For Immediate Release, July 26, 2021

Contact:

Ted Zukoski, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 641-3149, tzukoski@biologicaldiversity.org
Larry Edwards, Alaska Rainforest Defenders, (907) 752-7557, defenders@akrainforest.org
Rachel Brittin, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 286-4149, rbrittin@defenders.org

Rare Southeast Alaska Wolf One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protection

Alexander Archipelago Wolves Threatened by Forest Clearcutting, Trapping

SITKA, Alaska— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that Alexander Archipelago wolves in Southeast Alaska may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act and started a year-long status review. The decision comes in response to a July 2020 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, Alaska Rainforest Defenders and Defenders of Wildlife.

“These beautiful wolves are threatened with extinction because of increased trapping and rampant logging in their forest home,” said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center. “They’re vital to the health of the Tongass forest ecosystem, but they live in a sacrifice zone for timber mills. If these wolves are going to survive, they urgently need the Endangered Species Act’s protection, not traps and chainsaws.”

The rare gray wolf subspecies, which inhabits the coastal rainforests of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, faces numerous threats. Legal trapping recently killed more than half the wolves in one key population on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. The Trump administration opened hundreds of thousands of acres of the wolf’s forest habitat to clearcut logging. And genetic evidence indicates the Prince of Wales population is in danger from high levels of inbreeding.

“Threats to the continued existence of these unique wolves have been worsening for many years, in terms both of habitat loss and mismanagement by the state and federal agencies that are responsible for maintaining the populations at a healthy size,” said Larry Edwards of Alaska Rainforest Defenders.

The Fish and Wildlife Service determined that protecting Alexander Archipelago wolves may be warranted based on logging and road development, illegal and legal trapping and hunting, the effects of climate change and loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding.

“The precarious position of these wolves is mainly driven by habitat loss and fragmentation caused by extensive logging and roadbuilding in old-growth forests,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director, Defenders of Wildlife. “Wolves and other wildlife are dependent on intact old-growth habitat. Protecting our rare ancient forests is critical to conserving biodiversity and an important climate change mitigation strategy.”

Background

Clearcut logging on the Tongass National Forest and adjacent state and private lands destroys and fragments the old-growth forest habitat that wolves rely on for raising pups and hunting their primary prey, Sitka black-tailed deer. Road construction for logging operations also allows increased access for trappers and hunters.

In recent years the U.S. Forest Service has authorized intensive old-growth logging and road building concentrated in the wolves’ most important habitat, including the largest timber sale in any national forest in 30 years. That’s despite direction in the Tongass land management plan to move away from old-growth logging.

In 2020 the Trump administration increased threats to the wolves by exempting the Tongass National Forest from the roadless area conservation rule, opening 168,000 additional acres of irreplaceable old-growth forest to clearcut logging. Conservation groups are suing to restore those protections.

Earlier this month the Biden administration announced the Forest Service will restore roadless protections to the Tongass and cancel three major timber projects. This new initiative to spare old and mature forests on the Tongass from large-scale logging promises to reduce future destruction of wolf habitat.

But the wolf’s low numbers, mismanagement of trapping, damage from past national forest logging, continued intensive logging of old forests on state lands and likely inbreeding means the animal is still threatened with extinction.

On Prince of Wales Island, which harbors a focal population of these wolves, an unprecedented 165 wolves were killed during the 2019-2020 trapping season. This alarming slaughter occurred after state and federal wildlife managers ignored the recommendations of their wolf management program and eliminated limits on the number of wolves that could be trapped or hunted. State and federal officials authorized a 21-day trapping season on Prince Wales Island during November and December 2020 with no limit on wolf killing. The season’s death toll was 68 wolves, the second-highest level of legal killing since 2005.

In 2016 the Fish and Wildlife Service denied Endangered Species Act protection to Alexander Archipelago wolves largely based on the claim that wolf populations in British Columbia were stable, while acknowledging the more precarious status of wolves in Southeast Alaska.

Threats to the wolves in Alaska have escalated since 2016 because of inadequate federal and state management, the Trump administration’s elimination of protections across much of their habitat, and continued logging and road building on multiple forestland ownerships.

Protection under the Act would require state and federal agencies to better manage threats to the wolves, take measures that protect their habitat and limit hunting and trapping.

Alexander Archipelago wolf
Alexander Archipelago wolf. Photo credit: ©Robin Silver / Center for Biological Diversity Image is available for media use.

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.

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.

Alaska Rainforest Defenders, founded in 2011, is a regional conservation nonprofit corporation in Southeast Alaska. The Alaska Rainforest Defenders stand together to defend and promote the biological integrity of Southeast Alaska’s terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations. Alaska Rainforest Defenders seeks to foster protection of southeast Alaska’s fish and wildlife and their habitat. The members of Alaska Rainforest Defenders use public lands throughout southeast Alaska for commercial and subsistence fishing and hunting, professional scientific work, and a wide range of recreational activities.