The War Against the Wolves of Alaska

Alexander Archipelago wolf. Photo: Robin Silver.

Tongass National Forest

Southeast Alaska is home to the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest of north America. Tongass has old-growth and temperate rainforests, which shelter abundant wildlife and biodiversity.

However, both the forests of Tongass and wildlife have been under attack for decades. Loggers, miners, and developers and corrupt state and federal agencies look at these ancient trees and see primarily dollars. These are the same people who practically extinguished the old-growth forests of northern California. These are the same people who are the enemies of the natural world and welcomed Trump to the White House. They persistently ignore the ecological costs of their hubris.

Wrecking the homes of wildlife

Logging the magnificent and centuries-old trees of Alaska is fighting a perpetual war against life: weakening and destroying biodiversity, and making it difficult for birds, and small and large animals to find food and protect themselves from their enemies and harsh cold and other extreme climate conditions.

About 50 percent of the old-growth trees of the Tongass National Forest are gone. Indeed, if present ecocidal practices persist, another 30 percent of the forest will disappear in the next 20 years or so.

The wolf is the animal that has become a paradigm of the inhumanity and barbarism of those officials. They tell Americans and the world they are  responsible for the protection of nature in Alaska. In reality, they are the protectors of loggers and looters of the natural world. Their existence provides a legal cover for the massive crime of logging and mining going on in lands belonging to the American people.

The Alexander Archipelago wolf

The Alaskan wolf (canis lupus ligoni) is a 30 to 50 pounds black animal adapted to the temperatures and life in the temperate rainforest of the Alexander Archipelago, a region of more than 1,000 islands, deep river valleys, and frozen mountains. The Tongass National Forest is part of this giant ecosystem.

The war against wolves

The Alaskan and federal officials in charge of Alaska see the wolf as an enemy. They systematically hunted and trapped the wolf to near extinction: in this past year, they killed something like 97 percent of the wolves on Prince of Wales Island, which supports a large part of the subspecies.  Add this slaughter to the logging of fifty percent of the Tongass old-growth  forest where 80 percent of the wolves live, hunt, and raise their pups, and you have a picture of state-supervised genocide. In addition, severe climate conditions are causing harm to Sitka black-tailed deer, key animal the wolves hunt.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit national environmental organization:

“The wolves and their [Tongass] rainforest home are under continued threats from industrial logging, road building, overharvest from hunting and large-scale habitat loss as the U.S. Forest Service continues to plan big timber sales in key wolf habitats.”

Shaye Wolf, Climate Science Director of the Center for Biological Diversity, explained to me what happened:

“The unprecedented killing of these imperiled wolves is an appalling and completely predictable result of reckless mismanagement. During the last trapping season [2019-2020], 165 wolves were killed out of a population last estimated at 170 wolves, not including wolves that were killed and not reported. State and federal officials must halt trapping and hunting of this imperiled wolf population. These beautiful wolves need to be protected, not hunted to oblivion.”

Who could disagree with this gentle indictment of the wolf-killers? But are polite letters and petitions and law suits enough to save the wolves and wildlife, especially under the ecocidal administration of Trump?

The process of extermination of wolves in Alaska is probably the tip of an iceberg: an emblem America has become a Third World colony of ruthless, greedy, and unethical oligarchs ready to step on everything to earn a dollar. Everything includes wolves, thousand-year old trees, and human beings.

Facing these oligarchs (and their state and federal assistants), environmentalists resort to petitions and law suits. The Center for Biological Diversity has been struggling with these environmental killers since 1996. It repeatedly pleaded with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf as an endangered species. Such  classification would have prevented most of the killings. But administrations from Clinton to Bush to Obama and Trump said no. In 2009, the Center filed a suit to prevent further degradation of the Tongass National Forest, but the Obama administration had the timber lobbyists and barons in its mind.

The prayers of environmentalists

The callousness and ecological illiteracy of policy makers did not discourage the morally committed environmentalists praying for the survival of wolves. In the paper exchange with state and federal bureaucrats, the environmentalists have been forced to even agree that something like “sustainable hunting and trapping of wolves” or “conservative hunting and trapping quota” are possible or desirable.

Who is capable of deciding who is going to live and who is going to die among wolves? Are conservative and liberal shootings different? And if these things are possible and can be arranged, what or who is in the line of authority that stops the killing in the forests? Would such logic not include killings beyond the forests, especially of those who love wolves?

Bureaucrats who read the mind of lobbyists and presidential appointees and poison merchants “regulate” pesticides. Yet these neurotoxic agents and carcinogenic sprays move by the air, delivering their deleterious touch to all, wild and human.

Nevertheless, the Center and other environmental groups continued their paper war on behalf of wolves. On April 14, 2020, they wrote a letter to the supervisor of the Tongass National Forest, Earl Stewart. They urged him to save the imperiled wolves:

“Due to renewed mortality concerns about [the Alaska] wolves [and] in light of the unprecedented number of wolves killed in 2019-2020, and… abandonment of some of the key management tools that help ensure sustainability, the Forest Service must step up and promptly implement the Wolf Program, as mandated by the Tongass Forest Plan. This program implementation includes maintaining sustainable hunting and trapping levels as well as habitat, road, and den management approaches… we urge the agency to reinstate and enforce a conservative hunting and trapping quota, in-season monitoring, and increased enforcement among other actions to conserve… [Alaskan] wolves.”

Of course, the Tongass supervisor did nothing, his eyes have been glued to the Trump administration.

Wildlife protection

Environmentalists need to unite and launch national campaigns on behalf of wolves and all wildlife. Tell Americans there’s no future or civilization without wildlife. The survival of wildlife almost guarantees their survival.

Stop the logging of the Tongass National Forest. List the wolf as endangered species. Don’t allow human communities near the habitat of the wolves. Don’t elect politicians on the payroll or influence of timber, agribusiness, fossil fuels, and polluters.

Never talk about “sustainable harvesting or killing” levels of wolves or any other animal. These animals are our brothers and sisters. They deserve our affection and protection.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.