The Future of Wolves on Isle Royale

Wolf on Isle Royale

Alpha Male, photo by Rolf Peterson/Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale

The National Park Service has opened a formal public comment period that will close on August 29, 2015 regarding future management options for wolves in Isle Royale National Park. The wolf population has plummeted because of a lack of gene flow from the mainland and park management is considering an array of options. If you have commented before, do it again as anything preceding the current comment period is now considered informal input and won’t be considered further.

Moose have important effects on island vegetation, including forest cover, and wolves are the only moose predator on the island. The wolf population on Isle Royale is very low. With their long-term survival on the island in question, the moose population is likely to increase in the short term (5-10 years), which could result in impacts to vegetation and forest cover because of over-browsing.The six plan options they lay out in this PDF are:

  1. No-action alternative: Current management would continue; the park would not actively manage vegetation or the moose and wolf populations
  2. Introduce wolves once: Reestablish wolves on the island by bringing in new wolves one time to mimic a migration event; no moose management
  3. Maintain both species: Maintain populations of moose and wolves on the island, which could include wolf reintroduction or augmentation
  4. Introduce wolves once and reduce the moose population: Reestablish wolves on the island by bringing in new wolves one time; reduce moose density if/when the wolf population is no longer impacting the moose population and moose herbivory is having a demonstrated impact on park resources
  5. Reduce moose population: No wolf reintroduction or augmentation; reduce moose density if/when the wolf population is no longer impacting the moose population and moose herbivory is having a demonstrated impact on park resources
  6. Intensively manage the moose population: No wolf reintroduction or augmentation; intensively manage moose population to a low level; potential for direct vegetation restoration through seed gathering and planting on offshore islands

Click over for more and to comment.

The Wolf Moose Project on Isle Royale is the longest continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world. Rolf Peterson began leading the wolf moose project in the early 1970s, and remains a world authority on wolves and moose. About this photo he says:

It was a remote camera photo that I set up. It shows the alpha male in the Chippewa Harbor Pack in 2009, revisiting the remains of a moose the pack killed in the adjacent pond the previous autumn.  The wolves managed to yank the remains out of the pond the next summer and consume the rotting carcass.

You can view this photo background bigtacular and follow the Wolves & Moose of Isle Royale on Facebook for updates.

More wolves on Michigan in Pictures.

17 thoughts on “The Future of Wolves on Isle Royale

  1. Reintroduce wolves to keep up on the population. And do a cycle every so often of reintroducing wolves and moose.

    To keep the system flowing right. If you don’t have to in a couple years that’s good as well

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  2. We have already interfered. It is our fault that they are in such decline. Without a viable wolf pack on the isle the order will be unbalanced and all wildlife will suffer. Introducing a new gene pool will help strengthen the few remaining wolves.Wolves use to cross over on the ice pacts but due to our causing global warming,they can no longer cross. The least we could do is to help the remaining few.Don’t let them disappear, we need them for a lot of reasons.

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  3. Reintroduce wolves to add to the gene pool and help manage both populations. As people visit the island we will always influence their environment and overall heath of both the wolf and moose populations. We have the potential to bring disease, disrupt the migration or hunting/feeding of the other animals. Therefore we should do something positive to help bring balance to the negative results of our presence and risk that we bring with us.

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  4. Please follow the advice of Rolf Peterson! He’s been closely watching Isle Royal for years. He knows what he’s talking about!

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  5. In order to prevent inbreeding, reintroducing wolves periodically would be beneficial. Also, maintaining the moose population is important.

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  6. Bring in more wolves. Just because it didn’t work perfectly the first time doesn’t mean that it will never work. The balance of predators and prey needs to be restored.

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  7. Recent climate changes have made it difficult for wolves to properly manage themselves as far as introducing new genes into the population. Honestly, I believe biologists have seen the population dynamics between the wolf and moose population actively enough through the years to know that without maintaining both populations, they will both suffer as will the ecosystem (and to know the outcome of letting it continue). Of course, there is no way to say that wolves won’t be able to cross to the island in the near future. There is something significant about being able to let the longest on-going predator prey study play out naturally. With that being said, I think it’s our job as biologists to use our power to help struggling species get back on track.

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  8. Top predators like wolves play critical roles in maintaining a diversity of other wildlife species and healthy, balanced ecosystems. Reintroducing wolves and maintaining their presence is the only way to prevent unnecessary destruction of an excessive moose population and preserve a lasting “wilderness” for human appreciation.

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  9. It’s all about habitat. If the State of Minnesota could manage wolf populations and critical habitat on the mainland that would support wolves crossing the ice bridge to the island, then perhaps a population of wolves on the island would be viable and sustainable. Without that element, the wolves on the island will always need genetic and population rescue. A healthy and strong population of wolves on the mainland would support the islands population and that is the only way to maintain a natural, healthy and sustained population on the island. The study should suggest (maybe it does!) the island is simply too small and too isolated to maintain a population on it’s own without constant unnatural rescue and intervention. The island is not a zoo or playground. The demise of wolves on the island is just another part of the study and another fascinating element to an incredible story of survival.

    Wolves have crossed the Lake Superior winter ice bridge from Minnesota to the island and back as recently as this past winter and perhaps many, many times since the island was released from the Laurentide ice sheet (ice age). Have wolves and moose lived on the island well before this past century? Perhaps Dire wolves? What is the long term viability of the ice bridge?

    So does that mean the end of the study? It sounds like there is a lot more work to be done….

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