Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rare Alaskan wolf is caught in the balance between ecosystems and economies

The story of the wolves, the island and the ancient forest began long before there were struggling sawmills and endangered species. But that lost world has a name now: the Tongass National Forest, in southeast Alaska. So do the wolves and the island. They have all become prominent characters in one of the more remote but revealing battles for balance between ecosystems and economies in the West. The wolf is known as the Alexander Archipelago wolf, a relative of the more common gray wolf that roams mainland North America. The island is Prince of Wales Island, an outpost 55 miles northwest of Ketchikan that, at nearly 2,600 square miles, is home to just 6,000 people and accessible from the mainland only by boat or plane. The forest is home to giant evergreens — spruce, hemlock and cedar, some 800 years old and more than 200 feet tall. They are part of the 17 million-acre Tongass, America’s largest national forest. The government calls it “the most intact temperate rain forest on Earth.” Those, however, are fighting words. This spring, with the approval of the U.S. Forest Service, loggers began cutting thousands of acres of old-growth trees on Prince of Wales Island in one of the largest and most controversial timber sales in the Tongass in two decades. State and federal officials say the project is essential to the livelihoods of people on the island, where the last remaining large sawmill employs about 50 people...more

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