As wolves bounce back after nearly disappearing from the park, their presence as a predator on the island will help all wildlife thrive at Isle Royale.
Today, lead researchers from Michigan Technological University (MTU) shared important new findings in the effort to restore balance between the wolf and moose populations at Isle Royale National Park. Researchers believe the wolf population is on the rise, a promising sign of a healthier park ecosystem.
MTU’s research on the island’s wolf and moose is the longest running predator-prey study in the world. For 63 years, researchers have documented both species, noting in recent years a steady decline in the number of wolves at Isle Royale and the resulting rise of the park’s moose population.
This year is the first time in the study’s history that the researchers were unable to be in-person at Isle Royale to do their work. However, trail cams captured images of four wolf pups born on the island, a sign of a growing population. In 2018 and 2019, the National Park Service (NPS) brought new wolves to the park after the population plummeted down to just two. With so few wolves, the moose population soared, posing a threat to their survival as well as to native plants and trees crucial to the park’s ecosystem.
Last year’s studies estimate 12-14 wolves present in the park, but the new wolf pups seen on camera this year indicate those figures are higher. The Park Service will use the information collected by MTU researchers and analyses conducted using remote cameras to provide a formal wolf population estimate later this summer.
With wolf numbers on the rise, Isle Royale could be on the right path to stabilizing the local moose population – but according to this research, the moose face another problem. Overabundance of moose has led to a sharp decline in their food sources, leading to them to starve to death. Climate change is also impacting the health of the Isle Royale moose and their food sources because neither thrive in warmer weather.
Statement by Christine Goepfert, Midwest Associate Director for the National Parks Conservation Association:
“Researchers have studied wolves and moose at Isle Royale National Park for 63 years and counting. This year, their research provided a picture that’s worth a thousand words. Snapshots of four wolf pups born on the island demonstrate that Isle Royale’s wolves are breeding and thriving. This is a story of hope for the park ecosystem, one that scientists and conservation advocates have worked so hard to see realized.
“The Park Service’s plan to reach 20-30 wolves at the park is well on its way, not a minute too soon. While it’s welcome news that there are more wolves in the park to stem the growing moose population, researchers believe the overabundance of moose has already led to a serious problem.
“Without wolves on the park landscape, the moose population has been outgrowing its food sources. With too many moose and not enough balsam fir trees for them to live off, Isle Royale moose are starving to death.
“A healthy park ecosystem includes a variety of wildlife and abundant food sources. As wolves bounce back after nearly disappearing from the park, their presence as a predator on the island will help all wildlife and native plants thrive at Isle Royale.”
About The National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.6 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.
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