Save the Wolves of Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park is currently accepting public feedback on what to do, if anything, to conserve the island’s dwindling, inbred wolf population. Currently there are eight adult wolves and an unknown number (two or three) of pups.

Three options are under consideration:

  1. do nothing, even if wolves go extinct
  2. allow wolves to go extinct and then introduce new wolves
  3. introduce new wolves through genetic rescue (introducing adult wolves to the island to offset inbreeding)

Comments about the three options can be e-mailed to isro_wildlife@nps.gov. Below are the comments I submitted:

Greetings,

As an avid visitor to the National Parks, I strongly support conserving the wolves on Isle Royale through genetic rescue. As an alternative, I support introducing new wolves after the island’s population goes extinct. I am opposed to nonintervention.

Wolves are vital for the ecosystem of Isle Royale by keeping the moose population in check and thereby allowing the island’s flora to recover from moose feeding. History gives us nearly 50 years of evidence of the widespread damage that can be wrought by an exploding moose population on the island.

In the Great Lakes region with its booming population of over 40 million humans (and growing), Isle Royale is one of the few remaining sanctuaries for large predators. Wolves have been present for the vast majority of Isle Royale National Park’s 63-year history. Wolves also have become part of the mystique of the park in popular consciousness. An Isle Royale without wolves would be like an Olympic without Roosevelt elk, a Virgin Islands without sea turtles, or a Pinnacles without California condors.

Citing a tradition of nonintervention—codified into law by the Wilderness Act of 1964—as reason to allow the island’s wolf population to go extinct ignores reality. The Act is the product of a particular time when the impacts of pollution were just beginning to be understood (Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had been published only two years earlier). It was a time well before the threat of climate change would be understood. And it was a time when federally designated wilderness could be thought of as a fortress.

Although it is a remote island, to think of Isle Royale National Park as an ark of untrammeled nature ignores its connection to the larger Great Lakes ecosystem. The Great Lakes are geologically young and are being changed at an increasing rate by air and water pollution, invasive species, and climate change. All of these affect Isle Royale’s wilderness in addition to the mistakes of human visitors who may inadvertently introduce disease into, or otherwise harm, native wildlife populations.

A policy of nonintervention also squanders the unprecedented opportunity to initiate genetic rescue into a population so thoroughly and consistently studied. Large predator introduction initiated with the accumulated knowledge of the world’s longest ongoing predator-prey study would be invaluable. This is not wildlife management stumbling in the dark, and it may yield unexpected and crucial insights for future reintroduction projects elsewhere on our changing planet.

I sincerely hope that the National Park Service decides to conserve Isle Royale’s wolves. There is so much to gain.

Regards,

Brandon Hayes
Chicago, Illinois

Read a good summation of where the issue stands (including an audio interview with park superintendent Phyllis Green): Rebecca Williams, “Wolf pups a good sign for struggling population on Isle Royale,” Michigan Radio, August 15, 2013.

Read an op-ed by the lead researchers of the 55-year, ongoing wolf and moose study on Isle Royale: John A. Vucetich, Michael P. Nelson and Rolf O. Peterson, “Predator and Prey, a Delicate Dance,” The New York Times, May 8, 2013.

Read my original post about learning about the wolves and moose of Isle Royale during an interpretive talk given by Candy Peterson at Daisy Farm Campground in August 2011: Isle Royale National Park: Interpretation

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