U.S. officials have decided to relocate gray wolves to Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, where the predator species that has roamed the remote wilderness for about 70 years is on the brink of disappearing.
The National Park Service announced final approval Thursday of a plan to capture 20 to 30 mainland wolves over three to five years and transport them to the park. For the past couple years, only two wolves remain from what was once a thriving population.
The initiative has been at the forefront of a debate for the past few years as to what should be done about the dwindling wolf population. There are those who maintain nothing should be done and let nature takes its course, a guiding principle for public land management. On the other side were those who argued against the ruin of the island from deforestation due to an unchecked moose population which in the end would also lead to mass starvation of a large population when the food source has been depleted.
Canadian gray wolves first came to the island over the winter ice in the 1940’s and shortly thereafter began the longest running predator-prey study. The wolf population peaked at 50 in 1980 and still had 30 a recently as a decade ago.
Researchers from Michigan Technological University in Houghton point out that the moose population on Isle Royale has tripled since 2011 undoubtedly as a result of a decline in predation. The current moose population is estimated from winter aerial photography to be 1,600 – five to ten times the population density as mainland moose.
It’s hoped the imported wolves will form packs that will help keep the island’s abundant moose in check, preventing them from overeating vegetation and decimating the ecosystem.
Isle Royale is about 15 miles (25 kilometers) offshore from the Canadian mainland but despite its proximity to our northern neighbors, the island is a part of the State of Michigan.
Wolves made their way to the island in the late 1940s. Their numbers reached as high as 50, but only two remain. Inbreeding and disease are believed responsible for their recent drop-off.