Endangered Alexander Archipelago Wolf – Is Extinction Next?

If you read my previous article about the Coastal Wolves of British Columbia, you’ll remember that I mentioned, “Other populations reside in southeastern Alaska, though overall, sea wolves have declined in number over time. Amazingly, they once were found all the way down to California, back when it had its own temperate rain forest. Now they only go as far south as just north of Vancouver.” In this post, I’m going to explain the challenges faced by the Alexander Archipelago Wolf of Alaska. Read on to find out more…

black wolf looking through the trees

What’s so Special About the Alexander Archipelago Wolf of Alaska?

These wolves are considered genetically distinct from the gray wolves found elsewhere in North America. The Alexander Archipelago wolf is smaller and darker than the typical gray wolf, with a denser coat. On average, individuals weigh between 30 to 50 pounds, are 3.5 feet long, and stand around two feet high. They typically have a black or very dark gray coat.

Adult wolves are sexually mature between two and three years of age. Pups are usually born from mid-April through early July, with each litter consists of three to seven pups.

On average, wild wolves live for six to eight years.

Photo by Cory Thorkelson on Unsplash

Where is the Endangered Alexander Archipelago Wolf Found?

The Alexander Archipelago Wolf (Canis lupus ligoni) resides on the islands and the nearby mainland, located in the image below. The overall wolf population scattered amongst these islands and the nearby mainland is likely less than 1000 animals. They occupy much of southeast Alaska from Yakutat Bay to the Dixon Entrance except for Admiralty, Baronaf, and Chichagof islands. The challenge is that geographies like water and mountain barriers separate these populations, and each sub-population can have varying levels of viability genetically.

Already rare, these wolves are at risk from high levels of inbreeding. Trapping activities have killed off half the population on Prince of Wales Island alone. Making matters worse, the Trump administration opened hundreds of thousands of acres of the wolf’s forest habitat to clearcut logging in 2020.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week (week of July 25, 2021) that the Alexander Archipelago wolves might warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act because they are being threatened with extinction from logging activities and increased trapping.

The Alexander Archipelago of Alaska

Similar to the British Columbia Coastal Wolf

  • They require dense old growth forest.
  • They can move freely around the different islands but scientific evidence suggest they dont widely disperse.
  • BC coastal wolves rely heavily on marine sources. The Alexander archipelago wolves will also eat salmon, marine invertebrates, and so forth but prefer the Sitka black tailed deer as a food source.
Coastal Wolf of British Columbia
Credit: Paul Nicklen/Courtesy of SeaLegacy

Safety in 4 Year Increments – American Politics

US Congress

The disappointment that is American politics is creating chaos for wildlife conservation. Science is once again respected in 2021, but there’s no guarantee that it will be under any new administration in 2024 or 2028. An anti-science administration might take pleasure in undoing any progress made for no other reason than pandering to pundits (i.e., Tucker Carlson no longer has a permanent look of confused rage) and a base that equates helping anything or anyone with socialism.

Regarding the habitat where these wolves live, we have gone from a “who cares” mentality under the last administration to a “we have to protect it” mentality under the Biden Administration. This wide pendulum swing is frustrating to conservationists and indigenous people, as well as loggers and hunters. A stable policy is needed.

Here is what I mean….

  • A few years ago, The U.S. Forest Service under Trump gave the all-clear to cut old-growth trees and build roads throughout the ancient Tonga National forest (previously protected). This is despite the logging company itself not wanting to cut these old-growth trees. That didn’t matter to the Trump Administration; they authorized in 2020 another 168,000 acres could be totally clear cut and logging roads built. Conservation groups sued.
  • Earlier in July 2021, the Biden administration announced the Forest Service would restore roadless protections to the Tongass and cancel three major timber projects. This new initiative to spare old and mature forests on the Tongass from large-scale logging promises to reduce future destruction of wolf habitat. This is great, but it won’t immediately help the wolves, it may not be enough–it can always be rolled back.

Why is Road Builiding a Threat?

Building roads is bad for wolves because it gives access to hunters and trappers to explore further into the wolf’s territory. We saw in Wisconsin how people who call themselves hunters chase wolves down with dogs (swapping out fresh hounds every 6 hours), use GPS technology, snowmobiles, and hunt at night to run wolves to the point of exhaustion.

That isn’t hunting, the advantages are too great, and the wolves don’t stand a fair chance; It’s just killing. Idaho, for example, allows poison baits and killing a mother and her pups in the den. I mean, who would kill what looks and acts like a puppy and then call themselves a hunter after that? No one with any respect for nature, that’s for sure.

Giving access to areas previously safe to wolves means under future administrations that mismanage wildlife resources, makes annual slaughters like this possible on the Alaskan islands.

Protections Restored to the Forest but not the Wolves

The wolf’s low numbers, mismanagement of trapping, damage from past national forest logging, continued intensive logging of old forests on state lands, and likely inbreeding means the animal is still threatened with extinction. These wolves need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

This protection was last denied in 2016 because of the stable populations of the wolf in coastal British Columbia. I don’t think it makes sense to base our decisions on the population in Canada, and it’s not like the Coastal Wolf of BC would ever be able to impact the wolf population in Alaska (due to geography) without human intervention and cooperation of the Canadian Government. Not a great plan.

Thanks to a petition from Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Alaska Rainforest Defenders. These wolves might stand a chance of survival as the Federal Government is reconsidering endangered species protection status. Hopefully, the FFWS goes from saying these wolves MAY warrant protection to they DO require protection.

How Can you Help?

Photo by Angel Luciano on Unsplash

Let’s not let the light go out for the Alexander Archipelago wolf of Alaska.

Final Thoughts

The wolves of the Alexander Archipelago are like wolves everywhere in that they are trying to survive. Still, man is destroying their habitat, hunting and trapping them, and the respective government authorities can’t seem to figure out a permanent solution to manage them. They are victims of our greed, destructive ways, disrespect of nature, and political bickering.

Alaska – Cool things to Do

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6 thoughts on “Endangered Alexander Archipelago Wolf – Is Extinction Next?”

  1. Hello, what an interesting post!

    It’s perturbing how people are destroying the wolves of the Alexander Archipelago’s habitat, hunting and trapping them, and the respective government authorities failing to figure out a permanent solution to manage that.

     Anyway ,I enjoyed and learned a lot from this fascinating piece of writing. 

    Thank you very much for sharing. This is awesome.

    Reply
  2. Wolves are such a beautiful species, it is a shame the human race treats wildlife with such a lack of care and understanding. I agree with you, stable policies are needed, policies that can’t be changed from one president to the next. Something needs to be done and written that protects animals like these wolves consistently across the board. I hope your post opens up many eyes to the truth of this.

    Reply
  3. Wow I have never read so much about wolves from just one website!

    It is just amazing how there are sub species, in the species of wolf itself and even many other animals. I always thought that all wolves had the same coat and would be of the same size too.

    But after reading this post, about the Alexander Archipelago wolf, I have realized that I have much more to explore with this particular species.

    Thank you for putting this information up on the internet!

    Reply

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