Environmentalists threaten lawsuit over Southeast Alaska wolf population

A wolf stands in the grass, staring straight ahead.
An Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist came upon this Alexander Archipelago wolf on Prince of Wales Island in the summer of 2018. (Kris Larson/ADF&G)

A coalition of conservationists warn they’re preparing to sue for federal protections of Southeast Alaska’s wolves if the Biden administration doesn’t take concrete action soon.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted a petition filed by Alaska- and national-based environmental groups calling for the Alexander Archipelago wolf to be listed as threatened or endangered. But the federal agency has yet to act.

Now, groups including the Alaska Rainforest Defenders, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Defenders of Wildlife have followed up with a notice saying that the U.S. Department of the Interior missed a one-year deadline to take action on the petition.

The three-page letter is required by law before filing a lawsuit that could compel the federal agencies reviewing the petition to protect Southeast’s wolves.

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The coalition of conservation organizations argues that Alexander Archipelago wolves are threatened by clear-cut logging, aggressive hunting and trapping, and by climate change. A similar petition to list the wolves was rejected in 2016 but Fish and Wildlife says the threats identified have only worsened since the last time it reviewed the species.

“An unprecedented 165 wolves were killed during the 2019-2020 trapping season,” Camila Cossío, a Portland, Oregon-based staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity wrote in the Sept. 8 letter. “This occurred after state and federal wildlife managers ignored the recommendations of their wolf management program and eliminated limits on the number of wolves that could be trapped or hunted.”

State game managers have argued that Southeast’s wolf population is resilient and have opened the population up to hunting and trapping on Prince of Wales Island where residents complain the wolves prey on the island’s deer. 

State officials have said they’ll resist federal protections which would affect permitting for development and resource extraction across the region.

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Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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