Alexander Archipelago wolf listing as "endangered or threatened may be warranted" says USFWS
By MARY KAUFFMAN
March 29, 2014
Friday's decision responds to a petition filed in August 2011 by the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace. Following the status review and a public comment period, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether or not to list the species as threatened or endangered.
The U.S. Forest Service announced late Friday it will be responding to the 90-day finding by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the petition to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf as threatened or endangered, as will be outlined in the proposed rule scheduled to appear in the Federal Register on Monday, March 31, 2014.
Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole said, “The Forest Service will work collaboratively with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as they evaluate the status of the Alexander Archipelago wolf.”
The range of the Alexander Archipelago wolf includes the mainland of Southeast Alaska and islands south of Frederick Sound, excluding Coronation, Forrester, and smaller, more isolated islands that lack an adequate prey base. Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof islands north of Frederick sound do not support wolves despite having seemingly adequate prey populations. However, several wolf sightings on Admiralty Island have been reported in recent years according to the Forest Service.
While the Forest Service reports it has seen localized areas where wolves appear vulnerable to harvest associated with legal and illegal trapping on Prince of Wales Island, the wolf population across the island as a whole and across the forest appears to be stable. The Forest Service has formed a technical working group with management partners to take a closer look at the issue and determine which management actions, if any, should be taken to address concerns about wolf conservation. As a first step the Forest Service is working together with Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a reliable method of estimating wolf numbers, which can be very difficult due to the elusive nature of wolves and the extensive old-growth forest spanning a remote landscape.
Cole said, “The Forest Service remains committed to the conservation of wolf populations on the Tongass National Forest." He said, "The conservation strategy outlined in the 2008 Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan identifies management tools that are essential to maintaining viable wolf populations, such as sustainable harvest, sufficient prey habitat, buffers to protect dens, and a system of old-growth reserves (OGRs)." The conservation strategy was designed through a collaborative effort with Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with intensive peer review said Cole.
"The Forest Service is committed to working collaboratively with agency partners, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alaska Department of Fish and Game, to sustain populations of the Alexander Archipelago wolf throughout Southeast Alaska,” said Cole.
“Currently there are no reliable estimates of wolf numbers in Southeast Alaska," said Cole. "He said the Forest Service will be working together with Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a reliable method of estimating wolf numbers, which Cole said can be very difficult due to the elusive nature of wolves and the extensive old-growth forest spanning a remote landscape.
However over the years based on letters submitted to SitNews, not all in Southeast Alaska agree there is such an animal as the "rare" Alexander Archipelago Wolf. Some believe the wolf and domestic dogs have produced off-spring that are being identified as a "rare" subspecies of wolf.
But according to a 25-page declaration in 2013 regarding the Big Thorne Project submitted by wildlife biologist David K. Person, genetic and telemetry data indicate that the wolf population on the Prince of Wales Archipelago are isolated from all other wolves in Southeast Alaska and coastal British Columbia. Person is a wildlife scientist with 22 years of experience studying Alexander Archipelago wolves (Canis lupus ligoni) and Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) in Southeast Alaska.
"The Alexander Archipelago wolf, one of Alaska's most fascinating species, needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act if it's to have any chance at survival," said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Endangered Species Act is the strongest law in the world for protecting wildlife, and it can save these beautiful wolves from reckless logging and hunting."
Alexander Archipelago wolves den in the root systems of very large trees and hunt mostly Sitka black-tailed deer, which are themselves dependent on high-quality, old forests, especially for winter survival. A long history of clearcut logging on the Tongass and private and state-owned lands has devastated much of the wolf's habitat on the islands of southeast Alaska.
"This gray wolf subspecies exists only in southeast Alaska, and its principle population has declined sharply in the last few years," said Larry Edwards, Sitka-based Greenpeace forest campaigner and long-time resident of the region. "Endangered Species Act protection is necessary to protect the wolves, not least because of the Forest Service's own admission that its so-called transition out of old-growth logging in the Tongass will take decades. The negative impacts on these wolves are very long-term and have accumulated over the past 60 years of industrial logging."
Quoting a news release from Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity, 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 many 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, home to an important population of the wolves.
In 2013 the Alaska Board of Game authorized killing 80 percent to 100 percent of the wolves in two areas of the Tongass because habitat loss has reduced deer numbers so that human hunters and wolves are competing for deer - putting yet more pressure on the wolf population according to Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Fish and Wildlife Service considered listing the wolf under the Endangered Species Act in the mid-1990s but then chose not to do so, citing new protective standards set out in the Forest Service's 1997 Tongass Forest Plan. Unfortunately, said Edwards and Noblin, as outlined in the conservation groups' 2011 petition, the Forest Service has not adequately implemented those standards.
Friday's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 90-day finding on the Alexander Archipelago wolf determined that protecting this wolf as threatened or endangered "may be warranted" under three of the five "factors" specified in the Endangered Species Act: (1) present or threatened destruction of habitat; (2) overutilization (e.g. from hunting and trapping); and (3) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.
The 2008 Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan incorporates, in cooperation with Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a forest-wide program specifically intended to assist in maintaining long-term, sustainable wolf populations. This program includes multiple factors that influence wolf population conservation:
In addition, the Forest Plan includes a network of old-growth reserves (OGRs) that was designed to maintain a functional and interconnected old-growth ecosystem.
The needs of wolves were a primary consideration in the design of the old-growth reserves (OGR) network.
According to the Forest Service, the conservation strategy in the 2008 Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan outlines robust protections designed to withstand environmental contingencies like climate change. The monitoring program in the Forest Plan is designed to be flexible enough to respond to emerging issues and areas of high uncertainty, such as climate change.
The Fish & Wildlife Service is requesting information to consider for the status review on or before 60 days after publication which is March 31, 2014. Comments may be submitted by one of the following methods to the Fish and Wildlife Service: