Isle Royale Wolves Need Your Help

By on August 17, 2015 with 10 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

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.

Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address below to receive updates each time we publish new content.


Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Jennifer Hammerberg says:

    I support the recommendation to add wild wolves from the mainland onto the island to promote genetic diversity and help the number of wolves grow. I have relatives who promote wolf hunting to my horror but removing wolves from areas where they could be hunted and placing them in the park will help protect them as well as help re-establish the population. I hope this plan is executed.

  2. Donna M. Lober says:

    Please have a heart when it comes to the wolves. They are so needed, and yet so maligned. It makes me sad. I love our wolves. Everyone needs to respect them, and to help keep them safe and protected.

  3. Monica says:

    Relocate wolves from another state to Ile Royal. Then relocate a few of those and bring in new wolves. It’ll keep inbreeding down

  4. Lou-Anne Thomas says:

    I support and strongly recommend the relocation of problem wolves from the Michigan mainland to be immigrated into the ecosystem of Isle Royale. As evidenced by the success of the reintroduction of the wolves into Yellowstone National Park, logic would dictate we do the same for the wolf population at Isle Royale. This looks like a excellent idea to improve the wolf population at Isle Royal while at the same time improving the ecosystem/moose population of the island.

  5. Diane Walker says:

    Relocating wolves from another state will definitely help our wolf population.

  6. Deborah Van Damme says:

    The problem is definitely not with wolves rather with human over-population, greed and ignorance. Please EVOLVE and begin to COEXIST with other animals on Earth.

  7. eusebio manuel vestias pecurto says:

    We must do more to protect the wolves are species are endangered The end of poaching againts these wild natural creatures love from europe

  8. Harry D says:

    I totally support the introduction of additional wolves to Isle Royale! The temporary ice bridges that periodically form do not last long enough for any meaningful migration to the island to occur. But the ice bridge provides an opportunity for wolves currently on the island to leave.

    Additional wolves would add genetic diversity, which would strengthen the wolves as a whole. It would provide for the continued presence of wolves which so many people visit the island to see. It would allow scientists to further study the effects of additional wolves and how same affects prey such as moose, whose population is growing rapidly. Too many moose will negatively affect the ecosystem of the island. Moose prefer the new growths from deciduous trees with a high sugar content, such as white birch, trembling aspen and striped maple, among many others. Many aquatic plants include lilies and pond weed. To reach high branches, a moose may bend small saplings down, using its prehensile lip, mouth or body. For larger trees a moose may stand and walk upright on its hind legs, allowing it to reach branches up to 4.26 metres (14.0 ft) or higher above the ground.

    In the unlikely event that the additional wolves creates problems for the island’s ecosystem, then darting and relocation could be undertaken as a last resort.

    Please move forward with a program to introduce additional wolves to Isle Royale!

  9. Donna P. says:

    A couple of years ago I wasn’t sure if repopulating wolves in Isle Royale was a good idea; let nature do its thing and record the data. But two years later, a lot has changed. The ice bridge formed, wolves crossed in both directions and nothing worked out as hoped. A circuit judge ruled in favor of keeping Great Lakes wolves listed because states cannot be trusted to keep their numbers viable. Wolves continue to be lured from protected environments, poached, vilified; keeping their numbers strong is a constant struggle. And then there are the wolves singled out because it has been determined that they are guilty of becoming overly familiar with their human and ovine/bovine neighbors. My feeling now is this: if it does not make seismic changes in scientific studies of either wolves or moose, then why not send “errant” wolves to exile on Isle Royale. It doesn’t appear that we have so many wolves that this would be a useless enterprise. And moose herds need healthy stock, too. If a cull helps them remain so, then why not allow it to happen naturally?
    So my response is this, if it isn’t scientifically contraindicated, then bring wolves over. The dynamics may change over time, but unless there are compelling reasons as to why this shouldn’t happen, then make it happen.

  10. jasper nagol says:

    I don’t think wolves should be introduced at this time. For the sake of the longest continuous predator prey study ever, it should be allowed to play out. The results will be conclusive prove of the value of wolves to the environment and will be useful in future years in demonstrating the need for predators in a balanced ecosystem.
    If,after 10 years or so, when the island’s (sans wolves) condition can be fully evaluated, wolves could be reintroduced to help rectify the problems caused by human induced climate change.

Share a Comment

The HSUS encourages open discussion, and we invite you to share your opinion on our issues. By participating on this page, you are agreeing to our commenting policy.
Please enter your name and email address below before commenting. Your email address will not be published.