ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Six conservation groups have asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use an emergency endangered species listing to protect a population of southeast Alaska wolves.
The groups want hunting and trapping stopped the rest of the year for Alexander Archipelago wolves, which den in root systems of large trees and prey on Sitka black-tailed deer. The wolves on Prince of Wales Island and neighboring islands are genetically distinct from other wolves in the Tongass National Forest.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a court mandate to make a final endangered species listing decision by Dec. 31.
Larry Edwards of Greenpeace in Sitka said Monday the population of Alexander Archipelago wolves has crashed and could be permanently harmed by four more months of legal hunting and poaching.
"We could be down to not many wolves," he said. "It's trending toward zero."
A ban on hunting and trapping would let the population rebound and prevent it from being snuffed out by health issues that accompany inbreeding, he said.
In the mid-1990s, Prince of Wales had a population of about 300 wolves, according to the groups. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game last summer concluded that the midrange estimate of wolves for 2014 was 89 animals and perhaps as few as 50.
The estimate did not take into account poaching last winter or the 29 wolves legally hunted or trapped last season, Edwards said.
Greenpeace, Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community and The Boat Co. in July petitioned state and federal officials to cancel sanctioned hunting and trapping.
State and federal officials in August instead approved a quota of nine wolves to be legally harvested. The Federal Subsistence Board on Friday rejected the groups' request to override that number. Nine is too many, said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
"Allowing another season of hunting and trapping on Prince of Wales Island is like sucker-punching a heart-attack victim," Greenwald said in a statement.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Andrea Medeiros said by email Monday she would check on a possible agency reaction to the request.