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Southeast Alaska Wolves Denied 'Endangered' Listing

Jan 06, 2016 03:18 PM EST
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently denied the Alexander Archipelago wolf of Southeast Alaska protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), despite serious population declines on the Prince of Wales Island.

The Alexander Archipelago wolf is a subspecies of the gray wolf that can be found almost everywhere from Southeast Alaska to the British Columbia-Washington border. These wolves den in root systems of large trees and feed mainly on Sitka black-tailed deer. A Species Status Assessment conducted in November revealed wolf populations on Prince of Wales Island declined by 75 percent between 1994 and 2014, from roughly 356 to 89 individuals.

"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," the FWS announced in a news release.

This decision came as a disappointment for many wildlife advocates, who believe the FWS is overlooking some important factors.  

"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," Larry Edwards, Greenpeace forest campaigner and longtime resident of the region, said in a statement. "There's no question that the continued existence of Alexander Archipelago wolf populations in southeast Alaska is threatened."

Despite an apparent population decline on the Price of Wales Island, the FWS calculates the total population of Alexander Archipelago wolves is between 850 to 2,700 individuals, with approximately 62 percent living in British Columbia and 38 percent occupying southeastern Alaska. In other words, a decline on just one island in the wolf's total range doesn't warrant an endangered species listing.

"We do have concern for the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island," Drew Crane, the Regional Endangered Species Coordinator at FWS, told Maine News. "But Prince of Wales Island in general only constitutes six percent of the range-wide population of the Alexander Archipelago wolf."

Had the wolves gained protected status under the ESA, stricter restrictions on hunting or trapping them would have been implemented and may have impacted logging or other development on the island. 

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