European demonization of the wolf---in reality a beautiful, gentle and social animal not genetically dissimilar to the domesticated dog, otherwise known as "man's best friend"-laid the groundwork for massive campaigns of extermination waged by European settlers against wolves in the New World.

Wolves were a symbol of evil and of desolate wilderness and wildness-and their destruction came to be equated with human mastery over the natural world. Unfortunately, this senseless, arbitrary hatred of wolves led to their extirpation throughout most of North America. Small, isolated populations of wolves still persist in a few wilderness areas in the West, and efforts to reintroduce gray wolves [link to our Mex wolf pg] on protected federal lands such as Yellowstone National Park and the Gila National Forest have been the subject of much controversy between private cattle interests and those who want to help wolf populations recover. Alaska contains much of North America's only remaining pristine habitat for wolves, and is home to several gray wolf subspecies.


The Alexander Archipelago wolf lives on the southeastern Alaskan mainland from Dixon Entrance to Yakutat Bay, and on all the larger islands of the Alexander Archipelago. Smaller, darker and shorter-haired than the gray wolves of Interior Alaska, Alexander Archipelago wolves eat primarily Sitka black-tailed deer; they also prey on beaver, and occasionally eat mustelids, other small mammals, birds, and salmon.

The Tongass National Forest comprises much of the range of the Alexander Archipelago wolf. Road-building and hunting are threatening the wolf; an average of 175 wolves are killed annually by hunting or trapping. Harvest of old-growth forest on the Tongass is causing a decline in numbers of Sitka black-tailed deer, which will reduce the wolf's prey base and threaten its survival. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now estimates the population consists of 750 and 1,500 individuals.


Along with partner organizations including the Biodiversity Legal Foundation and the Native Forest Network, the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in February 1996 against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for denying a petition to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf as an endangered species. Though the scientific data clearly indicated the wolf warranted listing as endangered, the Service had denied the petition to list it on the basis that the Tongass National Forest had "promised" to develop adequate protection measures in the future.

In October 1996, the federal court overturned the Service's decision not to propose the Alexander Archipelago Wolf as endangered. In his ruling, Judge Sporkin concluded that the Service could not rely on a promise by the Tongass National Forest to adequately protect the wolf in a long promised revision to its Forest Plan. Cutting through the Service's specious argument that the wolf will be endangered in the future but is not now, Sporkin declared, "If, with the continuation of current circumstances, the wolf will be 'endangered' in the future, it is clearly 'threatened' today."

Despite this clear legal victory, in late 1997 the Service once again found that listing of the wolf as threatened was not warranted, claiming that the new 1997 Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan would sufficiently protect the wolf. The Service claims "Wolves in southeast Alaska will not be in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future because we expect the population decline to stop at an acceptable level." Its finding violates the law.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
May 21, 2003
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