Last week, I trekked to one of America’s most magical and least-known national parks – Michigan’s Isle Royale, an archipelago almost dead smack in the middle of Lake Superior and just a quick boat ride from the Canadian border. It was a great pleasure to spend time there with U.S. Senator Gary Peters, D-Mich., a devoted animal advocate, and two of the island’s famed wolf and moose researchers, John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson.
It’s a time of crisis there for wolves, with only three remaining, down from an average population of 20 to 30 that the island has pretty consistently maintained through the decades. Together, Vucetich and Peterson have conducted the longest-running research project to study the dynamics of a predator-prey relationship, and they’re concerned that the moose population is growing rapidly without the full force of a healthy and viable wolf population to check its growth. They worry that the moose will inflict damage to themselves and to the Isle Royale ecosystem if the wolf population isn’t restored.
Isle Royale is one of America’s most remote parks, but it is human factors that have caused the wolf population to plunge. First, the island suffered a parvovirus outbreak some time ago (brought by a visitor who brought his dog along) that killed off a large number of wolves. And now warmer winters, due to climate change, have made ice bridges from Canada more infrequent, making it more difficult for emigrant wolves to come to the island and add genetic diversity.
All four of us who were together on Isle Royale last week have previously spoken out in favor of a genetic rescue that involves humanely capturing wild wolves from the mainland and moving them to the island. (I’ll have much more to say about this in my forthcoming book, The Humane Economy.) We take this view because science tells us that predators strengthen the health of an entire ecosystem. That’s one central lesson from the wolf-moose research that began in Isle Royale in the late 1950s, and it’s been reinforced after wolf reintroduction at Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s.
The HSUS has proposed an elegant solution to this problem. In northern Michigan, where trophy hunting and trapping are now banned by voter referendum and also by federal protections granted to the wolves under the Endangered Species Act, we recommend that federal and state authorities consider the idea of translocating problem wolves or packs – targeted for destruction – to Isle Royale. That would address the concerns of Upper Peninsula residents worried about misbehaving wolves, and also help Isle Royale and northern Michigan by keeping the Isle Royale ecosystem intact and pleasing tourists who head to the park largely to step on terrain inhabited by wolves and moose.
The National Park Service is taking comments on the issue until August 29th, and you can recommend wolf transfer as a favored option for the park service. I know that Isle Royale Superintendent Phyllis Green will want to hear from you. I hope you’ll follow this link to comment, helping the entire ecosystem of Isle Royale and at the same time finding better outcomes for wolves who have found their way into conflicts in mainland Michigan that would never turn out well for them.