In response to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game report in May that revealed a drastic decline in the wolf population on Prince of Wales and surrounding islands, Audubon Alaska’s science and policy team developed a report, Prince of Wales Wolves, examining the underlying reason for the decline: large-scale, old-growth, clearcut logging.
“The alarming population decline is most immediately caused by the direct take of wolves from significant poaching and the unsustainable legal take authorized by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, but the underlying cause is extensive logging and roads that initiate many harmful effects, including overharvest of wolves,” said Melanie Smith, Audubon Alaska’s Director of Conservation Science.
The ADFG report said the recent population dropped from 221 wolves to only 89 in the span of a year, before logging on the Big Thorne timber sale—the largest old-growth sale in the Tongass in nearly 20 years—began this summer.
The Audubon Alaska report points out three ways old-growth logging has and will continue to drastically impact the wolf population on Prince of Wales:
- 4,200 miles of logging roads on Prince of Wales and surrounding islands allow poachers easy access into wolf habitat.
- Clearcutting old-growth trees removes crucial winter habitat for wolves’ main prey, Sitka black-tailed deer, ultimately resulting in a lower deer population.
- The reduced deer numbers, in turn, make some people perceive wolves as competition for hunting, “leading to increased poaching and public pressure to authorize unsustainable legal limits on wolf take to drive down the wolf population.”
The bottom line is the decline of wolves is a management problem that desperately needs fixing.
The Audubon Alaska report offers three steps necessary for survival of wolves on Prince of Wales Island:
- Halt hunting and trapping until the wolf numbers return to a sustainable level.
- End large-scale old-growth logging on Prince of Wales and the surrounding islands while closing unnecessary roads.
- Protect the wolves in the Prince of Wales region under the Endangered Species Act.
Since 1977, Audubon Alaska's mission is to conserve the spectacular natural ecosystems of the state, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. Audubon Alaska uses science to identify conservation priorities and support conservation actions and policies, with an emphasis on public lands and waters.