The Plight of the Alexander Archipelago Wolf

Note: Throughout this page the word “harvest” is used. Harvest is a hideous attempt at legitimizing the slaughter of wildlife, and we find it abhorrent. Nonetheless it is taken verbatim from various reports and press releases.

Prior to 2019, “management of wolf ‘harvest’ on Prince of Wales and associated islands, collectively known as GMU 2, was based on a harvest quota and in-season harvest monitoring. When harvest approached the quota, ADF&G and the USFS would close the season by emergency order. This strategy resulted in unpredictable and often short trapping seasons.” (Note: It also resulted in less wolves being killed.) “Trappers noted this strategy limited their flexibility to plan, and at times, has forced them to go out in unfavorable weather conditions to close their traplines in compliance with emergency orders.” (Since Alaska does not require trappers to check traps within a certain time frame, and in light of the just prior statement, one must assume that during inclement weather, traps are not checked, animals suffer and perish.)

As of 2019, under this new strategy, state and federal trapping seasons will both open on Nov. 15, 2019, and close on Jan. 15, 2020. The federal wolf hunting season in GMU 2 opened on September 1, 2019, but the state wolf hunting season will not open until Dec. 1, 2019. State and federal GMU 2 wolf hunting seasons will both close on January 15, 2020. There is no mention of a “harvest quota,” and there will be no emergency closures. But no worries, “hunters and trappers are reminded that the goal of the new GMU 2 wolf harvest management strategy is to maintain the fall wolf population within the range of 150-200 wolves.

Under the new harvest management plan, when the most current population estimate (170*) is within the objective range (150-200) the trapping season may be up to two months long.

Two months long.

A legal “take” of just 20 wolves will bring the population down to the minimum of what is now called the objective range.

The Board of Game also approved
changes to the sealing period for wolf hunting and trapping from “within 14 days of harvest” to “within 30 days of the end of the season,” which means hunters and trappers have up to 30 days to report their “harvest,” which means that no one will know just how many wolves have been destroyed until February 15, 2020. And so, this brilliant new strategy can easily lead to reducing the Prince of Wales wolf population to a dangerously low level. (The Board also removed language referencing a “combined Federal-State harvest quota” for wolves in Unit 2.)

And again, though there was no mention of a “harvest total quota allowed” in the seasons announcement, one would assume the legal take will be in the usual 20 percent range⁠—which would be 34 wolves. And that, my friends, would leave just 136 individuals on POW (after legal take). Factor in accidental deaths, and a high rate of poaching we will easily see an unsustainable population of wolves, yet again.

Killing just 20 wolves this season will drop the population down to what ADF&G considers a minimum viable population, and yet the quota per hunter/trapper is set at an astonishing 5 wolves.

*Data collected from October through December 2018 resulted in a GMU 2-wide population estimate of 170 wolves, with “high confidence” that the actual number of wolves in GMU 2 prior to the autumn 2018 hunting and trapping seasons was within the range, 147 to 202 wolves. The autumn 2018 estimate was lower than estimates in fall 2016 (231 wolves) and fall 2017 (225 wolves), but “well within” the population objective range of 150-200 wolves established by the Board of Game. By these numbers this allowed a “harvest” of 46 wolves in 2018. The council suggested a 30 percent increase, which would’ve upped the 2018 quota to an incredible 69 wolves.

It is important to note that back in 1993—back when ADF&G actually had at least some employees that genuinely were concerned about wildlife, including wolves —a minimum viable population of wolves on POW was 250-300 individuals (post-denning).

Further in this report from 1993, ADF&G pointed out that management actions that address risks to wolf populations include modifying hunting and trapping regulations as necessary, limiting construction of new roads and effectively closing some existing ones, and modifying timber harvest strategies to minimize fragmentation and loss of critical deer winter range.

A study of the ecology of wolves in southeast Alaska was conducted on Prince of Wales and Kosciusko Islands from 1992 to 1995 and found that out of the 14 dens located in this study, all were in old-growth forest within 100 meters (328 feet) of fresh water. One den was under a large log; all others were in cavities beneath the roots of large trees.

At this point, and before I continue to point out the variety of threats to the persistence of wolves on Prince of Wales Island (POW), I want to emphasize that maintaining roadless areas (shown below) on the island is absolutely critical for the animals survival, and ask that you please speak out against an “Alaska version” of the Roadless Rule. If the preferred alternative of this proposal is adopted all inventoried roadless acres would no longer be off limits to road-building or logging. Please take action; we offer a sample comment and link for sending here. A moment of your time. We will also have a tweetsheet completed in a day or two for those of you on twitter.

More than 300,000 acres — about 94% of the island’s productive old growth — has been logged, turning centuries-old trees into everything from pulp to pianos.

The Alexander Archipelago wolf exists in small numbers in a rapidly changing insular environment. Projected growth in human population, increasing road access, and the continuing loss and fragmentation of high-quality deer habitat will increase the risk of not maintaining a viable, well-distributed population of wolves in southeast Alaska. The area of most immediate concern is game management unit 2 (including Prince of Wales and Kosciusko Islands).

“Wolf populations on Prince of Wales and adjacent islands will face two significant problems: declining abundance of deer and increasing risk of intensive and unsustainable hunting and trapping mortality.”

Based on analysis of trapping and hunting morality by wildlife analysis area (WAA), ADF&G determined that mortality was correlated with the linear kilometers of road within WAA’s. Indeed, reported wolf harvest increased twofold when the length of road below 370 meters (1200 ft) elevation exceeded 95 kilometers (59 mi), regardless of size of the WAA. This corresponded to an approximate road density of 0.4 kilometer per square kilometer (0.7 mi/mi²), most of which were open to human access.

And from the last in-depth study/report: “Between 1993 and 1995, the average annual mortality in a total sample of 24 radio-collared wolves on Prince of Wales Island was 50 percent. If applied to the overall wolf population on Prince of Wales Island, this rate of mortality would not be sustainable.(ADF&G)

“Management actions that address risks to wolf populations include modifying hunting and trapping regulations as necessary, limiting construction of new roads and effectively closing some existing ones, and modifying timber harvest strategies to minimize fragmentation and loss of critical deer winter range. Habitat to support a minimum density of 5 deer per square kilometer (13 deer/mi²), where deer are the primary prey for wolves, would provide for current levels of deer harvest by hunters, trappers, and wolves. In areas less productive for deer, maintaining current densities of deer is particularly important. Setting aside contiguous blocks of habitat within each biogeographic province that are large enough to encompass at least one wolf pack core home range (200 square kilometers [76 mi²]) would markedly increase the likely persistence of wolves, especially if the reserves contain high-quality deer habitat sufficient to support an average density of deer equal to 7 deer per square kilometer (18 deer/mi²).” (ADF&G)

In 1990, wolves in southeast Alaska were identified by a USDA Forest Service-sponsored interagency committee as a species for which there may be concerns about viability or distribution as a result of extensive timber harvesting in the Tongass National Forest. In December 1993, when the population of wolves in southeast Alaska at slightly over 900 animals (approximately what it is today), with the POW population around 216), the Biodiversity Legal Foundation (Boulder, CO) and an independent biologist from Haines, AK, filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) requesting that wolves in southeast Alaska be listed as a threatened subspecies pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. The FWS ruled that listing was not warranted at this time, but added:

“However, it is clear by our analysis that without significant changes to the existing Tongass Land Management Plan, the long-term viability of the Alexander Archipelago wolf is seriously imperiled.”

Background

Wolf populations are closely tied to population levels of their ungulate prey. For southeast Alaska, ADF&G predicted the number of deer required per wolf to attain equilibrium between deer and wolves by using a Monte Carlo simulation of a model that calculated equilibrium ratios for wolves and their ungulate prey. The result was that 170 to 180 deer per wolf are needed for a 95-percent probability of equilibrium. “If we expect to sustain the current postdenning population of *250-300 wolves on Prince of Wales Island (along with subsistence and sport harvests of deer) with a high probability of attaining equilibrium, then sufficient habitat is needed to support 42,500 to 54,000 deer.” (*1996)

Most of the wolves in southeast Alaska occur on the large islands south of Frederick Sound. These islands (game management units 2 and 3) support approximately 60 to 70 percent of the total population in southeast Alaska. Sitka black-tailed deer were, and continue to be, the primary prey of wolves. Deer remains occurred in 90 percent of wolf feces examined from Prince of Wales Island.

Sitka black-tailed deer

Deer populations are prone to dramatic population swings, largely attributable to severe winter weather. Evidence indicates population declines of varying severity, depending on the area, with winters that have exceptional high snowfall that persist on the ground late in the spring in Southeast Alaska.

Of greater concern, habitat capability and deer numbers are expected to decline in some areas as large tracts of previously logged areas reach the closed canopy stem exclusion stage and become extremely poor deer habitat. Population models predict declines in deer carrying capacity in the Ketchikan area of 50–60 percent by the end of the logging rotation in 2054.

Prince of Wales Island has several issues: POW likely has the highest level of illegal or unreported harvests of deer, estimated to be equal to the reported harvest due to extensive and increasing road system, lack of law enforcement personnel and high unemployment. In addition, actual hunter kill could be 38% greater than total estimated harvests from hunter reports because of crippling loss. Presently, large tracts of previously logged areas have reached the closed canopy stem exclusion stage; large tracts of land have now been converted to extremely poor deer habitat, and consequently, habitat capability and deer numbers are expected to decline.

And where the deer go, the wolves will follow. Rolling back the Roadless Rule spells doom for both the wolves, and deer that call Prince of Wales Island home.

They call Alaska “the last frontier.” I call Alaska our last chance to get it right.

And we are failing miserably.

If you care to get in touch with involved officials to leave a polite message regarding this brilliant new wolf management strategy for GMU2, here is a list of involved officials:

Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

Doug Vincent-Lang, Commissioner douglas.vincent-lang@alaska.gov
Eddie Grasser, Director, Wildlife Conservation eddie.grasser@alaska.gov Phone: (907) 444-1973
Tom Schumacher, Regional Supervisor, (907) 465-4359, tom.schumacher@alaska.gov

ADF&G website

Tongass National Forest:

Troy Heithecker, acting Forest Supervisor Phone: 907-225-3101
Scot Shuler, District Ranger Phone: 907-826-3271
Contact Form
Paul Robbins Jr., Public Affairs Officer, (907) 228-6201, paulrobbins@fs.fed.us
Forest Supervisor’s Office

On this page you will find a list of Alaska Board of Game members. Email: dfg.bog.comments@alaska.gov
Regional contacts: Jessalynn Rintala – jessalynn.rintala@alaska.gov
Phone: (907) 465-6097
Annie Bartholomew – annie.bartholomew@alaska.gov
Phone: (907) 465-4046

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