Public meetings slated for July 27-30 and comments due Aug.29-

With the all but certain demise of the Isle Royale wolves just ahead and moose population already expanding, the National Park Service says it is working on a plan to deal with the situation.

While the wolf population might not yet be entirely gone, the outcome is obvious — no wolves while their prey, the moose, grow to and beyond the limits of their habitat, permanently damaging the national park and its permanent carrying capacity for moose and other animals.

The time for “letting nature take its course” is over. The last few wolves will die (assuming they are not dead already). The moose numbers explode, barring some natural disaster.

It is possible that new wolves will cross over from Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Ontario while the Service is preparing this “Moose-Wolf-Vegetation Management Plan,” but the last two winters show that even if wolves do cross over, they might quickly leave this big island in Lake Superior that very winter.

It is easy to see any plan other than full wolf restoration is ecologically disastrous.
Here is the info on the meetings-

Dates for the Open Houses:

  • July 27 – Houghton, Michigan – Superior Room inside the Magnuson Hotel Franklin Square Inn
  • July 28 – Isle Royale National Park – Rock Harbor Auditorium
  • July 29 – Grand Portage, Minnesota – Grand Portage National Monument Visitor Center
  • July 30 – Isle Royale National Park – Windigo Visitor Center
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    About The Author

    Ralph Maughan

    Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

    19 Responses to Park Service will finally hold meetings on Isle Royale wolves and moose

    1. avatar Donna goodnight says:

      Save the wolves, part of a valuable eco system.

    2. avatar Theo Chu says:

      I am interested in the details in your view of “The time for “letting nature take its course” is over. In terms of “The time…” is that related to human perspective based on our lifespans? How do you define both “permanent” and “damage” in this context? Is the “permanent damage” mentioned related to a human life span or two or a dozen or to natures clock which runs much slower? Wolves got to Isle Royal on their own and started the wolf Vs moose cycle that has been in action for several decades. That chapter is coming to an end and the next perfectly natural one is beginning. The moose probably will over populate, degrade the habitat for moose and some other species temporarily in the context of nature’s time schedule, possibly improving it in the interim for other species. Or wolves may recolonize before it reaches that point (my prediction). If we interfere as humans seem compelled to do everywhere but are not supposed to do in a NP, we lose an opportunity to watch and learn.

      • avatar Professor Sweat says:

        Human factors have been shaping the fate of this struggling wolf population. Canine parvovirus from domestic dogs brought to the island caused high mortality in the 80’s and the population has had low recruitment numbers since that, most likely due to a weakened gene pool. Human-caused climate change is also a factor, decreasing the likelihood of Lake Superior freezing frequently enough to form an ice bridge to the island. I wonder if the ice bridge that formed these past two winters offered the inbred wolves that left a chance for escape to seek out new genes.

        Maybe the population still wouldn’t have survived, but we do know that their survival was effected by a human footprint. Can we really say that the next chapter is “perfectly natural”?

        I would also argue that ethics should play a role in the park service’s decision. Letting this healthy moose population reach critical mass in the absence of predators, subsequently causing a many to painfully starve to death (as well as reducing habitat for other species) is simply not ethical. Like I said, we share some of the blame for this situation.

        Moose populations are also struggling across this US (especially in the Midwest) due to various factors as well. This is not the case on Isle Royal though. Allowing predation to continue here would keep this population at a healthier state and possibly provide research or genetics to aid moose recovery in other locations.

        I’ve also wondered if supplementing Isle Royal’s wolf population with mainland individuals could offer a solution to some depredation events. Instead of killing wolves involved in livestock depredation, Isle Royale offers a remote and protected location with plentiful prey. Once located, offending wolves could be transported there and perhaps revert back to their natural food sources without the worry that they’ll get into trouble again. That’s just a thought, though.

        I respect Mech’s and your argument for a hands-off approach to this situation. However, I side with those that would like re-introduce these predators to the island. It is a far more beneficial act towards preserving our ecological heritage. I understand the importance of observing natural processes with out interfering, but I argue that since humanity has contributed to the wolf’s decline on the island and having a good sense of the immediate outcome that arrives with inaction, it is the Park Service’s ethical duty to act in favor of wolf re-introduction.

        • avatar Ida Lupine says:

          Moose populations are also struggling across this US (especially in the Midwest) due to various factors as well. This is not the case on Isle Royal though.

          That’s interesting, isn’t it.

          I’ve also wondered if supplementing Isle Royal’s wolf population with mainland individuals could offer a solution to some depredation events.

          This makes good sense.

          I hope we can get some answers. Of all the places to ‘let nature take its course’ we choose Isle Royale.

        • avatar Yvette says:

          + 1, Prof Sweat

        • avatar Theo Chu says:

          Would you also recommend stocking the island with moose should the re-introduced wolves eventually depress the moose population to the point that the wolves are likely to starve out? And if not, why not?

          • avatar Professor Sweat says:

            No, I don’t think that would be necessary. I advocate for augmenting the genetic diversity of the wolf population on the island to hopefully restore what was lost when parvo was brought to the island, not artificially facilitating the predator-prey dynamic in perpetuity.

        • avatar Theo Chu says:

          Should the NPS step in to halt painful starvation of all species under their jurisdiction?

      • avatar JB says:

        I’ll admit to feeling agnostic on this subject, however, this sentence caught my eye:

        “If we interfere as humans seem compelled to do everywhere but are not supposed to do in a NP, we lose an opportunity to watch and learn.”

        First, I think that with some investigation you would find there is a tremendous amount of management going on in national parks. In all fairness, IR is also wilderness; then again, the state of Idaho is paying trappers to remove wolves in the wilderness in order to boost the elk harvest there. So even wildernesses are not devoid of management.

        Second, I’m curious what you think could be learned by watching extinction? I suspect we know very well what will happen when we remove predation pressure from an island population of large herbivores. I don’t suspect we will be learning much from watching the process.

        Admittedly, the ethics of the situation are less clear for me–perhaps why I’m still on the fence about intervention.

    3. avatar Nancy says:

      “Caribou, lynx, and deer used to call Isle Royale home, but the last of those animals on the island died out between the 1920s and 1950s”

      WHY?

      http://www.midwestguest.com/2010/07/wildlife-at-isle-royale-national-park.html

      This isn’t just about a “shift” in wolf and moose populations (which has been studied to death it would appear, over the years) but why other important species, crashed, years ago? Did no one notice or did they never care?

      A REALLY long read, that touches on the subject:

      https://books.google.com/books?id=Tyl_93ngxi8C&pg=PA65&lpg=PA65&dq=trapping+fur+bearing+animals+on+the+isle+of+royale&source=bl&ots=dCDwHa48dx&sig=uAG_pGyKtj3lzQxNubf5umysqJs&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CEoQ6AEwCGoVChMInf-izYXtxgIVC5qICh18FwwW#v=onepage&q&f=false

    4. avatar rork says:

      Thankyou Theo Chu and Nancy.
      Caribou+lynx was fairly stable until white people arrived I believe (for 3500 years at least). One person’s interpretation of ecological heritage is different from another’s. It’s not clear how much we are to blame for wolf demise – wouldn’t the genetic bottleneck have been likely to occur anyway Sweat? It’s fairly clear we were responsible for caribou+lynx demise. I’m not opposed to importing wolves but I’d rather find another way, since we will have to repeat that in the future probably.
      JB: we could learn how fast we get pygmy moose, or what happens there.

      As I reported 5 days ago, you can read and comment already:
      http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=140&projectID=59316&documentID=66961
      I asked them if the island is suitable for caribou anymore.

      • avatar Professor Sweat says:

        “wouldn’t the genetic bottleneck have been likely to occur anyway Sweat?”

        Rork, I do think that is a possibility. I also think that parvo from domestic dogs crippled the population’s genetics. Since humans brought parvo to the island, the park service should at least attempt augment the remaining population and improve the genetics once more. If this ultimately fails down the road and the genetics become bottlenecked again, then at least we’ll have a better idea of whether or not a wolf population on the island can be self-sustaining. I do believe the wolf population was robbed of this when parvovirus was accidentally brought to the island. Even if it does happen again down the line or even if the wolves just leave the island when the lake freezes over, we don’t know for sure what will happen. I’m still in favor of augmentation.

        Caribou, lynx, and deer as Nancy mentioned all existed on the island as well. I’m not opposed to seeing other species humans wiped out re-established there. The wolf-moose dynamic is something fascinating to study, but that it has only been in place for a millisecond in terms of ecologic time. I’d rather the park service not be constrained by shifting-baseline syndrome in terms of the ecology of the parks under it’s jurisdiction.

        It would be awesome to see a second caribou herd in the lower 48. In the absence of wolves, do you think a caribou herd or caribou/lynx populations brought to the island is feasible with 1200+ moose still there? They do have different browsing habits. Pygmy moose would also be a novel idea, though it may not happen in our lifetimes.

        Thank you for the critique, I will take everything into consideration when drafting my comment.

        • avatar rork says:

          I don’t think the number of wolves on IR is enough to not have all ultimately die genetic deaths. Even before parvo average population was in the 30-50 range. I think I’ve seen that population size needs to be bigger, but I forget the estimate and don’t have time to hunt for one.
          I think deer were an import by the way (something to hunt, ya know).
          We could try to extirpate the moose if we wanted. Sounds like they might be testing the waters about that.

      • avatar JB says:

        “…we could learn how fast we get pygmy moose, or what happens there.”

        Funny, as I was writing that was the first thing that came to mind. Query: What happens if it takes 1,000 years (a relatively short time, from an evolutionary standpoint)? Do you think NSF will fund the renewals? (Laughs hysterically)

    5. avatar ma'iingan says:

      Moose had to have boomed and crashed on IR at least once before. They were present in small numbers as far back as 1880, and in the early ’30s Adolph Murie estimated there were 2-3,000 animals on the island.

      As far as lynx and caribou, they both require specialized landscapes – caribou need abundant lichen to thrive, and lynx need snowshoe hare.

      I can’t speak to the abundance of lichen on the island, but snowshoe hare are very sensitive to climate change so their range is eroding quickly. It’s unlikely that IR would be able to support lynx again.

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