The Alexander Archipelago Wolf (Canis lupus ligoni ) is a highly threatened subspecies of the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus). Smaller than most wolves, the Alexander Archipelago Wolf typically measures 3 ½ feet long, 2 feet high, and weigh 30-50 lbs, with black or other dark colored fur. Their primary prey is the Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis), but they will also prey on moose, mustelids, small mammals, birds, and salmon .
They require dense undeveloped, old-growth temperate rainforest for their habitat and for raising their young. They are found on the southeast coast of Alaska, as well as on Alaska’s major islands in the Alexander Archipelago. The wolves travel freely between the various archipelago islands, making it difficult to keep track of their population. Their primary habitat largely falls within Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in North America [1,2].
Why the Alexander Archipelago Wolf is threatened
Threats to the Alexander Archipelago Wolf are primarily hunting (both legal and illegal), loss of habitat as forests are logged and roads are built, and the decline of Sitka black-tailed deer population as the old-growth forests are developed.
The Alexander Archipelago wolves and other wolves in Alaska began to be particularly threatened after World War II when the U.S. federal government launched a poisoning and aerial shooting campaign beginning in the 1940s. Within about 15 years, the federal government had greatly reduced the numbers of wolves in the state of Alaska throughout much of the South-central and within the interior region of the state. Wolf poisoning in the state was officially banned in 1959, but aerial shooting continued and bounties were paid throughout the 1960s.
In 1972, the U.S. government passed legislation that regulated airborne hunting and eliminated the bounty on wolves, and for a time, it gave the wolf population a chance to recover some. However, in the mid-1970s, state-sponsored wolf control programs were implemented in response to hunter demands, which were later stopped due to broad public opposition. Unfortunately, the hunting of wolves continued until the early 1990s.
Today, the threats to the Alexander Archipelago Wolf continue due to industrial logging, road building, over-hunting, and major habitat loss. Because these wolves are isolated from other wolf populations by water and mountainous landscapes, the fact that their critical habitat is under great threat makes their population even more vulnerable to human activities.
Current estimated population numbers
Despite many of the efforts to protect the Alexander Archipelago Wolf, their population is still in trouble today. It has been estimated that half of the wolf’s old-growth forest habitat is gone, and there is currently a Tongass forest management plan that would reduce their old-growth forest habitat by another 30% within the next 20 years. In addition, due to severe winter conditions within the last several years, and a reduction in old-growth forest habitat, the Sitka Black-tailed Deer is in decline, which the wolves largely depend on for prey.
As of June 2015, it has been estimated that the actual number of wolves could be as low as 50 individuals, with only 7-32 females remaining .
Efforts to protect the wolves
In 1996, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) teamed up with allied organizations (“the allied coalition”) to petition to protect the wolf under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Next, these organizations filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect the wolf under the Endangered Species Act.
In 2009, the allied coalition filed suit to preserve roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest, the major part of the wolf’s habitat.
In 2011, the coalition petitioned for protections and then sued when the protections were delayed.
The battle has continued for protection of the Alexander Archipelago Wolf, as wildlife officials have been relying on the inadequate protections that are laid out in national forest regulations.
In order to save the Alexander Archipelago Wolf from extinction, it will be necessary to preserve the important habitat of their prey, the Sitka Black-Tailed Deer, institute the prohibition and the closing of road access for both logging and wolf hunting in critical habitat areas, and engage in forest habitat restoration efforts.