Calling all wolf and forest activists …

by Larry Edwards

May 21, 2014

Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago wolf — a subspecies unique to the state’s southeastern panhandle — needs your help. A public comment period is open until May 30 at the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which is considering whether to list this wolf under the Endangered Species Act.

This stems from a science-based petition-to-list that Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity filed in 2011. The agency recently determined that listing the Archipelago wolf “may be warranted”, and it is initiating a closer look.

The agency seeks substantive, unique comments. Can you spare a bit of time to write one? If so, you can make a difference here. This video presentation and the materials below will help you make solid comments.

First, some basic background. The range of the Alexander Archipelago wolf is a coastal temperate rainforest of Sitka spruce, hemlock and cedar. The main wolf populations are on the bigger islands of the archipelago, as shown on a map in the video. This wolf (Canis lupus ligoni) is genetically distinct because geography — high, ice-capped mountain ranges on two sides and ocean waters on the others — has isolated it from other North American wolves for several thousand years, allowing it to evolve on its own. This is discussed in the video and materials below.

The jeopardy to these wolves stems from large-scale clearcut logging (and associated roads) that still expanding even after 60 years of intensive logging and the loss of nearly a million acres of old-growth forest. About half of that mayhem has occurred on the Tongass National Forest, which occupies most of the region, and half on private and State of Alaska forest lands. The problem is two-fold. One part is loss of winter forest habitat for the wolves’ primary prey, Sitka black-tailed deer. It takes 30-40 years after cutting for that impact to plateau, while the second growth gets bigger and becomes essentially worthless to deer in winter for about two centuries. The whammy of most of that past logging is yet to hit, and logging still goes on.

The other part is high wolf mortality from hunting and trapping, illegal as well as legal. Access afforded by extensive, dense networks of logging roads lead to that. Some quotes at the bottom of this article illustrate the problem, which is also discussed in some of the references.

We believe the wolf is endangered on Prince of Wales Island (POW) and at least threatened with extinction in the rest of its range. POW — the 3rd largest island in the U.S. — is where large-scale logging began in the region, in 1954. It now has about 3,000 miles of logging roads, and big losses of old-growth forest habitat continue there.

Several references below provide more specific information on the Alexander Archipelago wolf, its present situation, and its genetics.

Where to send your comments:

Comments are due May 30, and must be submitted on this government webpage (the US Fish & Wildlife Service does not accept comments by e-mail).

It is best to write your comments out beforehand, and then either paste them there or upload them as an attachment. It is most effective to provide your full contact information on the form, although you can be anonymous if you wish.

Information to help you write your comments:

August 2013 declaration of Dr. David Person about impacts of the Big Thorne timber sale, on POW

Going Coastal: Shared Evolutionary History between Coastal British Columbia and Southeast Alaska Wolves. Weckworth, B. et al. (2011).

A signal for independent coastal and continental histories among North American wolves. Weckworth, B. et al. (2005).

The Alexander Archipelago wolf: a conservation assessment. Person, D.K. et al. (1996). Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-384. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 42 p.

And this unpublished report has important recent information, quoted below: Developing A Method To Estimate Abundance Of Wolves In Southeast Alaska Progress Report: 1 January 201331 May 2013. Person, D.K.; and Larson, K. (2013). Unpublished federal aid report. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, Div. of Wildl. Cons.

The report is about catching wolves in central-POW for radio-collaring, the fate of collared wolves, and the collection of hair samples for DNA analysis. The purpose is to estmate the size of the wolf population. Some quotes of interest:

“On April 20 [2013], we traveled to POW to start the spring capture session. … Between 22 April and 21 May 2013, we had up to 64 traps set for wolves in the study area. The traps were set for a combined 1,375 trap nights. We caught no wolves during this session, though we had one wolf pull out of a trap and we had two instances where wolves stepped on traps, but didnt set them off (standing on a jaw or spring, but not on the pan).”

“By comparison, during spring 2012, we set 26 traps for a combined 356 trap nights and caught 4 wolves. The major difference between this spring and last spring appears to be numbers of wolves. Three of the five radiocollared wolves in the Honker Divide and Ratz Harbor area were definitely killed while the other two vanished (one in November during the height of the deer hunting season and the other in May after hanging around an active campground for almost a week).”

“At least 13 wolves were legally harvested in study area. In addition, 3 legally-harvested wolves were located near the border of the study area or the capture locations were too vague to determine where the animals were actually taken. At least 2 more wolves were taken illegally (one radiocollared wolf killed and left on a beach and one unreported road kill) for a total of 18 human-caused deaths. We have 2 missing radiocollars. If these animals were trapped, it would bring the mortality up to 20 wolves. From our estimate of 21-24 wolves inhabiting the study area, a winter and spring mortality of 18-20 would equate to about 80% over-winter mortally rate.”

Note that a total annual mortality rate (all causes of death) of over 35% is considered unsustainable.

Larry Edwards

By Larry Edwards

Larry is a former forest campaigner based in Greenpeace's Alaska field office in Sitka. He has been featured in Alaska Public Radio, The Examiner, AP, and Sit News.

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