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Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

Scientists Say Lack Of Wolves On Isle Royale Could Lead To Ecological Calamity

National Park Service urged to immediately restore predator/prey balance

ISLE ROYALE, MI — Forty-seven of the nation’s top conservation scientists are urging the Director of the National Park Service to immediately augment the dwindling gray wolf population in Isle Royale National Park to avoid an explosion of moose numbers that could ironically threaten that species and many others as well.

In a recent letter sent to National Parks Service Director Jon Jarvis, the scientists point out that “wolves play an important role in ecosystems through their predatory activities. Their direct impact on prey numbers and behavior creates a series of indirect effects that reverberate through an ecosystem affecting multiple species, some of which seem too ecologically and taxonomically distant to be affected.” Study after study has shown that when top-down management by carnivores is dismantled, ecosystems can degenerate and even collapse.

As of March 2015, there were only three highly inbred wolves remaining on the 210-square-mile island park in the northern extreme of Lake Superior, while the number of moose was 1,250 and climbing. Without predators, the moose population is expected to continue rising until most of the forest food supply that the species depends upon for survival is gone.This would result in a severe population crash of both moose and other forest-dependent creatures on the island. Boosting the wolf population is expected to add stability to the Isle Royale ecosystem and increase overall biological diversity on the island.

The only way wolves can naturally re-colonize Isle Royale is by traveling across a 20-mile ice bridge when Lake Superior freezes between the island and mainland Minnesota and Ontario, Canada. The warming climate is now reducing the frequency of such ice bridges, decreasing the opportunities for mainland wolves to migrate to the island, thus making that avenue too infrequent to be a viable alternative for rewilding the isolated wolf population.

“Rewilding is simply the process of restoring the natural biological composition of ecosystems,” said wildlife biologist Dave Parsons of The Rewilding Institute. “Allowing rewilding to occur naturally through the protection of habitats and migration pathways is the preferred method, but human disturbances, like those that are contributing to climate change, often preclude that natural option,” he said.

“As the species that caused the problem, we have a moral obligation fix it,” said GregCostello, Executive Director for Wildlands Network. “This is a rare situation when boosting wolf population numbers has no potential conflicts with human activities. The National Park Service has a mission to maintain naturalness in national parks, and in this case should use the most expeditious process to restore wolf predation to the natural ecosystem of Isle Royale,” he added.

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7 Responses to Scientists Say Lack Of Wolves On Isle Royale Could Lead To Ecological Calamity

  • Respectfully I must challenge Mr. Costello’s assertion that ‘man’ is the cause of the problem on Isle Royale. I’m unaware of anything that we have done to impede the wolf population on the island and am even further concerned that the last two years of ice bridges to the island resulted in only one documented wolf making the journey, then promptly returning to the mainland. Wolves are smart animals; they know where the food is and what it takes to harvest it. That the Minnesota/Ontario packs are unwilling to naturally repopulate IR leads me to believe that there’s something amiss on the island that they know about, yet we don’t.

    Instead of knee-jerk reactions let’s let the scenario play out for a few years. Yes, the moose population will increase, but only to the capacity of what the island can provide. Once that capacity is reached the herd will self-regulate or the wolves will return. Greater minds than mine have studied this issue so I claim no expertise but defaulting to natures choice in my mind is preferable to the heavy hand of man.

    Thanks for the opportunity to express my view.

  • There are numerous examples of the value of having the top predators in the ecosystem. Yellowstone being one.
    Add some new genes, import some wolves. Save the island.

  • It has been documented that MAN is one of the causes for the Wolf decline on Isle Royale! Reintroduce Now before it’s too late … next think you know the federal government will be selling off Isle Royale to Canada to mine!

  • Whatever the cause of there being no viable wolf packs on Isle Royal, they are badly needed. Without them the moose population wil first rise and decimate the foliage, then drop from lack of food and disease. To keep the island healthy it is time to bring wolves to Isle Royal.

  • “re-wilding”? does that mean butting into the wild when we are uncomfortable with where it is going? Wild is wild, “managed” is managed–with man the first three letters. Let’s just be clear about where we are going and drop the comforting/distorting language.

  • “rewilding”? what does that mean? Wild is wild and managed is managed so lets call it as it is and have the courage of our convictions whatever they turn out to be.

  • My moderate comment is about the use of speech and has been refused here. Guess you don’t want any comment–just agreement.

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