Isle Royale plan a step in right direction

It appears Isle Royale National Park officials are taking the right course of action in regard to the dwindling wolf population on the island park. Announced earlier this week by park Superintendent Phyllis Green, the proposal calls for a comprehensive planning process to look at management of not only wolves, but their main prey, moose, as well as the vegetation that moose consume.

This effort should be very interesting to track and learn about what is being considered for management of the predator, its prey and the vegetation.

Of course what many people who are involved in the wolf issue on Isle Royale have mostly focused on is whether wolves will be brought to the island from elsewhere to bolster the population, which has slipped to only nine animals in one pack.

Green made it clear in her press release this week that no wolves will be relocated to the island at this time, which is being cheered by some and booed by others.

Many researchers and others have pushed for bringing more wolves to Isle Royale to “save” the island’s wolf population through injecting more genetic diversity into the animals and creating a better sex ratio to increase the number of offspring produced.

On the other side of the coin, there are many followers of Isle Royale wolves who believe the population should be left on its own.

I’m fully on the side of allowing nature to take its course on the island, a belief that grew out of listening to some of the same researchers who now want to bring outside wolves to Isle Royale.

This belief began nearly 30 years ago when I first wrote stories about Isle Royale, as well as made a weeklong visit to the park.

The early and mid-1980s were much different times for the wolves of Isle Royale. The population had peaked in the early 1980s at about 50 animals in several packs spread across the 45-mile-long island.

There was no talk then of bringing in wolves to enhance the population. Researchers even touted the fact that Isle Royale is a perfect natural laboratory isolated from outside influences in which to study wolves.

In fact, according to the park’s website the ecological study of Isle Royale wolves is the longest running large mammal-prey study in the world – a study that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008.

Another fact: No place on Earth is truly isolated from human influence. Man has had a presence on Isle Royale for many years, including several centuries ago when Minong Indians dug copper mining pits on the island. There were also commercial fishing operations and private land ownership prior to the park being established in 1940.

Interestingly enough, there were no wolves on Isle Royale when it became a national park, with it believed that the first wolves made it to the island about 65 years ago across an ice bridge spanning the 18 miles from the mainland to the park.

The wolves were pretty much left alone throughout their time on the island since the first ones arrived, with perhaps a little more protection granted them when much of the 132,018-acre island was declared a federal wilderness in 1976.

However, human impact on the wolves was evident following the population peak in the 1980s when an outbreak of parvovirus reduced wolf numbers to about a dozen. The source of the parvovirus was probably domestic dogs that visitors to the island had on their boats.

Since then the population has had minor ups and downs, until the current situation developed.

With the wolf population down to nine animals in a single pack, the National Park Service has been pushed to bring outside wolves to the island, mainly by researchers and visitors who have said the presence of wolves is the main reason they travel to the park.

However, as stated earlier, park officials are doing the right thing in taking a thorough look at the situation without any bolstering of the wolf population by releasing wolves on the island.

Who knows, perhaps a wolf or two made it to the island from the mainland this winter over the ice bridge that formed, which would be a wonderful, natural occurrence.

Editor’s note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270.