Federal regulators have walked back their decision to allow killing endangered South Carolina-native red wolves in the wild after a judge ruled it would be illegal.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will extend a review of its management of the wolves. The agency did not say how long the extension will last.
"The additional review time will provide the Service the opportunity to fully evaluate the implications of the court decision," Fish and Wildlife spokesman Phil Kloer said.
Conservationists who fought the management "kill" decision said the extension isn't likely to make much difference.
"The delay of the proposed rule for red wolves shows that the Fish and Wildlife Service continues to refuse to acknowledge that the only prudent, legal and scientifically justifiable path forward is (continuing the effort to reintroduce the species)," said Ben Prater of Defenders of Wildlife.
“The Service should throw out its contested plan for red wolves and instead fulfill its duties by conserving the species, taking concrete steps to protect this species and charting a path towards recovery," he added. "Red wolves need help now."
The federal judge in North Carolina ruled in early November that the Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by permitting private landowners to shoot as a nuisance any wolves that wander off the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina.
The judge also ruled the service violated the law "by failing to administer the red wolf recovery program" that the act orders.
The North Carolina ruling threw a legal wrench into a federal proposal to curtail the wild breeding program altogether. The recovery program entails reintroducing animals to the wild.
Among the reintroduction proposals is bringing wild wolves back to Cape Romain north of Charleston.
The red wolf once was the Lowcountry’s own, a native species as big as a German shepherd that moves with a stealthy grace. The wolves were shot as a nuisance for generations, then pronounced extinct in the wild in 1980 when only 14 captives were known to be alive.
Conservationists consider the wolves an important predator now missing in the regional ecosystem.
The wolves were first reintroduced in 1987, largely as a wild breeding program on Bulls Island in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. The program was moved mostly to the Alligator River refuge in 2005.
It has been handcuffed by small budgets and staff.