Times aren’t looking too optimistic for the gray wolves that inhabit Alaska’s rugged Unimak island on the eastern tip of the Aleutians.
Despite Unimak’s incredible wildness and its status as part of a national wildlife refuge, the island may no longer be a safe haven for the charismatic animals that may soon find themselves in the cross-hairs of the state of Alaska and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Alaska and the USFWS are pushing a predator control plan that would kill more than three-quarters of the wolf populations on Unimak, which is 98 percent federally protected Wilderness and part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
How is it that the Fish and Wildlife Service, whose mission it is to protect wildlife, is considering such a plan?
It all comes down to a shrinking caribou herd that the state of Alaska would like to revive for various reasons, including for the benefit of big-game hunting. The Unimak caribou herd’s numbers have fluctuated over the years, but most recently it’s said to have shrunk to 400 with dangerously low bull populations. The state of Alaska’s goal is to increase the herd to 1,000. It suggests the best way to do that is to drastically thin the island’s wolf population through aerial gunning and gassing wolf pups in their dens.
The state has put pressure on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow the shooting, and now, after some initial resistance, the agency is seriously considering a plan to allow it.
Boosting the caribou herd to healthier numbers may be a laudable goal, but the problem with the proposed wolf killing is that no one has provided evidence that suggests the plan would have its intended effect.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has conducted an environmental assessment, which is the first step to clearing the plan. But this analysis does not properly study other possible culprits for the herd’s thinning, including disease, poor winter forage conditions, changing weather patterns and predation by other predators, such as the islands many bears. Click here to ask the Fish and Wildlife Service to do better.
The environmental assessment includes four alternatives that the agency will choose from. One is to take no action, leaving the wolf population alone. The other three all include killing wolves on a large scale, but each differs in approach; two alternatives propose shooting from helicopters or airplanes while a third proposes putting wolf hunters on the ground who would then be directed by aircraft.
While the Fish and Wildlife Service has not chosen a preferred alternative, the agency has indicated it will likely choose ane of the lethal control options. Before the agency can move forward, they are required by law to allow the public to weigh in.
The deadline for official comments has passed, but we’re continuing to put pressure on the agency to make the right decision. Please help us by speaking up.
It’s critical that we raise our voices against this rushed plan, because if the agency does not hear significant protest, wolf shooting will move forward in May.
Not only will wolves be sacrificed without proper scientific evidence, but allowing aerial gunning sets a dangerous precedent for all other designated Wilderness areas.
A full 98 percent of Unimak is designated Wilderness, meaning it has the government’s highest level of protection. The island is known for its supreme wildness, and a landscape of towering volcanoes, soaring bluffs, pounding surf and forest and tundra. This is not a place where helicopters should be gunning animals.
What’s needed in this case is more study, which means a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be conducted. An EIS is a more stringent assessment than the environmental assessment that has already been completed. That EIS study must look at all potential causes for the decline, including, but not limited to climate change effects, caribou forage and habitat, disease, prior management of the herd and other predation.
Grey wolf. Courtesy USFWS.
Unimak Island, Alaska. Courtesy USFWS.