ANOTHER WOLF PURGE is going on in Alaska Game authorities in the state recently re-opened the war against the wolves by allowing permits to be issued to hunter. The latter, the plan goes, will be taking their potshots from airplanes - the better to get around the wilderness expanses in the northwest part of Alaska. In that area, an estimated 1,000 wolves have been marked for death. The wolfpacks are said to be causing havoc among the caribou herds, which are thin and in need of replenishing.

Estimates on the wolf population in that part of the nation are hard to make, so it can't be said definitively that Alaska's high-flying shootout will instantly put the animal on the endangered species list. But the loss of 1,000 wolves would surely inflict severe strains on the species and may be the beginning of what could one day be the end. But that issue aside, questions can be raised on whether the decline of the caribou herds is due to the fangs of the wolves or the modern firepower of hunters. The solicitude for caribou shown by the state's game officials is heartening, but where was it in the times when, according to the Defenders of Wildlife, "unregulated taking" led to the killing of an estimated 25,000-30,000 caribou each year? The state now lets the hunters have it both ways: kill wolves now that too many caribou have been killed.

Many Alaskan officials resent what they see as meddling from the federal government. Actually, a case can be made that the meddlingis coming from the officials, because federal lands are involved. These properties are nationally owned, and are covered by federal environmental and conservation laws. If Alaska believes it has a claim to killing wolves, its arguments and facts should be presented to the federal Interior Department.

At issue is public policy on public lands - the effort to create a balanced ecosystem that places the harmony of nature before its exploitation. To establish such a policy, something more is needed than turning loose some pilots and gunners on a few wolfpacks and calling it "game management."