ANCHORAGE — Two environmental groups say the federal government is taking too long to decide whether a subspecies of gray wolf found in southeast Alaska old-growth forests should be considered for endangered species protection.
In a letter Tuesday, the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether additional protections are needed for Alexander Archipelago wolves, which are found on Prince of Wales Island and are genetically distinct from other wolves in the Tongass National Forest.
Service spokeswoman Andrea Madeiros says the agency is preparing a response.
A listing could affect future logging sales on the island west of Ketchikan.
The U.S. Forest Service earlier this year announced it would reconsider the Big Thorne timber project, covering more than nine square miles on the island, pending a review of information suggesting old-growth logging related to the sale could threaten the wolf population.
The two environmental groups petitioned to list Alexander Archipelago wolves in August 2011. An attorney for the center, Rebecca Noblin, said federal law calls for a decision within 90 days about whether additional protections may be necessary.
“Two years ago we were worried about wolves on Prince of Wales Island. Today we’re panicked,” she said in a written statement. “If the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t step in, we’re looking at losing all of the wolves on Prince of Wales Island, an important and irreplaceable part of the Alexander Archipelago wolf population.”
In a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, the groups said large-scale logging poses a threat because it fragments low-elevation forests that reduce the carrying capacity for Sitka black-tailed deer, the wolves’ primary prey. Roads that accompany logging lead to unsustainable legal and illegal hunting and trapping, the groups said.
Wolves on Prince of Wales Island represent a significant portion of the range of Alexander Archipelago wolves, the groups said, and threats there are enough to trigger a listing.