Agency rejects endangered listing for Southeast Alaska wolf

A federal agency has concluded that a southeast Alaska wolf affected by logging and hunting does not merit placement on the endangered species list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that Alexander Archipelago wolves on Prince of Wales Island and neighboring islands do not warrant additional protections.

"Although the Alexander Archipelago wolf faces several stressors throughout its range related to wolf harvest, timber harvest, road development, and climate-related events in Southeast Alaska and coastal British Columbia, the best available information indicates that populations of the wolf in most of its range are likely stable," the agency said in an announcement.

Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list the wolves in August 2011. Larry Edwards, a Greenpeace representative in Sitka, said Tuesday the decision was disappointing.

"We think there's a lot of things they didn't get right in the finding," he said by phone.

The groups contend the wolves are genetically distinct from other wolves in the Tongass National Forest. Drew Crane, the USFWS regional endangered species coordinator, disagreed. A review of the best genetic information available to the agency indicated the wolves are not genetically different than wolves elsewhere in southeast Alaska or coastal British Columbia, he said.

The wolves den in root systems of large trees and their main prey is Sitka black-tailed deer.

The agency estimates the Alexander Archipelago population throughout its range at 850 to 2,700 wolves. Environmental groups wanted wolves on Prince of Wales and nearby islands to be considered a distinct population segment. The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded they didn't qualify.

"The population does not persist in an unusual or unique ecological setting; loss of the population would not result in a significant gap in the range; and the population does not differ markedly from other populations based on its genetic characteristics," the agency said.

The agency considers the range of Alexander Archipelago wolves to be from the top of the Alaska Panhandle through coastal British Columbia to the border of Washington state.

The service acknowledged Prince of Wales wolves have declined and may continue to do so in the next 30 years.

"However, wolves here constitute only 4 percent of the range of the Alexander Archipelago wolf and 6 percent of its current estimated total population," the agency said. "Therefore, negative population impacts on these islands will likely not affect the rangewide population in a significant way."

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said there is clear evidence that Alexander Archipelago wolves are at immediate risk of extinction on Prince of Wales.

"The Endangered Species Act doesn't say you can just write off a portion of a species range, especially a substantial portion like Prince of Wales Island," he said.

The groups will weigh their options before determining whether to challenge the decision, he said.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, applauded the decision. Alaska has the largest population of gray wolves in America, she said in an announcement.

"At a time when timber harvesting on Prince of Wales Island is barely a tenth of its levels of two decades ago, the attempt by some environmental groups to list the wolf seemed to be an effort solely to end the last of the remaining timber industry in Southeast Alaska," she said. "Fortunately, it did not work."

Bruce Dale, director of wildlife conservation for the state of Alaska, said wolf densities on Prince of Wales Island remain among Alaska's highest. He said in a release the state is committed to ensuring wolves thrive in southeast Alaska.

Dan Joling, Associated Press

Dan Joling is a reporter for the Associated Press based in Anchorage.