The U.S. Forest Service is responding to the 90-day finding by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a petition to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf as threatened or endangered, as outlined in the proposed rule scheduled to appear in the Federal Register (http://go.usa.gov/KFfe) Monday, March 31. Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole has made the following statements:
“The Forest Service will work collaboratively with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as they evaluate the status of the Alexander Archipelago wolf.”
“The Forest Service remains committed to the conservation of wolf populations on the Tongass National Forest. The conservation strategy outlined in the 2008 Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan identifies management tools that are essential to maintaining viable wolf populations, such as sustainable harvest, sufficient prey habitat, buffers to protect dens, and a system of old-growth reserves (OGRs). The conservation strategy was designed through a collaborative effort with Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with intensive peer review.”
“The Forest Service is committed to working collaboratively with agency partners, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alaska Department of Fish and Game, to sustain populations of the Alexander Archipelago wolf throughout Southeast Alaska.”
“Currently there are no reliable estimates of wolf numbers in Southeast Alaska. We are working together with Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a reliable method of estimating wolf numbers, which can be very difficult due to the elusive nature of wolves and the extensive old-growth forest spanning a remote landscape.”
The range of the Alexander Archipelago wolf includes the mainland of Southeast Alaska and islands south of Frederick Sound, excluding Coronation, Forrester, and smaller, more isolated islands that lack an adequate prey base. Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof islands north of Frederick sound do not support wolves despite having seemingly adequate prey populations. However, several wolf sightings on Admiralty Island have been reported in recent years.
While we have seen localized areas where wolves appear vulnerable to harvest associated with legal and illegal trapping on Prince of Wales Island, the wolf population across the island as a whole and across the forest appears to be stable. The Forest Service has formed a technical working group with management partners to take a closer look at the issue and determine which management actions, if any, should be taken to address concerns about wolf conservation. As a first step we are working together with Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a reliable method of estimating wolf numbers, which can be very difficult due to the elusive nature of wolves and the extensive old-growth forest spanning a remote landscape.
The 2008 Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan incorporates, in cooperation with Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a forest-wide program specifically intended to assist in maintaining long-term, sustainable wolf populations. This program includes multiple factors that influence wolf population conservation:
- Travel management planning (road access) and hunting/trapping regulatory planning to assist in managing sustainable harvest of wolves;
- Habitat conservation measures intended to provide sufficient habitat capability for deer, the primary prey of wolves in Southeast Alaska; and,
- Buffers and other project design measures intended to protect denning wolves.
In addition, the Forest Plan includes a network of old-growth reserves (OGRs) that was designed to maintain a functional and interconnected old-growth ecosystem. The needs of wolves were a primary consideration in the design of the OGR network.
The conservation strategy in the 2008 Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan outlines robust protections designed to withstand environmental contingencies like climate change. The monitoring program in the Forest Plan is designed to be flexible enough to respond to emerging issues and areas of high uncertainty, such as climate change.