Lake Superior freezes and one wolf migrates off of Isle Royale

The rare big freeze probably did not help struggling Isle Royale wolf population-

Everyone knows that Lake Superior froze hard this year, providing an increasingly rare opportunity for the inbred wolves on Isle Royale to gain fresh recruits from the mainland. All of  the the present wolf pack is the product of wolves that wandered across the frozen lake in the 1940s to reach and then populate Isle Royale in the lake.  The wolves thrived because they found an overabundant moose population, which itself had reached the island about ten years earlier.

Over the many years since the wolf population has become increasing, desperately, inbred. Lake Superior rarely freezes anymore, thus cutting off potential supply of new wolves.

This winter was far different. All the Great Lakes froze and there was a golden opportunity for wolves to cross once again from the mainland to the island, especially because now there are more wolves on the mainland than there used to be. It is possible that wolves did cross, but they or it has not been detected. What was detected, however, was a wolf leaving. A pack member, a female nicknamed “Isabel,” left the island and migrated to Minnesota where she was shot and killed by a person with a pellet gun on an Indian reservation.

Nine wolves remain on the island. The Park Service is still looking for immigrants from this winter. None have been seen, but a confirmation could take many months if it happened. Dr. Rolf Peterson and his fellow wolf researcher Professor John Vucetich are hopeful. They also have indicated that the recovery of the dead emigrant wolf will provide useful research material.



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  1. Mike Avatar

    Sadly, this lone dispersing wolf, seeking a new life on the mainland was shot by a gun nut.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      Doubtful a “gun nut”. The wolf was shot with a pellet gun.

      1. Mike Avatar

        It’s still a gun. And because it’s that much weaker, you have to wonder how many times the wolf was shot.

        Even scarier.

        It probably tried to get on shore, scraping and siding up the ice, only to be repeatedly hit with pellets.

        I’d say it takes an absolute nut to kill a wolf like that.

        1. Yvette Avatar

          I wish tribal LE would bring charges against the person that killed her, even though it was probably unintentional being they used a pellet gun.

          1. LM Avatar

            At least, it would be good to know the circumstances. What is the range on a pellet gun ?

          2. WM Avatar

            From the article:

            ++After finding her way across 20 miles of ice, she bled to death on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation at the edge of Lake Superior….The Grand Portage tribe is among those that outlaw killing wolves on their land, but tribal members are allowed to protect their pets and property from wolf predation.++

            So, lots of room to speculate the age of the unknown person who did this.

            The real irony for me is that we all were hoping more wolves would COME to Isle Royale, rather than Escape a dismal future.

        2. Harley Avatar


          You should read that article that Yvette linked to, but I doubt it would change your mind any. You’re skull is just too thick and the blinders too wide with your opinion of ‘hunters’.

  2. rork Avatar

    Isle Royale is the darling of many, but that’s just one tiny experiment now compared with what is happening on the mainland. Generalization of learnings from Royale are problematic.

  3. rork Avatar

    Oh, the real golden opportunity is at Straits of Mackinac. If wolves penetrate the lower peninsula of MI, much howling will be heard, some of it from wolves even.

  4. Richie G. Avatar
    Richie G.

    All I can say it is still sad to see her dead.

  5. Harley Avatar

    I read this earlier from another source and thought how ironic. Such hopes that a wolf or two or more migrate to the island and instead, one migrates off and dies. I also wonder, with all that inbreeding, just what is their quality of life? I know that some of the wolf skeletons they’ve found had spinal bones fused or not even formed correctly. That can’t be very comfortable. I suppose you learn to adapt but still.

  6. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    “The wolf’s journey and death in February complicates a precedent-setting decision that faces the National Park Service: whether to intervene in nature’s course and bring new wolves onto the island in an effort to preserve them and the critical balance between the predators and their primary prey, moose.”

    What with all the killing of wolves in the Frank Church Wilderness and the wilds of the Lolo area in Idaho to boost hunting success why not an assist for the wolves on Isle Royal in order to increase their genetic diversity and augment their numbers?

  7. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    It almost sounds like a kid or young person just out to shoot something, with no idea of the gravity of what killing really means, or the value of living things. Typical today.

  8. ramses09 Avatar

    I was just thinking of the Island wolves, how they are doing & if any other wolves from the main-land had proceeded to go not he Island.
    How sad to read that a female was killed, my heart just breaks every time I read about wolves dying, this sounded as if she suffered. 🙁

  9. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    It’s all speculation after the fact, but the articles say she was shot ‘unintentionally’ by a pellet gun. How do you shoot an animal unintentionally? Any time you shoot, whether it’s a high caliber weapon or not, don’t they know that there’s the possibility you could severely hurt another person or animal? But whew! They were within their ‘legal’ right to do so, so I guess that relieves them of any responsibility they should have had. What a country!

    1. Harley Avatar

      It was speculated that whoever shot the wolf may have tried to scare it off. It kinda bothers me they way that this person is being portrayed here.
      Facts aren’t known, may never be known but you’ve all tried this person in the court of public opinion. Mike’s labeled them a blood thirsty hunter with no regard, Ida says how this went down is ‘typical’ of today’s regard for wildlife.
      It is very sad that she was killed in this manner. Would you all have been this way if she was killed by another wolf, which was likely if she had stayed as she had been attacked already by other wolves. I guess that can be explained away as the natural order of things, right?

      1. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        It bothers me too. I don’t like that a story has been made up that this person ‘didn’t mean to shoot’, ‘didn’t know the gun was loaded’, whatever the excuse is this time. Nobody is trying anybody in the court of public opinion – that’s already been done by spokespeople for the Park and they have found whoever it was innocent. “Likely” the wolf was killed unintentionally,which means they really don’t know and just want to cover their ass.

        I’m tired of people getting slaps on the wrist for killing wildlife. The American public has taken a downward turn recently with a rise in killing contests and bloodthirsty wolf hunting, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if someone did this deliberately. A radio-collared wolf. Just like the guy who killed a wolf in Oregon recently, just because he could and it was there. Another radio collared wolf. That’s all the reason people need lately.

        You bet it’s very sad.

        Come on now, if she were killed by another wolf, then it wouldn’t be a human who killed her. We can’t have it both ways – are we ‘above’ other animal life most of the time, but not when it isn’t convenient. No, if another wolf killed her I would think that was Nature. Not a gun-crazed public training kids with pellet guns.

        1. Harley Avatar

          Just don’t like the rush to judgement is all, and not just on this incident. It’s been perpetrated on both sides and it’s getting old. Just my humble opinion.

          1. Ida Lupines Avatar
            Ida Lupines

            I know! We shouldn’t rush to judgement. It’s hard to keep an open mind at times, with all of the stuff that’s been going on.

            1. Harley Avatar

              I hear ya Ida. You hear about something, you read it and you get that visceral knee jerk reaction and it takes a lot to take a step back, take a few deep breaths. Emotions run high on both sides so keeping objectivity is a Huge challenge and I have certainly been guilty many times over of reacting without playing it through.

      2. Louise Kane Avatar
        Louise Kane

        If they were trying to scare it off why not fire into the air. I wonder how many of us would fare with embedded pellets being shot into our skins. Anyhow I agree no one knows what happened but seems pretty stupid to shoot something with a pellet gun if you want to scare it off.

        1. Elk375 Avatar

          What good would firing in the air do? A pellet gun makes very minimal noise unlike a rifle.

          1. Chris Harbin Avatar
            Chris Harbin

            Then perhaps they should have tried to use something else to scare it off – something non-lethal.

  10. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Here’s what I think happened: this wolf left her pack on Isle Royale, where I read others wolves fought with her. But where she has the genetic spine problem, I wonder if she can’t run or move as fast as other wolves, and was an easy target for a thoughtless kid with a pellet gun. It might have only wounded her, or maybe an infection set in, or what I think happened was that with the terrible winter and frozen lakes, she couldn’t find food and starved. On Isle Royale they can probably at least find rabbits and mice.

    1. Harley Avatar

      I’m wondering about her ease of motion, really of any of the wolves on the island. I really hope a wolf found his or her way to the island, they say they aren’t sure. But then of course there will be those that will say any new wolves were planted there. Like it said, all this bullshit is getting real old. Sometimes I wish I could reach through the screen and knock a few heads together…

      1. Harley Avatar

        It will be interesting to see what the necropsy finds, if they do one and if they publish what they find on her.

        1. Yvette Avatar

          Green described the wolf’s death as “a fluke thing” that resulted from the pellet striking Isabelle between two ribs and entering her chest.
          “If the pellet had hit just a half-inch to the left or right, the outcome may have been less significant,” said Margaret Wild, the National Park Service’s chief veterinarian.

          I can’t speculate on the reasons behind her being shot with the pellet gun, or the reasons the shooter shot her.

          An investigation concluded the shooting happened on tribal land, Green said. The Grand Portage Band prohibits hunting or trapping wolves on its territory but allows people to chase away or kill those creating a nuisance, she said.

          Because it appears no rules were violated, the park service won’t try to identify the shooter, she said.

          A message seeking comment was left with the tribal chairman’s office.
          The tribe turned over the carcass to the park service, Green said. It will help biologists with Michigan Technological University, who have studied the island’s wolves and moose for decades, to learn more about the condition of island wolves, which are severely inbred.

          This is extremely unfortunate event and a sad one, to boot.

          Since the shooter is not being charged, I do believe it appropriate that the Tribal Chairman make a public comment given the emotions involved anytime a wolf is shot and killed. He/She needs to make a public statement.

          I read on one of the news articles that the tribe immediately contacted the park service since the tribe works with them on conservation/biological projects.

          If this particular wolf has genetic deformities, or problems from inbreeding should it be encouraged that she breed? Maybe those genetic traits are best not passed on.

          I know almost nothing about the Isle Royale wolves, but since they are inbred perhaps it would be best to introduce more wolves in an effort to enhance the genetic line. I’m sure that has been discussed among the biologists that work with the IR wolves. Something similar was done with the Florida cougar since they had genetically bottlenecked and it has helped.

          I’ll repeat, very sad situation and I think it is of utmost importance that the Tribal Chairman make a public comment given the circumstances.

          1. Harley Avatar


            “If this particular wolf has genetic deformities, or problems from inbreeding should it be encouraged that she breed? Maybe those genetic traits are best not passed on.”

            That was a very good point!That was something I didn’t even think about.

            1. Mark L Avatar
              Mark L

              “If this particular wolf has genetic deformities, or problems from inbreeding should it be encouraged that she breed? Maybe those genetic traits are best not passed on.”

              Actually, that point of view REALLY scares me, if we apply it to humans.

          2. SAP Avatar

            I would imagine that whoever shot the wolf was intending to chase her away, and inadvertently delivered a lethal wound. That’s why we call things like cracker shells, rubber bullets, and the like “less lethal,” instead of “less-than-lethal” or “non-lethal.” It’s a term that reminds us to take it seriously.

            The wolf may have been out of range for bear spray or other OC sprays; she may have been in range for 12-gauge “pepper rounds,” but those aren’t easy to come by. A pellet to the head area could take out an eye; a pellet behind the rib cage could penetrate the abdominal wall, similar to this black bear killing in YNP a decade ago:


            Before condemning the person who shot this wolf, keep in mind that they may have been trying to do right by that animal — by chasing it away from people and trouble, by trying to aversively condition her. Hindsight is always so clear, so we can of course argue that the shooter should have done something different, because we know the outcome.

            But anytime you see a bear or a wolf that people didn’t chase away, and chase away effectively, think about what that animal’s future will be. As so many folks here point out, carnivore habitat has plenty of angry, sadistic, bloodthirsty people who would gladly, with full intent, kill that animal. We’re dooming these animals if we let them get comfortable around people.

          3. Logan Avatar

            I could see how someone wanting to only scare the wolf away would think that shooting it with a pellet gun would scare it off and do it no harm. Pellet guns fire small projetiles at slow speeds, most would not think that it would have the energy to penetrate deep enough to harm the animal.

            In this way it can be seen that the death of the wolf was unintentional.

            The only remaining question is whether or not to intervene and introduce new blood to the island. This would be contrary to the belief of many conservationists that demand we let nature take its course. The wolves got there on their own and their isolation has naturally led to inbreeding.

            If they are allowed to die-off, will there be outcry from conservationists because we allowed nature to take its course? I could go either way.

            1. Ida Lupines Avatar
              Ida Lupines

              I wonder though if new wolves made their way to Isle Royale because of changes in weather (colder and more ice), hunters would start lying in wait to shoot them to prevent it, as they are doing now in other states. That isn’t letting nature take its course. I’m still not convinced that this story is legit, because there is so much wolf hate and blame for failure projected onto the wolf.

              Nobody will ever know for sure if someone tried to ‘scare her off’, so I wish people would stop writing as if it were true. It may be, but it may not be. It’s all speculation, and doesn’t really do any good to put a happy face on something so awful.

              1. Ida Lupines Avatar
                Ida Lupines

                People have been seriously hurt with pellet guns, so it also doesn’t do any good to minimize their danger. We seem to think they are ‘toys’.


          4. Mike Avatar

            ++Green described the wolf’s death as “a fluke thing” that resulted from the pellet striking Isabelle between two ribs and entering her chest.++

            A “fluke” would be tripping over a gun, pressing the trigger with your toe and hitting an unintended target.

            There’s nothing “flukey” about aiming a projectile barrel at an animal and firing.

            1. WM Avatar

              Well, Mike, to make you feel better, how about an intended act with unintended (surprising) consequences?

              In other words, a “fluke.”

            2. JB Avatar

              A few years back I was so tired of squirrels raiding our (second story) bird feeder that I went out and bought a bb gun, intent on doing some aversive conditioning. It was an inexpensive, spring-loaded pistol (meant to look like 44). A few days after the purchase, the squirrel came to our feeder, shook it for a few minutes and then jumped down on top of our deck to reap his rewards. I cracked the slider and took careful aim (it was only about 8 ft., but I was trying to hit a squirrel with a pistol). POP! A nice square it, right in the side! The squirrel started, shook, and went right back to eating the seed. At which point my wife started laughing hysterically (while I swore and loaded the gun for another attempt). POP! Same result (and more laughter from my better half).

              Somewhere I still have that bb gun–which my wife calls the “bb slinger”.

              1. WM Avatar

                Geez, you must be some sort of psychopath, spring loaded bb gun/pistol and all. Careful, you will likely graduate to something more lethal, getting your jollies by baiting and then abusing the food conditioned and habituated wildlife. 😉

              2. JB Avatar

                Right, I’m sure that there’s a special Hell for squirrel-torturers like me. 😉

              3. Mike Avatar

                ++The squirrel started, shook, and went right back to eating the seed. At which point my wife started laughing hysterically (while I swore and loaded the gun for another attempt). POP! Same result (and more laughter from my better half).++

                Haha, yeah. Shooting living critters is funny.

  11. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Everyone knows that Lake Superior froze hard this year, providing an increasingly rare opportunity for the inbred wolves on Isle Royale to gain fresh recruits from the mainland.

    So you could see that some rabid wolf-haters would not want this to occur and would actively interfere with it? No different from ID, MT and WY, or vying for first place with ID in the worst state for wolves, as WI is.

  12. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I’m not bothered by squirrels dining at my bird feeders. I figure it goes with the territory! 🙂

    At any rate, this poor, struggling wolf is dead, allegedly by a pellet gun. You might think that because she had an observable tracking collar, someone might have been a bit more careful? Noone could possibly have anything but the most ethical motives tho – alrighty then!

  13. BC Avatar

    Lake Superior is far from melting. There can still be wolf migration. I for one hope for fresh genes.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine



Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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