Endangered species listing denied for Alexander Archipelago wolves

An Alexander Archipelago wolf. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game)
An Alexander Archipelago wolf. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Alexander Archipelago wolves in Southeast Alaska do not warrant an endangered species listing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday. The decision comes four years after a petition was filed by conservation groups asking for greater protection for the wolves.

They are known as Alexander Archipelago wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf, and they range all over Southeast Alaska down to the British Columbia-Washington border. The population is estimated to be between 850 and 2,700 wolves, which is healthy according to the USFWS.

“In the majority of its range, the wolf population appears to be stable,” says Drew Crane, regional endangered species coordinator with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency’s review compiled data on the wolf and its habitat from the U.S. Forest Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and British Columbia.

It found that the population on Prince of Wales Island has declined 75 percent since the 90s due to hunting, logging and road development. Crane says the federal government is aware of that fact.

“We do have concern for the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island but Prince of Wales Island in general only constitutes 6 percent of the rangewide population of the Alexander Archipelago wolf,” he said.

In other words, a decline on just one island in the wolf’s total range doesn’t warrant an endangered species listing.

Larry Edwards with Greenpeace hasn’t read all of the 94-page decision yet but says logging and development in the region over the decades has negatively affected the wolf’s habitat.

“It’s very odd to us that the Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges a 75 percent decline in the Prince of Wales wolf population and then basically writes that population off,” he said.

An ESA listing would have meant greater restrictions on hunting or trapping wolves and may have impacted logging or other development.

The management of Prince of Wales’ wolf population is the State of Alaska’s responsibility and they think the right decision was made with the report. Bruce Dale, the state’s director of wildlife conservation, says the overall population is in good shape.

“There’s no doubt that these populations are sound and will persist,” Dale said. “Throughout the area where they are distributed, they’ve been there for a long time, through a lot of change and we have no concern for this population.”

The state kept track of the island’s wolf numbers since the late 80s. A state study last summer found 89 wolves were on Prince of Wales and nearby islands, down from 221 the year before.

“But the densities that exist still on Prince of Wales Island and in Game Management Unit 2 are still amongst the highest in Alaska,” Dale said.

He says the state will continue to keep an eye on the island’s wolves and manage hunts accordingly.

The decision to not list the Alexander Archipelago wolf as endangered is the final act coming from the federal government for now.

Greenpeace’s Edwards says he doesn’t yet know what the conservation groups will do about the new decision.

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