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.

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.