Endangered Species Protection Denied to Alaska’s 'Alexander Archipelago Wolf'
By MARY KAUFFMAN
January 06, 2016
The decision responded to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace requesting Endangered Species Act protection for Alaska's Alexander Archipelago wolf. Tuesday's announcement by FWS stated that although the Alexander Archipelago wolf faces several stressors throughout its range related to wolf harvest, timber harvest, road development, and climate-related events in Southeast Alaska and coastal British Columbia, the best available information indicates that populations of the wolf in most of its range are likely stable.
Alexander Archipelago wolf
“We are deeply disappointed by this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision, which will allow the Tongass National Forest timber program to continue to liquidate the magnificent old-growth forests of southeast Alaska, needed by the wolf and its prey,” said Larry Edwards, Greenpeace forest campaigner and longtime resident of the region. “There’s no question that the continued existence of Alexander Archipelago wolf populations in southeast Alaska is threatened.”
“This decision won’t help the wolves on Prince of Wales Island, but having the agency name logging as the major stressor of the wolf population calls on the Forest Service and Alaska Department of Fish and Game to step up and make management decisions that will prevent the wolves’ continued decline in the Tongass. Ultimately, the Forest Service needs to end old-growth clearcut logging on the Tongass,” says Melanie Smith, Audubon Alaska’s Director of Conservation Science.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) welcomed the FWS’ decision that no listing was warranted and that wolves on Prince of Wales and nearby islands do not qualify as a distinct population segment for listing under the ESA. Murkowski, in comments to the Service in the Summer of 2015, argued that the listing was not needed given changes in hunting and trapping quotas by the Alaska Board of Game and because of policies of the Service. Murkowski also expressed concern that a listing could have affected timber harvesting and other activities on both public and private lands on Prince of Wales Island, and perhaps in other parts of Southeast.
Murkowski said in a prepared statement, “Alaska has the largest population of gray wolves in America. There is agreement that the gray wolf population in Southeast Alaska is healthy and stable in most places and growing in others,” Murkowski said. “At a time when timber harvesting on Prince of Wales Island is barely a tenth of its levels of two decades ago, the attempt by some environmental groups to list the wolf seemed to be an effort solely to end the last of the remaining timber industry in Southeast Alaska. Fortunately, it did not work.”
U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) said in a prepared statement, “I commend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for following sound science, instead of the political whims of Outside interest groups, to determine that the wolves in Southeast Alaska do not warrant protection as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. I’m also pleased that the agency determined that wolves on Prince of Wales and nearby islands do not qualify as a distinct population segment for listing consideration under the ESA.
Alaska Congressman Don Young (R-AK) also welcomed the news from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In a prepared statement Young said, “I appreciate the decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service and hope they follow suit with this sound approach on other potential listings in Southeast, Alaska, including the Yellow Cedar,” said Congressman Don Young. “While this decision is welcomed and comes at a time when the State needs some good news, I have no doubt that outside organizations will attempt to revisit this issue in the future. Their imaginations know no end when attempting to manipulate the system to support their extreme agendas and goals.”
The Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace support listing the Alexander Archipelago wolves as endangered. They say the wolves den in the root systems of very large trees and hunt mostly Sitka black-tailed deer, which are also dependent on high-quality old forests, especially for winter survival. A long history of clearcut logging on the Tongass National Forest, private and state-owned lands has devastated much of the wolf’s habitat on the islands of southeast Alaska. In particular, the Tongass is currently logging 6,000 acres of old-growth forest in the Big Thorne timber sale, the biggest old-growth sale in more than 20 years.
“For too long, the old-growth forests of southeast Alaska have been a sacrifice zone for the timber industry,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is harming the Alexander Archipelago wolf, Queen Charlotte goshawk, Sitka black-tailed deer and a host of other plants and animals unique to the old-growth forest of southeast Alaska.”
According to The Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace, logging on the Tongass brings new roads, making wolves vulnerable to hunting and trapping. As many as half the wolves killed on the Tongass are killed illegally, and hunting and trapping are occurring at unsustainable levels in some areas. Despite scientific evidence showing that Alexander Archipelago wolf populations will not survive in areas with high road density, the Forest Service continues to build new logging roads in the Tongass. Road density is particularly an urgent concern on heavily fragmented Prince of Wales Island and neighboring islands.
In June 2015, State and federal authorities reported a “dramatic decline in the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island, Tongass National Forest.” The new report recorded a 60 percent drop in the number of Alexander Archipelago wolves in just one year, reinforcing conservationists’ arguments that plans to log old-growth forests on the island should be halted to protect the wolf and other wildlife.
An Alaska Department of Fish and Game draft report in 2015 estimated a total of only 89 wolves in the area - including 60 on the main island - compared with 220 in June 2014. That estimate was cited in a May 29, 2015, briefing paper by the U.S. Forest Service.
Since the 1990s, there has been reportedly a 75 percent decline in the number of wolves on Prince of Wales. Even with the present small size of the population, the state of Alaska allowed a wolf hunt on the island during the fall of 2015. The hunt allowed the killing of nine wolves out of the estimated population of just 89 – which could actually be as low as 50 individuals according to supporters of listing the wolves as endangered. This was in addition to the demonstrated high level of poaching.
“The Prince of Wales population of Alexander Archipelago wolves is obviously very fragile and should have been protected by the Federal Government,” said Edwards.
In a report released this past fall, Audubon Alaska identified old-growth logging as one of the root causes behind the 75% decline of the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. “The alarming population decline is most immediately caused by the direct take of wolves from significant poaching and the unsustainable legal take authorized by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, but the underlying cause is extensive logging and roads that initiate many harmful effects, including over-harvest of wolves,” said Melanie Smith, Audubon Alaska’s Director of Conservation Science.
According the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's press release dated 01/05/15 announcing the decision,, the current estimate of the range-wide population is approximately 850-2,700 wolves.
Quoting the press release, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service stated if new information emerges that suggests the Alexander Archipelago wolf may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, the FWS will review that information and could subsequently revise its decision.
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