64 wolves taken in controversial Prince of Wales harvest

A wolf ru8nning in the snow as seen from above
An Alexander Archipelago wolf sighted near the Stikine River circa 2012. (Photo courtesy of Rich Lowell/ADF&G)

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game reported Wednesday that some 64 wolves were taken during a month-long hunting and trapping season on and around Prince of Wales Island. The most recent population estimate, from fall of 2020, says there’s around 386 wolves in the area.

State and federal game managers set a 30-day hunting and trapping season that closed December 15.

Fish & Game’s regional wildlife supervisor Tom Schumacher says the month-long hunting and trapping season seemed a reasonable balance between keeping the population under control and conserving the species. And it’s yielded nearly the same as last year’s winter wolf harvest.

“We don’t set a quota these days,” Schumacher told CoastAlaska. “So we just go for something that seems like a season length that will achieve a sustainable level of harvest. And I think that’s certainly the case here.”

But conservationists want the federal government to intervene. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition in 2020 to have Alexander Archipelago wolves listed as a distinct subspecies after a record number — 165 wolves — were trapped and killed two years ago after the quota system that capped the total harvest was lifted.

“The state still doesn’t really have a good handle on the wolf population,” Shaye Wolf, the center’s Oakland, California-based climate science director said Wednesday. “What we do know is that these wolves are suffering from high levels of inbreeding from habitat destruction from logging. So these high levels of trapping are a problem for them.”

But the Dunleavy administration has warned that federal protections for Southeast Alaska’s wolf habitat could trigger an extra layer of red tape for development across the region.

Schumacher says successive Endangered Species Act petitions have been rejected by federal wildlife managers, most recently in 2016.

“We’re not managing necessarily, with an eye toward the ongoing ESA process,” he said. “But I believe Game Management Unit 2 does not qualify — or it was found the last time to not qualify as a distinct population segment — so I think it’s unlikely that the Fish and Wildlife Service would decide to list only wolves in that area.”

Resident hunters have long testified that the island’s wolf population is healthy. And they blame the wolf packs for preying on the island’s black-tailed deer, which are an affordable source of fresh meat. Environmentalists counter that habitat loss to logging is to blame for making deer scarce.

In reviewing the most recent petition, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says it’s found some merit that Alexander Archipelago wolves face threats. It wrote that habitat loss from clear-cuts, aggressive hunting and the impacts from climate change have only gotten worse since the last Endangered Species Act petition was filed on their behalf a decade ago.

But it’s not clear when the agency will rule on the 2020 petition. In the past, the review process took about four years.

Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that wolf harvest closed in mid-December, not mid-January.

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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