SITKA, Alaska— The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is planning a 2015-2016 trapping and hunting season on rare Alexander Archipelago wolves in the Prince of Wales Island area, despite scientific data confirming a 60 percent decline in the wolf population in just one year. The population of wolves on the island could be as few as 50.
According to an official memorandum issued by the department last Wednesday, the population numbered only 89 wolves in fall 2014, down from 221 the prior year — although the number could be as low as 50. Female wolves were particularly hard-hit: Data in the report show that, as of last fall, only 7 to 32 females were left.
Report data further indicate that the 2014-2015 harvest of Alexander Archipelago wolves was unsustainable, a fact the report does not discuss. It acknowledges that the 29 wolves killed in the 2014-2015 trapping and hunting season represent a loss of one-third (33 percent) of the entire population, if the population were 89 wolves. Not mentioned, however, is that the loss would reach 58 percent if the population were 50.
The death figures do not include mortality from illegal hunting, starvation, disease and other sources. Peer-reviewed research has established that total annual mortality in the range of 30 to 38 percent is unsustainable, indicating that the 2014-2015 hunting levels further jeopardized this population.
“Opening another trapping and hunting season on this small, declining population is madness,” said Larry Edwards of Greenpeace. “Wolves in the Prince of Wales area are geographically and genetically isolated. This is simply unsustainable, posing a grave risk to the population.”
The department nonetheless intends to open a season on the wolf population beginning this fall, according to the report’s recommendations and statements made to the press last week after some information in the report became public.
“Another open season of trapping and hunting could push these incredibly imperiled wolves over the edge,” said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “To maintain a viable population of Alexander Archipelago wolves on this island, Alaska must cancel the season. We won’t get a second chance to preserve these amazing animals.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working toward a year-end determination on whether to protect Alexander Archipelago wolves as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, in response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace.
Right now the wolf’s primary old-growth habitat on Prince of Wales lies in the path of the Big Thorne timber sale, the largest timber project in the Tongass National Forest in more than 20 years. The U.S. Forest Service is pushing ahead with 6,000 acres of old-growth logging and 80 miles of logging road construction and reconstruction, claiming that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s management of wolf trapping and hunting on the island will mitigate the project’s impacts.
“The U.S. Forest Service wants the public to believe that ADF&G’s management of trapping and hunting can mitigate the effects of the Forest Service's continuing overlogging of the island, but that argument clearly has no merit,” Edwards said.