DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE * CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY * SOUTHEAST ALASKA CONSERVATION COUNCIL
For Immediate Release:
Alexander Archipelago Wolves Need Urgent Help Following Record Killings in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest
JUNEAU, Alaska (April 15, 2020) – Conservation groups today called on the U.S. Forest Service to take immediate steps to protect Alexander Archipelago wolves on Prince of Wales Island in the Tongass National Forest following word that 165 wolves – representing 97% of the most recent population estimate – were killed this past trapping season.
In their letter, the groups also urged the agency to implement other wolf conservation measures established in a 2017 Wolf Habitat Management Program developed specifically to protect this vulnerable population.
“This is a shocking number of wolves to have been taken, and once again there has to be concern for the viability of wolves on Prince of Wales Island. The U.S. Forest Service must engage with the state on wolf management decisions to ensure that this imperiled wolf population and its forest habitat will remain healthy for future generations,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director for Defenders of Wildlife.
Today’s letter follows a March 5 announcement from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) that 165 wolves out of an estimated population of 170 (as of fall 2018) were legally trapped during the 2019-2020 season in the game management unit that includes Prince of Wales and surrounding islands. This record number of killings is in addition to any illegal killing, which is known to have been significant in the past.
“While wolf management has always been a controversial issue in Southeast Alaska, it simply belies common sense for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to allow legal trapping of 97% of any game population,” said Meredith Trainor, executive director for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “With this letter we’re calling on the U.S. Forest Service to take a larger role in, at a minimum, ensuring sustainably managed wolf populations on Prince of Wales Island by partnering with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to immediately return to the quota system.”
In a controversial move, ADF&G lifted the wolf-trapping quota for the 2019-2020 season on this population that had only recently rebounded from historically low numbers. Had the quota been in place, the legal trapping limit would have been 34 wolves.
“The unprecedented killing of these imperiled wolves is an appalling and completely predictable result of reckless mismanagement,” said Shaye Wolf, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s difficult to see how state and federal officials can allow hunting and trapping next season without completely wiping out these wolves. They have a duty to protect these beautiful animals from extinction.”
In previous years the quota had been set at about 20% of the population estimate, and sometimes significantly lower than that due to conservation concern for the population. When there is a mortality concern, the Tongass Land Management Plan directs the U.S. Forest Service to “assist in managing legal and illegal wolf mortality rates to within sustainable levels” and to “develop and implement a wolf habitat management program in conjunction with” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Forest Service finalized that plan in 2017.
Alexander Archipelago wolves and their rainforest home are under continued threats from industrial logging, road building, unsustainable trapping and hunting and large-scale habitat loss.
The population of Prince of Wales Island wolves decreased from an estimated mean of 336 animals in 1994, and 326 in 2003, to 221 in 2013 and just 89 animals in 2014.
Concern about the animal’s survival led the Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to develop a Wolf Habitat Management Program. The program identified the key components of wolf management on Prince of Wales and surrounding islands as deer habitat, roads, mortality, den management and human dimensions. providing key recommendations in each category.
This interagency group considered quotas to be an important management tool in regulating mortality, as reflected in these harvest management recommendations:
- Maintain flexibility in quota management to alter quotas on a yearly basis to ensure wolf population and harvest sustainability;
- Continue to incorporate unreported human-caused mortality rates in developing wolf harvest quotas using best available data;
- Monitor the wolf population to help evaluate program effectiveness;
- Prioritize and increase enforcement in pre-season and beginning of season, increase enforcement capabilities and prioritize wolf-trapping season patrols in the game management unit.
Following implementation of lower quotas, the population recovered from a low mean estimate of 89 wolves in fall 2014 to 231 animals in fall 2016 and 225 wolves in fall 2017 before dropping to a mean estimate of 170 animals in fall 2018. The population estimates take several months to develop, so the fall 2019 estimate will not be available until August or September.
In addition to eliminating the wolf quota, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game also removed in-season monitoring of wolf mortality in the management unit. The department gave trappers more time to bring killed wolves to state officials for tagging and counting. The new deadline is up to 30 days after the trapping season ends, instead of 14 days after the animals are killed.
Gwen Dobbs, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0269, [email protected]
Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 385-5746, [email protected]
Sally Schlichting, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, (907) 957-3488, [email protected]
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
For 50 years, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council has been Southeast Alaska’s grassroots voice in conservation. We work to protect the Tongass National Forest, Inside Passage, and our unique Southeast Alaska way of life. Learn more about SEACC at www.seacc.org, our Facebook page or on Instagram @southeast_ak_wild.