Alaska Confirms Massive Decline in Rare Wolves, Still Plans to Hunt Them
In 1994, southeast Alaska was home to about 300 Prince of Wales wolves, a subspecies of Alexander Archipelago wolves. By 2013, there were fewer than 250. Last year the population plummeted 60 percent to 89 wolves. New numbers confirm that the rare breed may have dropped to as few as 50.
But the diminishing numbers won’t stop hunters from trapping and killing the wolves, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is moving ahead with its 2015–2016 hunting and trapping season on Prince of Wales Island.
“Another open season of trapping and hunting could push these incredibly imperiled wolves over the edge,” Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
A reported 29 wolves were killed during last year’s hunting season—which accounts for between 33 and 58 percent of the population. Either figure means the species is in danger of being completely wiped out, especially as females were hit particularly hard this season, with only seven to 32 remaining.
So, Why Should You Care? These confirmed numbers could lead to further protections for the breed—which some scientists believe is genetically different from other wolves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to determine whether the species is considered threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, which could put the kibosh on hunting the animals and protect their habitat.
Such protections would affect the timber industry that logs in the wolves’ range in the Tongass National Forest. The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in 2009 to save road-less areas of the Tongass.
But the biggest threat to wolves is hunters, which makes forgoing this year’s harvest a no-brainer.
“To maintain a viable population of Alexander Archipelago wolves on this island, Alaska must cancel the season,” said Wolf. “We won’t get a second chance to preserve these amazing animals.”
Correction June 22, 2015:
An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that the population of the Alaskan Archipelgo wolf has declined. It is its subspecies living on Prince of Wales Island that has declined.