolves and other wildlife living along Highway 64 cutting through Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. There has recently been a surge of positive momentum towards building more wildlife road crossings in North Carolina, and these agencies need to keep that trend going by acting now to protect red wolves from being killed on roads.   

2323M—sometimes known as “Airplane Ears” due to his characteristic floppy, sideways ears—was beloved to many. He was known for being a hardworking father, dutifully hunting in scorching hot weather to provide for his pups and nursing mate. He was born in the wild on St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge in 2019 and translocated and released in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in 2021, when he paired up with 2225F of the Milltail pack. In 2022, he fathered the first red wolf pups born in the wild since 2018! Five out of six of those pups survived; the lone pup mortality was also due to a vehicle strike. This spring, he fathered another litter of five pups and took on an additional foster pup. As of October 2023, those 5 yearlings and 6 pups still survive, as does his mate 2225F. Unfortunately, “Airplane Ears” was struck and killed by a vehicle on September 26, 2023, on US Highway 64. The loss of the breeding male and father is absolutely devastating to the wild population, which is down to only 19 known wolves (adults and pups). 

The biggest threats to red wolves are illegal gunshot and vehicle strike. Highways 64 cuts through critical red wolf habitat, including large parts of the Milltail pack’s territory at Alligator River NWR. Vehicle collision was also the cause of death for one of 2323M’s pups in October 2022, the only pup to not survive her first year. 

Multiple solutions are being considered, with likely the best and most effective option being a system of wildlife road crossings (underpasses or overpasses) and appropriate guide fencing (to steer the animals to the crossings and keep them off the highway). The crossings and fencing would be erected along most if not all of the 12 mile section of Highway 64 that cuts through Alligator River NWR between the Alligator River bridge and the junction with Highway 264. Constructing fences and wildlife crossings in the eastern NC red wolf population area will no doubt be expensive and require extensive planning, but the critically endangered red wolf deserves these better protections. Other potential solutions include the more prompt removal of roadkill along the highway (roadkill attracts the wolves to the edge of the road), widening road shoulders to increase visibility, rumble strips, better enforcement of existing speed limits (55mph), and even lowering the speed at night when most red wolf vehicular collisions occur (ideally 40mph). These other solutions to reduce red wolf injuries and deaths from vehicle collisions can be implemented as a temporary measure until the fence and wildlife crossings are constructed.

Please let it be known that you demand better protections for red wolves along highways by signing this petition. In 2323M’s memory, for his surviving mate, offspring and future grand puppies, please share this petition far and wide. Click here to sign the petition. It takes a second to process. Thanks

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