Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding for a Petition to List the Alexander Archipelago Wolf as Threatened and to Designate Critical Habitat

Summary

The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces a 12-month finding for a petition to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf (Canis lupus ligoni) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. After review of all available scientific and commercial information, the Service finds that listing the Alexander Archipelago wolf as threatened is not warranted.

Full text

SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces a 12-month 
finding for a petition to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf (Canis 
lupus ligoni) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. 
After review of all available scientific and commercial information, 
the Service finds that listing the Alexander Archipelago wolf as 
threatened is not warranted.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on August 28, 
1997.

ADDRESSES: Data, information, comments, or questions concerning this 
petition should be sent to the Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Ecological Services Field Office, 3000 Vintage Blvd., Suite 
201, Juneau, Alaska 99801-7100. The petition finding, supporting data, 
and comments are available for public inspection, by appointment, 
during normal business hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: John Lindell, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, at the above address, or by calling 907/586-7240.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that, for any petition to 
revise the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants that 
contains substantial scientific and commercial information, the Service 
make a finding on whether the petitioned action is (a) not warranted, 
(b) warranted, or (c) warranted but precluded from immediate proposal 
by other pending proposals of higher priority.
    On December 17, 1993, the Service received a petition to list the 
Alexander Archipelago wolf as threatened under the Act from the 
Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Eric Holle, and Martin Berghoffen. On 
May 20, 1994, the Service announced a 90-day finding (59 FR 26476) that 
the petition presented substantial information indicating that the 
requested action may be warranted and opened a public comment period 
until October 1, 1994 (59 FR 26476 and 59 FR 44122). The Service issued 
its 12-month finding that listing the Alexander Archipelago wolf was 
not warranted on February 23, 1995 (60 FR 10056).
    On February 7, 1996, the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, 
Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Save the West, Save America's Forests, 
Native Forest Network, Native Forest Council, Eric Holle, Martin 
Berghoffen, and Don Muller filed suit in the United States Court for 
the District of Columbia challenging the Service's not warranted 
finding. On October 9, 1996, the United States District Court remanded 
the 12-month finding to the Secretary of the Interior, instructing him 
to reconsider the determination ``on the basis of the current forest 
plan, and status of the wolf and its habitat, as they stand today'' (96 
CV 00227 DDC).
    On December 5, 1996, a public comment period was opened by the 
Service (61 FR 64497). It was extended until April 4, 1997, through 
three subsequent notices (61 FR 69065; 62 FR 6930; and 62 FR 14662). 
Prior to a final determination, however, the Forest Service issued the 
Tongass Land Management Plan Revision, which superseded the 1979 
version of the plan. In keeping with the United States District Court's 
order that a finding be based upon the ``current forest plan,'' the 
District Court granted an extension until August 31, 1997, so that the 
petitioners, the public, and the Service could reconsider the status of 
the Alexander Archipelago wolf under the revised Tongass Land 
Management Plan. Therefore, the Service reopened the public comment 
period from June 12, 1997, to July 28, 1997 (62 FR 32070).
    The Service has reevaluated the petition and the literature cited 
in the petition, reviewed other available literature and information, 
and consulted with biologists and researchers familiar with gray wolves 
in general, and the Alexander Archipelago wolf in particular. The 1997 
revised Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan formed the basis 
for evaluating the status of the wolf on the Tongass National Forest. 
On the basis of the best scientific and commercial information 
available, the Service finds that listing the Alexander Archipelago 
wolf as threatened is not warranted.
    The taxonomic status of wolves in southeast Alaska, commonly 
referred to as Alexander Archipelago wolves, is uncertain. 
Nevertheless, the Service believes that there is persuasive support in the record for treating southeast Alaska wolves as a distinct 
subspecies, Canis lupus ligoni, and, therefore, believes that it is 
reasonable to review the status of wolves in southeastern Alaska as a 
listable entity under the Endangered Species Act.
    The Alexander Archipelago wolf occurs on the mainland in southeast 
Alaska from Dixon Entrance to Yakutat Bay and on all the major islands 
in the Alexander Archipelago except Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof 
islands. Wolves in southeast Alaska are relatively isolated by the 
Pacific Ocean and the Coast Mountain Range. Six rivers or passes 
penetrate the Coastal Mountains and may allow some interchange between 
wolves in southeast Alaska and those in British Columbia, Canada. 
Wolves in Alaska and coastal British Columbia may also interchange 
along the coastal mainland; however, the amount of interchange between 
Alaska and British Columbia wolves has not been studied.
    The current population of Alexander Archipelago wolves is thought 
to be stable at moderate to high densities. The population size of 
wolves in southeast Alaska is not known with certainty but probably 
numbers between 750 and 1,500 individuals. About 67 percent of the 
population is estimated to live on the islands in the central and 
southern portion of the archipelago.
    Potential threats to the species' persistence include human-caused 
mortality, disease, loss of prey as a result of timber harvest, and 
loss of prey as the result of severe winter weather. Results from a 
recent scientific study indicate that hunting and trapping of wolves 
may have exceeded sustainable levels on Prince of Wales and Kosciusko 
Islands, Alaska. In response to that study, the Alaska Board of Game 
and the Federal Subsistence Board revised hunting and trapping 
regulations in southeast Alaska to limit annual wolf harvest to 
acceptable levels.
    Canine diseases have been documented in other North American wolf 
populations. Evidence from these other populations indicates that 
although disease may cause mortality, it is unlikely to have an effect 
on the population of Alexander Archipelago wolves.
    The Service considers potential loss of prey the most serious 
threat. Wolves are capable of exploiting a variety of ungulate and 
nonungulate prey. Within the major island groups in southeast Alaska, 
where wolves are most abundant and logging is most prevalent, Sitka 
black-tailed deer and, to a lesser extent, beaver are the most commonly 
used prey. On the mainland, goats are the most commonly used ungulate 
prey. Moose and elk have very limited distributions in southeast Alaska 
and are probably used where available.
    Logging on the Tongass National Forest has been concentrated in 
high volume forests since industrial scale logging began in 1955. These 
forests are important winter habitat for deer because the multilayered 
canopies intercept snow and allow deer access to highly nutritious 
forage that is not available in most clearcuts and second-growth 
forests. Much of the harvest has occurred within the major island 
groups and adjacent mainland occupied by wolves. The projected logging 
of old growth in southeast Alaska will result in a decline of deer in 
southeast Alaska. Effects of logging will be particularly evident 
during winters with heavy snow that persists on the forest floor for 
long periods of time. Because wolves are inextricably tied to their 
prey, declines in deer are expected to eventually result in declines of 
wolves.
    Despite the anticipated population decline, the Service believes 
that wolves in southeast Alaska will not be in danger of extinction 
within the foreseeable future because we expect the population decline 
to stop at an acceptable level. Additionally, wolves are known to 
persist at low numbers in healthy populations and to be resilient to 
the activities of man because of their high reproductive rate and high 
dispersal capability. The Service, therefore, concludes that the 
Alexander Archipelago wolf is unlikely to become endangered throughout 
all or a significant portion of its range in the foreseeable future.
    Authors: The primary authors of this document are Teresa Woods, 
Fish and Wildlife Biologist, 907/786-3505, and Tony DeGange, Fish and 
Wildlife Biologist, 907/786-3492, of the Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Alaska Regional Office.

Authority

    The authority for this section is the Endangered Species Act (16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: August 28, 1997.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 97-23501 Filed 9-3-97; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P  

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