Wolves at Isle Royale: An Island Dilemma

Isle Royale National Park is a remote island in Lake Superior that is 99% federally-designated wilderness.  It is also home to the longest predator-prey study in the world focused on the interplay between the island’s wolf and moose populations, the island’s most famous residents.

Dilemma

The problem is that the population of wolves on the island has declined drastically over the last few years and now numbers just 3, down from an all-time high of 50 in the 1980s. The question now is what, if anything, should be done about the dwindling wolf population. 

If wolves become extinct on the island, the moose population will increase without a predator.  Eventually moose will eat most of the island’s native vegetation, endangering their food source as well as the food source of other species, threatening the health of the entire island ecosystem.

The reason for this decline in the population is that the route that brought wolves to the island – naturally occurring ice bridges that form in winter from the mainland – do not form as often because of the warming climate.  When ice bridges do form, it is hard to predict whether wolves will use the bridge to arrive and stay on the island or to leave; both scenarios occurred the last two winters. Coupled with a period of disease and other factors, the wolves on the island are now inbred, which negatively impacts the health of the pack and their ability to breed. 

Take Action

The National Park Service (NPS) is responsible for protecting and managing the wildlife of the park, and so ultimately it must determine the response to the dwindling wolf population. 

NPS is developing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a plan to manage moose, wolves, and vegetation at Isle Royale National Park. Your input is needed.

Attend a public meeting, review the planning documents and submit your comments on the proposed management options by visiting the park planning website.

More Info

NPS released the report Using Climate Change Scenarios to Explore Management at Isle Royale National Park to better inform their decision about wildlife management at the park.

To better inform the public about the issue and potential responses, NPCA co-sponsored a public forum in Minneapolis in June 2013, where panelists discussed the various alternatives. You may view this forum in full here.

In October 2013, during the International Wolf Symposium in Duluth, Minnesota, filmmaker George Desort interviewed several attendees about Isle Royale’s wolves. Desort asked each interviewee questions in order to solicit their opinion/perspective on the wolf population issue and the available management alternatives.  You may view the interviewees’ responses to Desort’s questions here.

This issue was also featured in NPCA’s National Parks Magazine, Winter 2014 Issue, in an article titled "The Last Wolf?" and in a recent Park Advocate blog post titled "Lone Wolves on Michigan’s Isle Royale: An Island Dilemma".

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