Endangered Species Coalition 2016 Top 10 Report Nominating Form Deadline: September 12, 2017
General Information / Nominating Organizations: Please use this Column to Provide the Requested Information
1 / Organization & Web address / S.P.E.C.I.E.S. (The Society for the Preservation of Endangered Carnivores and their Ecological Study);
2 / Contact name / Anthony Giordano
3 / Address / S.P.E.C.I.E.S.
P.O. Box 7403
Ventura, CA 93006
4 / Email & phone / ; 516-982-6554
5 / Communications staff contact name (if different from above) / Stefanie Siller
6 / Email & phone / ; 203-219-8143
7 / Common name, genus, and species / The Alexander Archipelago Wolf, Canis lupus ligoni
8 / Geographic range / Mainland of Southeastern Alaska and coastal British Columbia, and on islands west of the Coast Mountain Range (excluding Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof Islands)
9 / Conservation status / Not listed
10 / Remaining population size / 850 – 2,700 (USFWS 2016b)
11 / Can you providehigh-resolution photos? / Not at this time
12 / If your species is selected, will you use the report to advocate for the species? / Yes, we will use the report to advocate for listing and protection of the Alexander Archipelago wolf, and particularly the Prince of Wales Island population
13 / 5 free reports provided; additional copies = ~$2.60/each. If you’d like additional copies, how many (bulk orders may be cheaper)? / N/A
Public Engagement Questions (Please explain why the species is interesting, why it matters, why decision-makers + the public should care.)
14 / Provide background information, including interesting facts, for the species profile. / The Alexander Archipelago wolf, also known as the Island Wolf, is one of the rarest wolf subspecies in the world. A subspecies of gray wolf (C. lupus), the Alexander Archipelago wolf is endemic to southeastern Alaska. It has been isolated from other North American wolves for millennia, and is both morphologically and genetically distinct (Weckworth et al. 2005). It is smaller and darker than other wolves (Wood 1990), and it comprises a significant portion of C. lupus genetic diversity in North America (Weckworth et al. 2015).
The Alexander Archipelago wolf is also behaviorally and ecologically distinct from other wolf populations. For instance, this subspecies is unique in its habit of feeding nearly entirely on a single species, the Sitka black-tailed deer (Szepanski et al. 1999). Both the Alexander Archipelago wolves and their prey depend on old-growth forests for survival. In particular, the Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest national forest, is crucial habitat for the wolf and the Sitka black-tailed deer. The wolves even build their dens beneath the roots of these old-growth trees (Schoen et al. 2007).
Though they are distributed throughout the larger islands in southeastern Alaska, wolves are skilled swimmers and travel regularly between nearby islands. Larger water barriers, however, limit their dispersal (Person et al. 1996).The population of the Alexander Archipelago wolf residing on Prince of Wales (POW) Island, for instance, is both geographically and genetically isolated from other populations (Person et al. 1996). Making up potentially 30% of the wolves in southeast Alaska, these wolves constitute one of the most at-risk populations of the subspecies (Weckworth et al. 2005).Since the mid-1990s, the population of Alexander Archipelago wolves on Prince of Wales Island has declined by an estimated 75%, from 250-350 down to 89 individuals (ADFG 2015). This population is therefore of crucial conservation interest.
15 / What isyour organization’smost important lead message for the publicabout this species’ decline to be included in the report? / The rare Alexander Archipelago wolf is disappearing. Pressures from logging, road building, and overharvest are decimating the wolf, the deer it depends on, and the old-growth forest it calls home. Without protection under the ESA, this unique subspecies and its community will soon be gone.
16 / Is your NGO saving the species? If yes, how? / A project for the study and conservation of the Alexander Archipelago wolf is currently in preparation. We aim to promote awareness of the threats facing the Alexander Archipelago wolf, investigate the status of the wolf both across the archipelago and on Prince of Wales Island, and push for its listing as endangered or threatened under the ESA as an initial step to protecting both the wolf and the Tongass National Forest.
17 / How can individuals help? Please be specific. / Individuals can help by supporting petitions to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf as threatened or endangered under the ESA. Individuals can contact Greenpeace and/or the Center for Biological Diversity to learn how to get involved, or set up their own petition via change.org. Additionally, individuals can publicize the plight of the Alexander Archipelago wolf and call for their representatives to protect the Tongass National Forest against further logging activities.
18 / What action should the new administration take to save the species? How can they accomplish this action? / The first crucial step that the new administration can take is to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Secondly, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game can issue an emergency order to close Game Management Unit 2 (GMU2), an area that includes Prince of Wales Island, surrounding islands, and the Big Thorne project area, to the hunting, taking, or trapping of wolves until the wolf population there is able to sufficiently recover. In addition, the U.S. Forest Service should stop construction of new roads and logging activities in GMU2, particularly in regards to the Big Thorne project. Finally, the Federal Subsistence Board should reject the proposed increase in annual wolf harvest to 30%.
Criteria-specific Questions Part 1 – Please answer N/A or “see above/below” if appropriate.
19 / Detail the ecological importance of the species. Does it play a critical function in its ecosystem? How does the ecosystem depend on this species (e.g., keystone predator, keystone pollinator, ecological engineer, refugia provider, etc.)? / The Alexander Archipelago wolf represents an important umbrella species for preserving the old-growth forest ecosystem. As a top-level predator, the wolf is central to the stability of the predator-prey ecological community within the Tongass National Forest. The wolf population depends heavily on the Sitka black-tailed deer, which make up nearly 90% of their diet (Person et al. 1996) and are the most important terrestrial subsistence species in rural southeastern Alaska (Person 2013). The deer in turn rely upon the Tongass National Forest for their winter habitat (Wallmo and Schoen 1980). A study by Person et al. (1996) determined that a ratio of about one wolf to 170 to 180 deer is necessary in order to maintain equilibrium between the two populations. As a symbol of ecosystem integrity, the Alexander Archipelago wolf is critical to the balance of its ecological community.
20 / Detail information on any social or economic benefits the species provides—e.g., clean water, recreation, medicine, etc. (Optional) / N/A
21 / Can the species be an ambassador for its habitat or taxonomic group? If yes, detail. / The Alexander Archipelago wolf can act as an ambassador for the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in North America. The Tongass National Forest is a crucial part of the wolf’s habitat, and has some of the largest remaining stands of old-growth, temperate rainforest in the world. However, both the wolf and the rainforest are threatened by industrial logging, building of roads, overharvest, and habitat loss. In particular, the USFS’s Big Thorne timber sale in 2014 (see #28) has led to extensive logging of this old-growth forest,putting the forest and its wildlife at heightened risk. This logging will threaten not only the Alexander Archipelago wolf, but also the Sitka black-tailed deer that they rely upon, as well as two additional endemic mammals to the archipelago – the Prince of Wales Island flying squirrel (Glaucomyssabrinusgriseifrons) and a distinct lineage of Mustela ermine that depend on these old-growth stands (Dawson et al. 2007). By promoting protection of the Alexander Archipelago wolf under the Endangered Species Act, preservation of the Tongass National Forest can also be secured.
Judge’s Score for Importance of Species:
22 / Describe the specific threat(s) to the species. What are the greatest impacts? / Unsustainable wolf harvest is one of the major threats to the Alexander Archipelago wolf, especially on Prince of Wales (POW) Island. Illegal harvest of wolves in particular has had a substantial impact on the POW population, accounting for up to 37% of total wolf mortality from 2012 to 2015 (Roffler et al. 2016). Take of wolves in POW is partially due to perceived competition between wolves and hunters for Sitka black-tailed deer, the main prey for the Alexander Archipelago wolf. Illegal harvest likely accounts for about half of total wolf harvest (Person 2013).
However, under current regulations, legal harvest is also problematic. The regulation permitting a 2 week delay for hunters or trappers to report a legal harvest can result in overharvesting and increased mortality. For instance, due to this delay, 18 additional wolves were “legally” harvested in 2016 over the legal harvest quota before the area was closed (ADFG 2016). Yet, the Southeast Alaska Regional Advisor Council has since proposed to increase annual harvest to “30% of the most recent, unitwide, preseason population estimate”. According to Person and Russell (2008), wolves can only sustain about 30 to 33% harvest mortality before risking sustainability.
Logging is the other major threat facing the Alexander Archipelago wolf. Reduction of old-growth forest, particularly on Prince of Wales Island, diminishes crucial winter habitat for the Sitka black-tailed deer, leading to declines of the wolf’s most important prey. The impact of the timber projects, combined with the past 60 years of logging, is increasing the deer’s susceptibility to predation, hunting, and weather (Person 2013). Deer numbers are predicted to plummet as the habitat becomes effectively useless for at least 30 (Person and Brinkman 2013), and possibly up to 150 (Hanley et al. 1984), years. In particular, the Big Thorne timber project will eradicate the last high quality winter range for the Sitka black-tailed deer in central Prince of Wales Islands (see #28).
Furthermore, high density of logging roads (with an estimated 4,500 km in POW) provides increased human access, which is directly related to high wolf mortality and illegal take of wolves (Person and Russell 2008). Person (2013) estimates that when 40% of a pack’s total home range is roaded or logged, increased mortality greatly heightens the likelihood that the population will become a sink.
23 / If not described above, detail the current and projected decline of the species. / The Alexander Archipelago wolf has been of concern since the 1980s. The USFWS (2016b) currently estimates that there are a total of 850 to 2,700 Alexander Archipelago wolves remaining.
The population on Prince of Wales (POW) Island is of particular conservation concern due to recent dramatic declines. In the mid 1990s, the population was estimated to be between 250 and 350 individuals based on radio-telemetry (Person et al. 1996). In 2008, as a decline in this population became apparent, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) resumed census and telemetry work in the region (Person 2010). The ADFG found few wolves, and reported 80% mortality within the area in 2013 (Person and Larsen 2013). A 2015 estimate puts the POW population at 89 individuals (ADFG 2015). This population is in rapid decline due to logging and increased road building, which provides increased access for both legal and illegal hunting (Person 2013). These threats are now magnified due to the Big Thorne project, which, by harvesting high-quality habitat, will lead to further deer and wolf population declines. Person (2013) determined that over 50% of Prince of Wales Island is already at a level of logging that will only be capable of supporting population sinks. The Prince of Wales wolf population is therefore likely facing the possibility of extinction (Person 2013).
24 / If not described above, detail the status of the species’ habitat(s). What are the threats, if any? Is there adequate connectivity? / The Alexander Archipelago and surrounding regions inhabited by this wolf are comprised mostly by the Tongass National Forest. As noted above, this forest is under heavy threat from the logging industry, particularly due to the recent Big Thorne timber project in central Prince of Wales Island (see #28). A recent suit brought by nine conservation groups against the U.S. Forest Service to prevent the Big Thorne timber sale has been denied by the courts, thus permitting large-scale logging of our nation’s largest national forest to continue. Logging and the creation of logging roads are detrimental to the forest and the species it supports.
25 / Describe the timing of the species’ threat(s). Is it a current, eminent, or future threat? / The threat to the Prince of Wales Island wolves is current and ongoing. With an estimated 89 individuals remaining, the population is already facing imminent extinction. This risk is compounded by the 2014 Big Thorne timber project sale, the recently proposed Prince of Wales Island LLA Project in July 2017, and the Southeast Alaska Regional Advisory Council’s proposed increase in annual harvest rate thresholds.
With the recent rejection to protect either the Alexander Archipelago wolf or the Prince of Wales population by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the court’s recent upholding of the Big Thorne timber sale by the U.S. Forest Service, the threats to this subspecies are immediate.
Judge’s Score for Severity and Extent of Threat:
KEY QUESTIONS FOR NOMINATION: Criteria-specific Questions Part 2 – Please answer N/A or “see above/below” if appropriate.
26 / What does the science on this species indicate was the correct ESA decision? / Due to the biological importance of this subspecies, with its unique genetic and morphological variation, as well as the imminent threats it and its habitat are facing from harvesting and logging, the science indicates that it should be listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in their 90-day finding in 2014 that there was “substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing the Alexander Archipelago wolf may be warranted” (USFWS 2014). In particular, the threats facing the Prince of Wales Island population, a geographically and genetically distinct segment of the subspecies, warrant its protection as a distinct population segment (DPS). Protecting the Alexander Archipelago wolf under the ESA would also extend protection to the Tongass National Forest, which is facing immense pressure from logging.
27 / Howwas the science not followed? What was the ultimate decision that was made (or not made)? / The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ultimately determined that listing was not warranted throughout all or a significant portion of the range, including the POW (USFWS 2016a). They also found that the population on POW did not meet the criteria of the US Forest Service’s distinct population segment (DPS) policy and therefore did not warrant listing. Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that because the GMU2 only makes up 4% of the subspecies’ range, negatives impacts on the POW population “likely do not affect the rangewide population significantly” (USFWS 2016b). This finding is shortsighted, and fails to acknowledge that the Prince of Wales Archipelago population makes up potentially 30% of the wolves in southeastern Alaska, and is composed of a genetically and morphologically distinct segment (Person et al. 1996; Weckworth et al. 2005).
28 / Why was the science not followed? Indicate if there is an associated political threat from industry groups, members of Congress, and/or states. / It is likely that the science was not followed due to pressures from the logging industry. The 2014 Big Thorne timber sale by the U.S. Forest Service has paved the way for the largest logging operation in the Tongass Forest in 20 years. This project allows for over 148 million board feet of timber to be logged from 8,500 acres of old-growth forest (USFS 2013). Furthermore, in July 2017, the USFS put forth a proposal for the POW LLA Project that would consist of an additional 200 million board feet of logging of old-growth forest on Prince of Wales Island (USFS 2017). The U.S. Forest Service asserts that increases in logging road density and losses of old-growth forest due to logging will not be problematic for the wolf (USFS 2013), although these are the largest threats facing it today. Indeed, the suit filed against the U.S. Forest Services’ Big Thorne timber sale relied on the plight of the Alexander Archipelago wolf to bolster their opposition to the logging operation, asserting that the Forest Service’s project did not provide for a “viable” population of wolves. The court found that the Forest Service was only required to take sustainability into account “where possible”, and thus ruled in their favor. Had the wolf been protected under the ESA, the impact imposed on it by this logging operation would likely have turned the court’s opinion.
29 / What is the impact of the political meddling in the decision on the species? What has occurred as a result of not following scientific recommendations on the management of the species? / The Alexander Archipelago wolf has been repeatedly denied endangered or threatened status since 1993. The initial petition lodged with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was denied in 1997. A second petition was put forth in 2011, and though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initially produced an encouraging 90-day finding that listing “may be warranted” (USFWS 2014), they eventually found that listing was not warranted throughout any significant portion of its range, including the Prince of Wales Island (USFWS 2016a). As a result, populations of the subspecies have substantially declined since the mid-1990s under the continued pressure of logging, unsustainable harvesting, and increased human access via roads. The Southeast Alaska Regional Advisory Council has even proposed to increase the annual harvest rate. Most recently, the courts have upheld the U.S. Forest Service’s Big Thorne timber sale, putting at risk not just the wolf but the numerous other endemic and unique species that reside in southeastern Alaska. According to the court’s dissent, Judge Gould, “the Forest Plan and the Big Thorne Project do not demonstrate that the [Forest Service] will manage old growth habitat in a manner that insures the viability of the wolf in well distributed populations throughout the Tongass National Forest”.
Judge’s Score for Severity of Political Interference:
Judge’s Final Score
Please submit to y September 12, 2017, and thank you for participating in the 2016 Top 10 Report.