We investigated the influence of habitat use on risk of death from hunting and trapping of 55 radiocollared gray wolves (Canis lupus) from an exploited insular population in Southeast Alaska, USA. We compared mortality rates for resident and nonresident wolves and used Cox proportional hazards regression to relate habitat composition within 100-m circular buffers around radiolocations to risk of death of resident and nonresident wolves. In addition, we included covariates representing distances to roads, logged stands, and lakes and streams in those analyses. We also compiled harvest data from 31 harvest units within the study area to compare densities of roads and distances from human settlements with rates of harvest. During our study 39 wolves died, of which 18 were harvested legally, 16 were killed illegally, and 5 died from natural causes. Legal and illegal harvest accounted for >87% of the mortality of radiocollared resident and nonresident wolves. Mean annual survival was 0.54 (SE = 0.17) for all wolves. Annual survival was 0.65 (SE = 0.17) for resident wolves and 0.34 (SE = 0.17) for nonresidents. Very few (19%) nonresident wolves survived to colonize vacant territories or join existing wolf packs. Roads, muskegs, and distances from lakes and streams were covariates positively associated with death of resident wolves. Clear-cuts were positively associated with risk of death of nonresident wolves. Rate of harvest increased with density of roads; however, road densities >0.9 km/km2 had little additional effect on harvest rates. Harvest rates decreased with ocean distances from nearest towns or settlements. Roads clearly increased risk of death for wolves from hunting and trapping and contributed to unsustainable rates of harvest. Wildlife managers should consider effects of roads and other habitat features on harvest of wolves when developing harvest recommendations. They should expect substantial illegal harvest where wolf habitat is accessible to humans. Moreover, high rates of mortality of nonresident wolves exposed to legal and illegal harvest may reduce or delay successful dispersal, potentially affecting linkages between small disjunct wolf populations or population segments. We conclude that a combination of conservative harvest regulations and large roadless reserves likely are the most effective measures for conserving wolves where risks from human-caused mortality are high.
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Vol. 72 • No. 7