ANCHORAGE — Three conservation groups have sued to force a federal agency to decide whether a rare Alaska wolf should be listed as endangered.
A decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Alexander Archipelago wolves, a subspecies of gray wolves that lives in old-growth forest of southeast Alaska, is 18 months overdue, said Rebecca Noblin, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The center, Greenpeace and The Boat Company, a nonprofit educational organization that offers eco-cruises in southeast Alaska, sued Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C.
Noblin called the situation for the wolves precarious. The U.S. Forest Service is planning additional timber sales on islands inhabited by the wolves. The groups want the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a decision before more habitat is lost.
“We’re concerned that the situation is getting worse for the wolves while the agency sits on its hands,” she said.
Agency spokeswoman Andrea Medeiros could not be immediately reached Tuesday for comment.
The wolves den in the root systems of large trees and hunt Sitka black-tailed deer, which depend on high-quality, old forests. They are genetically distinct from other wolves in the Tongass National Forest.
Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list the wolves as endangered in August 2011 because of habitat loss from logging. Large-scale logging poses a threat because it fragments low-elevation forests that reduce carrying capacity for deer, according to the groups. Roads that accompany logging lead to unsustainable legal and illegal hunting and trapping, the groups say.
The number of wolves on Prince of Wales Island, where the Forest Service is considering the 9.4-square mile Big Thorne timber sale, has declined since the submission of the petition, according to the groups. David Pearson, a former state research biologist, counted 45 to 50 wolves in the Big Thorne timber sale area in the mid-1990s, but last year he could find evidence of only six or seven wolves, according to the groups.