Alexander Archipelago Wolf Numbers in Dangerous Freefall
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Environmental groups today asked three state and federal agencies to take decisive action to save the rapidly dwindling population of Alexander Archipelago wolves in the Prince of Wales Island area in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
Following up on a June report by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game indicating that the wolf population in the area is alarmingly low, the groups asked Fish and Game and the Federal Subsistence Board to cancel the area’s 2015-2016 trapping and hunting season. They also asked the U.S. Forest Service to suspend logging and road-building in its Big Thorne timber sale and to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for the project to reconsider impacts to wolves.
“Alexander Archipelago wolves are an essential piece of what makes our little corner of Alaska so special,” said Hunter McIntosh, president of The Boat Company, an ecotourism company based in Southeast Alaska. “The opportunity to see these unique wolves in their old growth home draws people from all over the world. Killing off our wolves is bad business and bad stewardship.”
Alexander Archipelago wolves are a subspecies of gray wolves that den in the roots of old-growth trees in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014 found that protecting Alexander Archipelago wolves under the Endangered Species Act “may be warranted.” The Service will decide whether to list the wolves under the Act by the end of this year. In the 1990s Prince of Wales Island was home to about one-third of all Alexander Archipelago wolves before the island’s population declined. Wolves on the island are genetically distinct and geographically isolated from the rest of the subspecies.
“Alexander Archipelago wolves are one-of-a-kind, and once they’re gone, they’re not coming back,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We have to protect the few remaining wolves on Prince of Wales Island right now, or they’ll be gone before the government can even decide whether they need Endangered Species Act protection.”
Fish and Game’s report estimated that the wolf population on and around Prince of Wales in fall 2014 was between 50 and 159, and most likely about 89 wolves, down from an estimated population of 250 to 350 in the mid-1990s. The report also stated that females have been reduced to only 25 percent of the dwindling population, posing a clear obstacle to the wolves’ ability to recover from their decline. The 2014 estimate does not account for the 29 wolves reported taken in the 2014/2015 winter trapping season, nor does it account for any illegal takes during that time or since, which studies indicate may be substantial.
The groups asked both the state and federal government to cancel the 2015/2016 hunting and trapping season in order to prevent extirpation of the wolves on Prince of Wales Island. They also asked the U.S. Forest Service to halt the Big Thorne timber project, which threatens to destroy large swaths of essential Prince of Wales habitat for Alexander Archipelago wolves and their primary prey, Sitka black-tailed deer. The Big Thorne project will also create new logging roads, increasing human access and the associated hunting and trapping pressure on wolf populations.
“This is clearly an emergency — wolves are falling at an alarming rate on Prince of Wales Island, and it has to stop immediately,” said Larry Edwards, Greenpeace forest campaigner in Sitka. “But the long-term solution to the wolves’ peril is to stop old-growth logging in the Tongass National Forest to preserve the last remaining big trees that wolves and so many other animals need. Without an end to old-growth logging, no amount of hunting regulations, alone, can save the wolves.”
The six organizations that submitted the letters to agencies are Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, The Boat Company, the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.