(CN) - A trio of conservation groups have asked a federal judge to intervene after they say federal regulators failed to prevent the only wild population of red wolves in the country from slowly disappearing.
In a complaint filed in Raleigh, N.C., the plaintiffs claim the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it gave landowners permission on two occasions to kill wolves without meeting strict legal requirements.
The first one was killed, the complaint says, "purely because that wolf was on private property and that landowner would not allow USFWS personnel to enter his property to capture and remove the wolf non-lethally."
"A second take authorization granted to another landowner resulted in the death of an adult female red wolf in June 2015 that was known to have mothered a total of 16 pups through four litters and that was showing denning behavior at the time of the shooting death," the complaint continues, adding, "This wolf had not caused any harm or demonstrable risk to life or property."
The groups claim that there are only 50 to 75 red wolves left living in the wild, and that the federal government's management of the species has been misguided at best. The species' range falls almost entirely in eastern North Carolina.
"Defendants have failed to manage the dramatically reduced red wolf population so as to ensure its survival and promote its recovery," the complaint says.
Among the other "counterintuitive actions" they complain of are the agency's suspension of reintroducing captive red wolves to the wild, and its decision to stop sterilizing coyotes, who are pushing into the wolves' range.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to stop the agency from giving property owners permission to shoot red wolves unless it is absolutely necessary, and to order federal environmental regulators to perform what it says is a past-due review of the wolves' endangered status.
A spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency is currently reviewing the government's red wolf program "to get the science right."
The plaintiffs are represented by Sierra Weaver of the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
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