Wanting to protect wolves in southeast Alaska is a virtuous endeavor. However, limiting a food source by siding with predators is a mistake, especially during a pandemic.
Many articles rely primarily on out-of-state organizations and ignore primary sources — residents — who would be impacted by measures to protect an animal that doesn’t need to be protected.
On Prince of Wales Island specifically, and Alaska in general, there still exists the opportunity to provide for oneself. There is the chance to live responsibly off the land by eating quality, organic, free range, wild, food which also reduces one’s carbon footprint.
A wolf population left unchecked would ravage the deer population on which many locals subsist. Locals like my family who moved to Klawock to be teachers in the 1980s and stayed after my brother and I graduated high school. Locals who have been unable to find career work after the logging industry was crippled but can at least provide food for their families. Natives who have lived and depended on the balance of the resource for as long as there have been humans, wolves and deer. All who choose to live on the third largest island in the United States (2,577 square miles) that is inhabited by fewer than 6,000 people. For reference, Manhattan is 33.58 square miles. Why don’t people who live there get a louder say?
I respect the biologists in their impossible attempt to estimate the wolf populations on Prince of Wales, but it is an impossible job. Go on Google Earth and scour Yellowstone. Then go to Prince of Wales. Notice the lack of population. Notice the density of the Tongass National Forest. Notice the lack of roads, highways and cities that cut into the habitat for all animals, not just wolves. Notice that it remains wild.
When it was reported by many Lower 48 newspapers last spring (thanks to press releases from wildlife advocates back east with a quote or two from an Alaskan living up north) that trappers took all but three of the wolves on the island, that was under the assumption that the population estimate was correct. Which is wasn’t. Friends of mine have reported and documented multiple packs after the season ended and the numbers were tallied. I reached out to multiple journalists who used the inaccurate population decimation figures for their publication and offered to put them in touch with locals for a deeper look at the issue. I received an email from one journalist who thanked me for the perspective, but did not write a follow-up.
This fall, one friend of mine trapped half a dozen wolves in the first weeks of the season.
Wildlife agencies play an important role in protecting endangered species. It is because of animal advocates that bison still remain in America after the slaughter of the 1800s, grizzly bears are again thriving as are other species. These wildlife advocates were largely lead by hunters who didn’t want the resource to go extinct. Leaders like Teddy Roosevelt.
Today hunting organizations play a much bigger role in actually protecting habitat rather than just funding lawsuits.
People have every right to support whatever causes they want. I fully appreciate the desire to protect wildlife has humans increasingly encroach on habitat. But I implore people who have never visited or don’t understand the dynamics of an area to read up. There is always more to the story. Prince of Wales Island is not Wyoming. It’s not Colorado. It’s not Oregon. The balance of predator and prey, if tipped in the direction of predator will have devastating consequences on the food and culture of Prince of Wales Island residents.
It’s something that no one talks about in these articles because the wolves have a louder voice than people, because many of the people asking you to act, haven’t bothered to act themselves and get the perspective of the people whom it would hurt.
Jeff Lund is a freelance writer and high school teacher in Ketchikan, Alaska. His podcast The Mediocre Alaskan Podcast is available on iTunes and Spotify.