Making Decisions about Wolves on Isle Royale

 

3 Isle Royale wolves 2015

Three Wolves, photo by Vucetich & Peterson

With only a handful of wolves left in Isle Royale National Park, the National Park Service is currently taking public comment on the management of wolves at Isle Royale. They write:

The NPS began this planning process by considering a broad range of potential management actions as part of determining how to manage the moose and wolf populations for at least the next 20 years. However, based on the public comments we received and additional internal deliberations, the NPS has determined that it will revise and narrow the scope of this EIS to focus on the question of whether to bring wolves to Isle Royale National Park in the near term, and if so, how to do so.

Although wolves have not always been part of the Isle Royale ecosystem, they have been present for more than 65 years, and have played a key role in the ecosystem, affecting the moose population and other species during that time. The average wolf population on the island over the past 65 years has been about 22, but there have been as many as 50 wolves on the island and as few as three. Over the past five years the population has declined steeply, which has given rise to the need to determine whether the NPS should bring additional wolves to the island. There were three wolves documented on the island as of March 2015 and only two wolves have been confirmed as of February 2016. At this time, natural recovery of the population is unlikely.

The potential absence of wolves raises concerns about possible effects to Isle Royale’s current ecosystem, including effects to both the moose population and Isle Royale’s forest/vegetation communities. The revised purpose of the plan, therefore, is to determine whether and how to bring wolves to Isle Royale National Park to function as the apex predator in the near term within a changing and dynamic island ecosystem.

The photo above from the 2014-2015 Annual Report from the Vucetich & Peterson Ecological Studies of Wolves on Isle Royale shows three wolves observed at winter study 2015. More on their website at isleroyalewolf.org and definitely follow Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale on Facebook for updates!

More wolves on Michigan in Pictures.

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.

Wolves almost gone from Isle Royale

Isle Royale Wolf

The Urge, photo by isleroyalewolf.org

Last weekend the Freep reported that the delicate biosphere that characterized Isle Royale National Park is about to fall apart. The wolf count is down from nine last year to only three, and Michigan Tech ecologist John Vucetich says he wouldn’t be surprised if none remain next winter.

“What’s really important here is not the presence of wolves, per se,” Vucetich said. “But the wolves need to be able to perform their ecological function — predation. Predation has been essentially nil for the past four years now.”

That’s led to a 22% increase in the moose population for each of the past four years, he said, taking the island population from 500 to 1,200 moose. An individual moose consumes up to 40 pounds of vegetation a day.

“One of the most basic lessons we know in ecology, wherever creatures like moose live, you have to have a top predator,” he said. “If you don’t, the herbivore can cause a great deal of harm to the vegetation.”

… Vucetich and his colleague at Michigan Tech, Rolf Peterson, both support a “genetic rescue” of the island’s wolf population — bringing in wolves from elsewhere to bolster island wolves and help facilitate breeding. The U.S. Forest Service is studying the concept, but that process may take years. If the remaining wolf population doesn’t survive, and the Forest Service ultimately approves of the plan, it may mean creating a whole new pack on the island.

I think that this poses very interesting questions about our role in the ecosystems we seek to preserve. Are we to watch what happens and not interfere like a kid watching an ant farm or a Star Fleet team, or do we accept the responsibility of our decision to preserve and seek to maintain the natural balances and populations? As our climate changes, we will no doubt be called to make these decisions more and more frequently as flora and fauna lose the ability to survive in the places we have set aside for them.

This photo was the first in a series of 40 shared last fall in “Thinking Like an Island” from the Wolves & Moose of Isle Royale. They wrote:

THE URGE. Walk 40 miles in two days searching for a lover that may not even exist. Return home to parents and siblings the next day. The life of a dispersing wolf, unsatisfied.

It’s a great series featuring images by George Desort, Rolf Peterson, John Vucetich, and Brian Rajdl along with text by John Vucetich and Michael Paul Nelson. Click to see this photo bigger on Facebook and then use your left arrow to page through them.

Definitely visit isleroyalewolf.org for lots more about the predator/prey balance of one of Michigan’s most fascinating places.

Know your Michigan Turtles: Spiny Soft-shell Turtle

Soft Shell Attracts Seed Pods

Soft Shell Attracts Seed Pods, photo by David Mayer

One of the most popular posts on Michigan in Pictures is Know Your Michigan Turtles where we now have 8 of Michigan’s 10 turtle species profiled. You can click that link for the list of all of them and read on to learn about the soft shell turtle.

The Spiny Soft-shell Turtle (Apalone spinifera spinifera) entry at the University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web says that:

Apalone spinifera inhabits various freshwater systems such as rivers, lakes, marshes, farm ponds as well as bays of the Great Lakes . Apalone spinifera prefers open habitats with a small amount of vegetation and a sandy or muddy bottom and require sandy raised nesting areas close to water.

…Spiny softshell turtles are diurnal animals, spending most of the day basking in the sun and foraging for food. They can be spotted sunning on logs and river banks. If disturbed, they will quickly retreat into the water and bury themselves in sand, leaving only their heads visible. These turtles are also able to breathe underwater for extended periods through their pharyngeal lining, cloacal lining, and skin. Spiny softshell turtles spend October to April in the water buried underneath substrate in a state of dormancy.

Apalone spinifera preys on on various macroinvertebrates such as aquatic insects, crayfish, and occasionally a fish. They find their food underneath objects, along the floor of the lake, and in vegetation. They also hide in the floor substrate and grab prey as they swim by.

Spiny softshell turtle nests are often destroyed by raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Young softshell turtles are eaten by raccoons, herons, and fish. Adults are killed and eaten only by humans, they have few natural predators. When bothered, spiny softshell turtles will extend their long necks and snap viciously at their attacker, inflicting a painful bite. They are wary and can hide themselves quickly.

Read on for a whole lot more including photos.

David says to be sure to check out the seed pod copter on this turtle’s face! View it background big and see more in his Wildlife slideshow.

Bear Triplets

Bear Triplets

Bear Triplets, photo by Ross Ellet

I feel like the one on the left says everything I have to say about snow, cold and Winter. Here’s three facts from the DNR’s Michigan Black Bear Facts page – click through for more:

What is the status of black bear in Michigan?

Approximately 15,000 – 19,000 black bears (including cubs) roam the hardwood and conifer forests of northern Michigan. About 90 percent of the bear live in the Upper Peninsula, while the remaining ten percent are mainly found in the northern Lower Peninsula. However, it is becoming increasingly common to see bear in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula. …

When do bear breed?

Breeding takes place in June and July and cubs are born in early January while females are in dens. A litter may consist of one to four cubs, with two or three cubs being most common. An adult female bear usually breeds every other year, but may mate in consecutive years if cubs are lost before mid summer. A female bear will generally breed for the first time at 2’/z years of age in the northern Lower Peninsula, and at 3’/2 years of age in the Upper Peninsula.

What are bear cubs like?

At birth, bear cubs weigh less than one pound, but mother’s rich milk helps them grow quickly. Mother and cubs emerge from the den in spring, with the cubs weighing up to ten pounds. Cubs are under the watchful eyes of their mother throughout the summer and fall seasons. As autumn nears its end, the female once again searches for a suitable den site for herself and her cubs. After emerging from the den the following spring, the adult female will stay with her offspring until she is ready to breed again in June. At that time, she aggressively discourages the companionship of these now yearling bear and they are forced to fend for themselves.

Lots more about American black bears (Ursus americanus) at the UM Animal diversity web. About the photo Ross writes:

Baby black bears being held during a bear den visit in late March 2014. These baby bears are being counted, measured, weighed and analyzed so researchers can understand more about the overall health of the black bear population in Michigan. Researchers are also tracking their movement as some bears shift into southern Michigan.

View his photo big as a bear, see more in hisNature slideshow and view & purchase photos at rossellet.com.

More animals on Michigan in Pictures.

The Michigan Moose Lift

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Michigan Moose Reflections

Moose Reflections, photo by yooper1949

NOTE: I’ve edited this post because the State of Michigan removed it from the internet. Thank you archive.org for saving it via The Wayback Machine so I could share it in its entirely!

Remembering Michigan’s Historic Moose Lift from the Michigan DNR says:

On Jan. 20, 1985, separate convoys carrying men and equipment set out from Michigan on a mission to reach the 3,000-square-mile Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada.

Over the next two weeks, this team of wildlife biologists and veterinarians from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, working with a team of Canadian specialists from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, would locate, capture, transport and release a number of wild moose to form the nucleus of a new population in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

It was an unprecedented, historic operation. The wind chill at times approached 100 degrees below zero. Utilizing helicopters, tranquilizing dart guns and slings, some moose were air-lifted as far as 14 miles from the capture area to base camp.

At base camp, each animal was subjected to thorough medical testing and was fitted with a sophisticated radio collar, before being lifted into a shipping crate and placed onto a transport truck for the non-stop 600-mile overnight journey back to Michigan.

The remarkable effort was called “moose lift.” A total of 29 moose (10 bulls, 19 cows), ranging in size from 750 to 1,250 pounds, survived the arduous journey.

Crowds assembled each day at the release site north of Lake Michigamme in Marquette County. Despite temperatures well below zero, a welcoming committee of U.P. residents always showed up to greet the new “American” citizens.

As we mark the 20th anniversary of the first moose lift, the most common question that arises is, “How are the moose doing now?”.

“The department’s goal was to produce a self-sustaining population of free-ranging moose, and we have that,” said Dean Beyer, wildlife research biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Since the first moose lift in 1985, and a similar effort two years later when another 30 moose were released in the same area, the DNR has closely monitored the reintroduced moose population.

“At first, the size and growth of the herd was determined through a simple process–similar to balancing a checkbook,” Beyer said. “Because all moose were radio-collared, biologists could monitor each animal and tell when it died, and they could follow cows to record any births. The population could be tracked simply by adding the number of calves born and subtracting the number of animals that died.”

As the population grew, the new animals in the herd did not have radio collars.

“Over time, maintaining an adequate sample of radio-collared animals for the population would not be feasible,” Beyer said.

So in 1996 and 1997, the DNR conducted aerial surveys, which are the most common method of estimating moose numbers. Unfortunately, the population estimates from the aerial surveys were lower than estimates from the population model.

“At that point we knew we needed to conduct a more intensive study of the reintroduced population,” Beyer said. “And we also wanted to determine a more accurate picture of what’s reasonable growth for this population.”

With the help of the Michigan Involvement Committee of Safari Club International, which also provided the single largest financial contribution to the first moose lift, the DNR began a more intensive study of the reintroduced population in 1999, in cooperation with Michigan State University.

“Our research team is developing a technique to estimate the size of the population by estimating the probability of seeing moose from an airplane given the group size; behavior, whether the animal is standing or bedded; and the amount of canopy cover,” Beyer said.

When the moose were reintroduced into the western Upper Peninsula, biologists hoped the population would grow to 1,000 animals by the year 2000. Although that objective was not reached, results of the current study indicate the population is growing, on average, between five and ten percent each year. The research also has shown that poaching, moose/car accidents, brainworm and wolves are not major factors influencing the moose population at this time.

According to Beyer, the herd ranges over approximately 1,800 square miles in Marquette, Baraga and Iron counties. Moose also are found in several parts of the eastern U.P., most notably around the Tahquamenon River.

“Moose in this region have not been studied in detail,” he said.

Although records from the early explorers show that moose were common throughout Michigan, by the late 1800s moose numbers were very low. Moose soon disappeared from the Lower Peninsula and only a small number survived in the U.P., perhaps supplemented by animals coming in from Minnesota and Canada.

Thanks to the vision and hard work of many DNR biologists a generation ago, moose are once again establishing themselves as a premiere Michigan mammal.

Several U.P. communities, in fact, now vie over the self-proclaimed title, “Moose Capital of Michigan.” Mascots, motels, restaurants, candy and even ice cream are named after the mighty moose. Its image is common on billboards, television, artwork and printed materials. But most importantly, moose are alive and well, and rambling about in the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula once more.

Here’s a great video about the Moose Lift – highly recommended!

The last DNR moose survey pegs the UP’s moose population at about 500 with another 750 on Isle Royale.

Carl took this shot on Isle Royale in September. Check it out big as a moose and see much more (including some more moose shots) from one of Michigan’s coolest parks in his Isle Royale slideshow.

More moose on Michigan in Pictures!

Hiking Isle Royale: Trails, Wolves and Minong Mine

Minong Mine

Minong Mine, photo by nasunto.

Nina went to Isle Royale in September and has been posting accounts on her awesome blog Black Coffee at Sunrise. This photo of Minong Mine appears in Day Five, which features a detailed description of their encounter with a pack of wolves:

Since the vegetation along the narrow trail was dripping with dew and leaning inward, it wasn’t long before we were both soaking wet from hip to ankle. Ten minutes after leaving our campsite, the ground became marshy and we found ourselves walking a long stretch of protective plank bridge. Just before reaching the stream crossing, the trail curved to the right and Craig suddenly stopped in front of me, turned around and said very calmly, “Uh…a whole pack of wolves…”

His voice trailed off as he turned back around to face forward again. I thought he was trying to be funny since I couldn’t yet see what was around the corner. After inching forward another foot or so, he turned to me again and the look on his face was priceless. “I’m not kidding,” he said. “There are at least five wolves on the trail ahead of us.” The next few moments were the most surreal and exciting I’ve ever experienced.

Read on at her blog for the rest of the account or see them all in her Isle Royale section.

Be sure to check this out bigger or in her Isle Royale set (slideshow).

You can learn a little bit about Minong Mine and see a picture of a 6000 pound copper nugget right here.

Check out many more Isle Royale photos on Michigan in Pictures.