Yesterday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will move forward with a scientifically unsupported plan to reduce the red wolf recovery area by 90 percent. It will also eliminate protections for any wolf that leaves the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge or adjacent federal property.

The agency is restricting the wild population to federal lands that can only support a population of 15 wolves. It is also proposing to lift all take prohibitions on private lands outside of this area, allowing red wolves to be shot on private lands without consequence.

Red wolves are a critically endangered species that are essentially being abandoned by the agency charged with protecting them, says Defenders of Wildlife.

“This plan is a death sentence for red wolves in the wild,” says Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive director of Defenders of Wildlife. “Restricting wolves to a fraction of the former recovery area and taking away their protection from being shot and killed everywhere else will certainly lead to their extinction in the wild.”

The red wolf is the only wolf species on the East coast. Historically, red wolves ranged throughout the southeastern U.S. from Pennsylvania to Florida and as far west as Texas. Today, a single wild population roams more than 1.7 million acres throughout northeastern North Carolina, including Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

For thirty years, red wolves thrived in this region and their population grew to 150 wolves. But then in 2014, a small group of vocal landowners decided to oppose the red wolf recovery program because they claimed red wolves were a threat to livestock. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, only 7 confirmed cases of livestock depredation have been attributed to the wolves since 1987. And the agency acknowledges that “the vast majority of [residents] indicated that red wolves do not cause them any problems.”

Nonetheless, FWS has sided with a small group of private landowners and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to drastically cut protections for the red wolf.

The FWS proposal has already been roundly criticized by red wolf advocates and disputed by the scientists who provided the research on which the agency based its decision.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held a comment period on the proposal in 2017. Nearly all the public comments submitted were in support of red wolves: 54,992 out of 55,087 public comments (99.8%) supported recovering the red wolf in the wild, compared to just 10 comments (0.018%) that supported the federal agency’s proposed plan to remove most red wolves from the wild and place them into captivity.

“The plan allows hunters to kill all but 10 or 15 remaining red wolves,” says Wildlands Network Director Ron Sutherland. “Despite overwhelming public and scientific support for the red wolf recovery program, the Fish and Wildlife Service is abandoning the most endangered wolf species in the world.”

Watch this six-minute video about the world’s last wild red wolves.