Alaska’s coastal wolves facing multiple threats

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Alexander Archipelago wolf, Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Wildlife advocates say proposed hunt on Prince of Wales Island is unsustainable

Staff Report

FRISCO — A rare breed of wolves living on coastal islands in southeast Alaska is under the gun more than ever before, according to wildlife advocates who are protesting a state plan to allow hunting and trapping of an Alexander Archipelago wolf population on Prince of Wales Island.

The hunt is being permitted even though scientific data shows a 60 percent decline in the population in just one year. Based on the report, wolf advocates say there may only be about 50 wolves remaining on the island.

Last week, state wildlife officials in Alaska estimated the population at 89 wolves in late 2014, down from 221 the year before. Female wolves were particularly hard-hit: Data in the report show that, as of last fall, only 7 to 32 females were left.

The report suggests that the wolf hunt is not sustainable. The death figures do not include mortality from illegal hunting, starvation, disease and other sources. Peer-reviewed research has established that total annual mortality in the range of 30 to 38 percent is unsustainable, indicating that the 2014-2015 hunting levels further jeopardized this population.

The greater Alexander Archipelago wolf population roams the islands and coastal mainland in remote southeast Alaska. Some of the best habitat is in the Tongass National Forest, under threat from from industrial logging and road building, as the U.S. Forest Service continues to plan big timber sales in key wolf habitats.

Protests by wildlife advocates focused on the Prince of Wales Island population.

“Opening another trapping and hunting season on this small, declining population is madness,” said Larry Edwards of Greenpeace. “Wolves in the Prince of Wales area are geographically and genetically isolated. This is simply unsustainable, posing a grave risk to the population.”

“Another open season of trapping and hunting could push these incredibly imperiled wolves over the edge,” said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “To maintain a viable population of Alexander Archipelago wolves on this island, Alaska must cancel the season. We won’t get a second chance to preserve these amazing animals.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working toward a year-end determination on whether to protect Alexander Archipelago wolves as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, in response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace.

Right now the wolf’s primary old-growth habitat on Prince of Wales Island lies in the path of the Big Thorne timber sale, the largest timber project in the Tongass National Forest in more than 20 years.

The U.S. Forest Service is pushing ahead with 6,000 acres of old-growth logging and 80 miles of logging road construction and reconstruction, claiming that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s management of wolf trapping and hunting on the island will mitigate the project’s impacts.

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