A big day for an embattled wolf
by Larry Edwards
As the forests have declined, so have the wolves and the deer they depend on.Today the US Fish & Wildlife Service announced its preliminary finding that an Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing may be warranted for the Alexander Archipelago wolf. This 90-day finding 2 years overdue stems from a petition-to-list filed by Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity in 2011. If youre interested in going into a bit more depth, that science-based document explains the species ecology and the threats confronting it (its a pdf file.)
Now the agency will host a 60-day public comment period, which will end May 30. After that, a thorough status review of the wolf will be undertaken.
This will lead to a decision to list the species or not. The ESA requires it be made within one year.
Wolves under siegeThe Archipelago wolf is vulnerable in three major ways. The first is that the population of its primary prey (Sitka black-tailed deer), which is caused by the cumulative loss of the deers old-growth forest winter range. Canopies of big, old-growth trees keep a lot of snow from falling to the ground. This affords deer greater mobility and access to on-ground forage, which helps them survive harsh Alaskan winters. Another vulnerability is high wolf mortality both illegal and legal hunting and trapping, a result of the high density of both open and closed logging roads. Recent data for one important area indicates an 80% loss of wolves there last year, overwhelmingly by this cause.
That is far beyond what a wolf population can sustain, yet the Forest Service and other forestland owners continue to build more roads.The third vulnerability is the loss in the number of suitable denning sites. Some of those that still exist are threatened by nearby development activity. A recent declaration by the foremost Archipelago wolf expert, Dr. David Person, explains the dire situation on Prince of Wales Island, which has the sub-species main population. In his 2010 field work, he found that there was usually no wolf activity at den sites, and that the lack of evidence like scats to determine population size wasnt even subtle. Persons declaration is an exhibit to our administrative appeal of last years decision by the US Forest Service to proceed with the Big Thorne timber sale on Prince of Wales.