By Jacob Resneck
A wolf on Prince of Wales Island, as captured by a trail camera. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game)
Last year’s record hunting and trapping season eliminated more than half of Prince of Wales Island’s wolf population. That’s according to the 2019 population estimate released on Monday that proposes a 16-day trapping season next month.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s estimate of the wolf population last year is 316. But that number doesn’t factor in the 165 wolves reported taken last winter — more than half the island’s population estimate.
The agency says it considers a 30% harvest to be sustainable. But over half is not. Southeast Regional Wildlife Supervisor Tom Schumacher said as much to the Southeast Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council which met last week.
“There’s no reason that the population couldn’t stand the harvest that it did in 2019,” Schumacher said on Oct. 20. “Is that harvest sustainable through time? I don’t think so.”
Under Monday’s proposal, rural residents eligible for federal subsistence will be able to hunt wolves from Oct. 31 until the end of November. The state’s hunt for non-rural residents wouldn’t open. Trappers will be limited from Nov. 15 to Nov. 30 under both state and federal seasons. There wouldn’t be a limit.
Schumacher told CoastAlaska on Monday that the 16-day trapping season was based on a number of factors.
“We took into account population level information that we had this year — it’s anecdotal — fall 2019 estimate, fall 2019 harvest,” he said. “And they want to ensure given all the controversy surrounding the population, that we had a relatively conservative harvest this year.”
Wolves are targeted because they prey on the island’s deer. But critics say commercial logging on Prince of Wales Island destroyed deer habitat impacting the herds.
A lawsuit filed early Monday asks a state judge to intervene. It was filed on behalf of the Anchorage-based Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Joel Bennett, a former member of the Board of Game who lives in Juneau.
“Let’s be clear here, what this is, I think, is a wolf control program for Prince of Wales,” Bennett said.
The lawsuit lays the groundwork for the court to block the state season from reopening in mid-November.
Bennett’s lawsuit calls out the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Commissioner by name.
“I don’t think Doug Vincent-Lang would shed a tear if the wolves on Prince of Wales went the way of the passenger pigeon,” he said.
But none of this is a done deal. Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service will answer questions and take public testimony by telephone on Thursday. The public meeting begins at 6 p.m. The hour-long public hearing follows at 7 p.m.
A petition by conservationists to add federal protections for Alexander Archipelago wolves in Southeast Alaska is also pending with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s the third such effort since the 1990s.