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NATURAL HISTORY

ALEXANDER ARCHIPELAGO WOLF} Canis lupus ligoni        
FAMILY: Canidae

DESCRIPTION: The Alexander Archipelago wolf is notably 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.

HABITAT: The Archipelago wolf requires dense, undeveloped forest with an abundance of wildlife for food sources. Old-growth forest is also critical to providing appropriate denning sites.

RANGE: The Alexander Archipelago wolf can be found on the southeastern Alaskan mainland from Dixon Entrance to Yakutat Bay, as well as on some islands of the Alexander Archipelago. Eighty percent of the wolves’ habitat is within the boundaries of the Tongass National Forest.

MIGRATION: Although wolves can move freely between islands and mainland areas in southeast Alaska, geographic features such as mountain ranges and water barriers pose significant constraints to this wolf’s long-distance movement. Available science indicates that wolves do not often disperse between islands in southeast Alaska.

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

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

FEEDING: Alexander Archipelago wolves primarily eat Sitka black-tailed deer. In areas and seasons where these deer are scarce, other important food sources include beaver, mountain goat, and moose. Wolves will also feed opportunistically on salmon, harbor seals, mustelids, small mammals, birds, and even marine invertebrates.

THREATS: The greatest cause of wolf mortality is both legal and illegal hunting; up to 30 percent of the wolf population is harvested annually by legal hunting and trapping and more wolves are lost due to illegal hunting and trapping every year. Loss of habitat due to logging and road building also pose serious threats. Road building increases human access to wolf denning areas, creating more human-wolf interactions that may lead to additional harvests. The greatest threat to the wolf’s continued survival may be the lack of a sustainable food source, as the wolf’s primary prey, Sitka black-tailed deer, are in decline thanks to the large-scale clearcutting of old-growth forests.

POPULATION TREND: An official memorandum issued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimated the population to number only 89 wolves in fall 2014, down from 221 the prior year — although the number could be as low as 50. Female wolves were said to have been particularly hard-hit: Data in the report show that, as of fall 2014l, only 7 to 32 females were left.

Alexander Archipelago wolf photo © Michelle Rogers