Saturday, June 27, 2015

Low snow could be affecting POW #wolf mortality


Environmental groups protest potential harvest

Posted: June 25, 2015
A memorandum from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation further explains the drastic decline in Prince of Wales’ wolf population, saying that in addition to known take, the 60 percent population fall may be due to deer being less vulnerable to wolves in low snow years. “The known take of wolves from the study area prior to the 2014 estimate contributed to the lower estimate,” wrote research biologist Gretchen Roffler in a memorandum to regional supervisor Ryan Scott. “Other factors that may have reduced wolf numbers include, decreases in deer abundance, availability of non-ungulate prey, increases in disease in wolves, and increases in unreported wolf take. However, there is no indication that any of these factors are present. One possibility is a decrease in the vulnerability of deer to wolf predation causing subsequent decreases in recruitment and survival of wolves.”

The Sitka Field office of Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity put out a press release protesting ADF&G’s planned field season. “Opening another trapping and hunting season on this small, declining population is madness,” said Larry Edwards of Greenpeace in the release. “Wolves in the Prince of Wales area are geographically and genetically isolated. This is simply unsustainable, posing a grave risk to the population.”

Despite the fact that female wolves were especially hard hit, from 50 percent to 25 percent of the population, Roffler said that if managed correctly, the population should be able to recover. “Wolves recolonize vacant pack areas,” Roffler wrote in the memo. “We believe that as long as harvest remains low and other factors like prey availability and habitat suitability remain unchanged, wolves will recolonize the vacant pack territory within the study area and future density estimates will be higher.”

The Forest Service Big Thorne timber sale, the environmental group’s release said, will further threaten the wolf population, reducing suitable habitat both for deer and wolves.

As the Empire previously reported, the wolf population in Game Management Unit 2 which includes Prince of Wales, decreased by 60 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to population estimates from the US Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

• Contact Juneau Empire outdoors writer Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@juneaeumpire.com.

The Juneau Empire’s June 11 story is available here: http://juneauempire.com/outdoors/2015-06-11/pows-wolf-population-plummets.

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