U.S. District judge Terrence Boyle ordered a halt to coyote hunting in five northeastern North Carolina counties (Dare, Hyde, Beufort, Tyrrell, and Washington) in order to reduce mistaken-identity shootings of the visually similar (and protected under the Endangered Species Act) red wolf. There have been as many as 50 red wolves shot in the state since 2008.
North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission voted last July to allow coyote hunting at any time of day with no bag limit on private land, and allowed the use of lights at night on public land for hunters with permits. Previous rules allowed coyote hunting only during daylight hours. Boyle’s preliminary injunction blocks coyote hunting in those areas until the start of a lawsuit which aims to permanently prohibit coyote hunting near red wolf habitat.
“By authorizing coyote hunting in the five-county red wolf recovery area, and in particular by authorizing coyote hunting during all seasons and at any time day or night, the commission has increased the likelihood that a red wolf will be shot,” Boyle wrote in his order.
The red wolf was believed to be extinct in the wild until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a small population of about 100 individuals into the wild in 1987. Smaller than the gray wolf and similar in appearance to a coyote, red wolves are often mistaken for coyotes. The two species may even occasionally interbreed, making identification even more problematic.