Protecting forests for the preservation of all species

by Allison Milionis | May 21, 2021

May 21 is National Endangered Species Day, which should give us pause. Since the creation of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the list of species under threat seems to grow longer by the week due to destructive human activities and governmental policies. In fact, more than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

 Wolves are one of the species in peril – again. Just this month, Idaho governor Brad Little signed a gray wolf extermination bill into law opening the floodgates for hunters, trappers and paid private contractors to kill up to 1,350 wolves in Idaho. That’s 90% of the state’s gray wolf population.

 The new law is only possible because of a rider (amendment) in the Endangered Species Act that stripped protection from gray wolves in Idaho, Montana, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and northern Utah. The rider was attached to a budget bill written by U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) ten years ago. 

 This loophole in the ESA is just one example of the ways humans wreak havoc on wildlife and habitats. In fact, habitat loss is the greatest threat to species around the globe. In the Pacific Northwest alone there are currently 59 threatened or endangered species of plants and animals because of habitat loss, according to the Endangered Species Coalition.

“When an ecosystem has been dramatically changed by human activities—such as agriculture, oil and gas exploration, commercial development, or water diversion—it may no longer be able to provide the food, water, cover, and places to raise young that wildlife need to survive.”  – The National Wildlife Federation

Wolves Thrive in Tongass National Forest

Habitat loss is defined in three categories: habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation and habitat degradation. Habitat destruction is primarily a result of human activities, most of which involves the clearing of land for logging, agriculture, mining, dams and urban expansion. Habitat fragmentation is caused by roads, freeways or other development that restricts wildlife movement or reduces the range in which they can hunt, forage or find shelter. Habitat degradation is also caused by human activities, which directly or indirectly pollute the land, air and water, and are responsible for climate change.

For over a decade, Crag fought the destruction of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, one of the largest intact temperate rainforests on Earth, where logging has leveled massive sections of precious old-growth forest. The land has been home to all types of wildlife for thousands of years, including the rare and beautiful Alexander Archipelago wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf. 

The clearcut logging that has been going on for 60 years destroys and fragments the forest habitat that the wolves rely on for raising pups and hunting their primary prey, Sitka black-tailed deer. The wolves are also hunted and trapped each year as a way to “manage” their population.

Alexander Archipelago wolf. Photo by Robin Silver, Center for Biologicial Diversity.

Protecting land is protecting wildlife

Because of Crag’s effort to help save Tongass National Forest from destructive logging, the wolves’ habitat is safe for the time being. In 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the U.S. Forest Service’s plan to continue to log there. It was a major win for the forest and all wildlife.

But Crag and others who believe Tongass and forests like it must be preserved for the future of all species, know we can’t rest on one victory. Preserving the forest habitat requires vigilance and ongoing work. “The next several years will be critical to the future of the Tongass,” said Crag staff attorney Oliver Stiefel. “The forest and the diverse ecosystem it supports have reached a tipping point. We have the opportunity to protect a critical mass of what’s left before it’s too late to reverse the trend. We must demand a better future for our forests, wildlife, and people. The Tongass is worth fighting for.”

In 2020, the Center for Biological Diversity, Alaska Rainforest Defenders and Defenders of Wildlife petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to give Endangered Species Act protections to the Alexander Archipelago wolf in Southeast Alaska. As of today, there hasn’t been a response to their petition.

Allison Milionis

Allison Milionis

Allison Milionis is a writer and editor, and long-time supporter of Crag’s work.  She was born in the Pacific Northwest, left to experience life in a big city, and then returned 20 years later to put her roots back into the rich soil of her beloved PNW forests and fields.

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