By Rebecca Noblin
For thousands of years the distinctive image of black wolves roaming the snow-covered islands of the Alexander Archipelago has been an iconic part of Southeast Alaska's natural history.
But even in this remote stretch of more than 1,000 islands and glaciated peaks, the Alexander Archipelago wolf has been no match for industrial logging, road building and overharvest.
There are two well-understood reasons that Alexander Archipelago wolves cannot coexist indefinitely with clearcut logging:
• The wolf population is directly tied to the health of the black-tailed deer, which in turn is directly tied to the health of the old-growth forests that offer protection from deep snows and promote a variety of under-story plants.
• As road density increases, so do wolf kills, both legal and illegal. In the Tongass National Forest, logging roads provide access for wolf hunters and trappers. Road density on much of Prince of Wales Island is already beyond sustainable levels.
Yet, the U.S. Forest Service continues to plan big timber sales in key wolf habitats, including the Big Thorne timber sale. That decision, now under appeal, would allow the clear-cutting of more than 6,000 acres on Prince of Wales Island that would accelerate an already sharp decline of the wolf population there.
As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act next month, the ongoing threat of logging and road-building to the ever-more fragile status of Alexander Archipelago wolves is a stark reminder of the irreplaceable role the Act has played in protecting our nation's most imperiled plants and animals and the ecosystems we share with them.
The first page of the law leaves no doubt about why lawmakers felt it was necessary:
"The Congress finds and declares that ... various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation." More....