Wolves to stay as they are

HOUGHTON – Isle Royale National Park will not be bringing wolves to the island in the near term to supplement the island population, Park Superintendent Phyllis Green said.

The park is developing a management plan regarding the wolves and their place in the island ecosystem, including their relationships with moose, climate change and island vegetation. Green said it would take about three years to finalize the plan.

“We’re in the process of gathering more information and trying to find more information about climate change, and taking a harder look at predictions about moose survivability and how wolves might play into that, some form of management in the future,” she said.

The park’s wolf population stands at a breeding pack of nine. A slight increase from the birth of wolf pups was offset by the February death of a wolf that crossed the ice from the island to Minnesota. It is unknown if any wolves crossed the ice bridge to the island.

Green said the park will not disrupt the wolves as long as there is a mix of males and females and the moose population hasn’t grown to the point where it overbrowses vegetation.

Over the past two years, park managers have met with wildlife managers and geneticists from across the U.S. and Canada. They have also held public meetings and talked with Native American bands of the area.

The predictions of scientists for how long the population can last without interference varies from five to 25 years, Green said.

“There’s a range of thought processes out there for how long that population can last,” she said. “I think they’ve surprised us to date because no one expected them to survive as long as they had with the isolation they’re in. I think they keep beating the odds we throw at them.”

Rolf Peterson, researcher in the 56-year ongoing study of the wolf/moose population on Isle Royale, said Friday he is planning to issue a response next week.

The park’s ecosystem may be shifting from cold-adapted boreal species to a more temperate climate amenable to northern hardwoods. Climate change is also being linked to the frequency of severe weather events, including this year’s formation of an ice bridge.

Green said they will need to look deeper into the island’s 50 years of vegetation data to determine broader trends for the island. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey will model the vegetation data, correlate it with climate change, then look at the impact caused by the moose population.

“We’ve seen it rapidly with this warming trend on our lake system, but the vegetation trend’s a little harder to get a handle on,” she said.