The Endangerment of Arctic Wolves By: Tanya Merchant

Why it Matters

Although arctic wolves are of least concern on the Endangered Species List and experience little interaction with humans, climate change and industrial development, both of which have been caused by humans, are destroying the food sources and habitats of arctic wolves, ultimately disrupting the natural balance of the Arctic Tundra and resulting in negative consequences for other species in the ecosystem.

In his short story, “Thinking Like a Mountain,” Aldo Leopold personifies a mountain to inform his audience that different species and their environments are interconnected because they depend on each other for sustenance and they maintain a balanced ecosystem. However, when this balance is disrupted in the story, due to the hunting of wolves, Leopold "[watches] the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and [sees] the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails" (Leopold 8). The formation of countless, new deer trails after the disappearance of the wolves, shows that the ecosystem has lost its balance and is overpopulated with deer.

Depleting Food Sources

Starving arctic wolf struggling to find prey
Harsh weather conditions have made it difficult for caribou to find food, which has resulted in a decrease in the caribou population of the Arctic.

In parallel, the Arctic Tundra is going through a period of imbalance, where climate change is causing weather fluctuations, which inhibit caribou and musk oxen, the main food sources of arctic wolves, from finding food. The lack of food for caribou and musk oxen consequently results in a lack of food for the wolves, resulting in a decreasing population of arctic wolves. As the population of wolves decreases, there will be fewer predators of caribou and musk oxen, resulting in their rapid growth.

Currently, wolves have a depleting source of prey, which has resulted in a decrease in the arctic wolf population, but once the wolves are very scarce, the populations of caribou and musk oxen will increase rapidly.

Once the populations of musk oxen and caribou grow too large, the environment will no longer be able to sustain them due to limited food sources. Similarly, in Leopold's story, once the wolves are gone, he "[sees] every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death" (8). Leopold uses the imagery of the dying mountain to show his audience that without the natural balance of wolves as predators, the other animals will grow without boundaries and destroy their habitat.

Impact of Industrial Development

Left: Prudhoe Bay, Alaska oil field; Right: Bristol Bay Pebble Mine

In addition to a lack of food, arctic wolves face danger due to the expansion of roads, pipelines and mines by large companies, which invade wolves' territories and contaminate resources. Oil fields, such as the one in Prudhoe Bay, disturb wolves in their natural habitats, and according to National Geographic, "exploration of oil, gas, and minerals and construction of pipelines and roads can cause physical disturbances and habitat fragmentation." The Pebble Mine in Alaska is the largest open-pit mine in North America, and WWF says that toxic waste could contaminate the bay, affecting tons of species, not just arctic wolves.

Preventative Measures

Fortunately, there are organizations, such as World Wildlife (WWF) and the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC), that are working hard to protect the Arctic Tundra and the animals that live there, including the arctic wolf. In fact, 225,000 WWF activists prevented new oil drilling in America's Arctic Tundra, and according to WWF, this ban on new drilling will last for the next five years. The WCC is an organization that focuses on providing wolves with comfortable habitats and spreading awareness about the impact of climate change on wolves and their ecosystem. These organizations give people hope that climate change can be conquered and that animals in danger can be saved. In the words of Aldo Leopold, "in wildness is the salvation of the world," meaning that wild animals must be protected to keep the natural world in balance (9).

Discussion Questions

Is there still time to reverse the damaging effects of human activity and climate change in the Arctic, or is it too late?

What is the most striking quote, piece of evidence, or photo and why?

Sources

"Endangered Species: The Arctic Wolf," The Arctic Wolf Blog. https://thearcticwolfblog.wordpress.com/why-endangered/

Aldo Leopold, " 'Thinking Like a Mountain,' " A Sand County Almanac: With other essays on conservation from Round river, Oxford University Press, 1966, pp. 129-133.

"Tundra Threats," The National Geographic. http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/tundra-threats/

"Arctic: Threats," World Wildlife. https://www.worldwildlife.org/places/arctic

"The Arctic: Remnants of a natural but dynamic world," Treks. http://www.treks.org/arcticthe.htm

"US drilling plans spare Arctic’s federal waters," World Wildlife. https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/us-drilling-plans-spare-arctic-s-federal-waters

"About Us," Wolf Conservation Center. http://nywolf.org/wcc/about-us

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