Did winter ice allow most of the wolves to walk off the island, or did they die?

For a second winter season in a row Lake Superior froze around Isle Royale National Park. This potentially allows wolves and other land animals to walk over to the island or leave the island. Most winters there is no solid path from Isle Royale to the mainland.

A frozen Lake Superior was how Isle Royale originally got its wolves and its moose. For wolves, that was back in 1949 when a wolf pair wandered onto the island from Ontario. From this pair the number of wolves grew to as many as 50, averaging 23 over the period. When the lake froze in the winter of 2013-14, there was the expectation that more wolves might arrive from Canada, Michigan or Minnesota to save what had become one remaining wolf pack from its seemingly terminal inbreeding. Instead one wolf left, she was later killed by a pellet gun in Minnesota.

This winter a new pair of wolves did come to Isle Royale, but they left again after a short time. This did not intermingle with the wolves that so badly need genetic rescue. This winter 6 of the 9 remaining wolves disappeared. They might have gone ashore or perished. It is not known, but it is plain to see that the remaining three have no hope — a pair and one obviously deformed small wolf. Genetic rescue will not happen. Biologists seem to think the three might not last until next winter. The deformed wolf might already be dead.

Meanwhile, the moose population is growing over 20% a year.  For four years wolf predation has been so light that it is not perceptible. Moose now number 1250 and will soon outstrip their habitat in five or so years. Then the moose population will spiral downward. That does not mean, however, that it will rebound once the number of moose is back in line with the available food. The overpopulation will first strip the land not only of moose-edible vegetation but at least part of its capacity to produce the food. To prevent this, the moose population needs more wolves (or perhaps a hunt or some other controlled human reduction). It is not a matter for long term study. Action will be needed soon. In 2-3 years, the population will double. The highest moose population ever recorded on the island was 2,450 in 1995.

There are no plans for a human introduction of new wolves. The National Park Service is making a new management plan for the island. That plan could recommend it, but it will be years before it is adopted.

The migration of wolves to islands in the Great Lakes is not limited to Isle Royale. This winter some wolves migrated to a wolf free island in the Canadian portion of Lake Superior.  At Michipicoten Provincial Park, three wolves arrived. There are around 300 woodland caribou to support them. They are easier prey than moose.


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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

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.

91 Responses to Isle Royale wolves down to just three

  1. Richie G says:

    It is a shame no help for wolves even when you giving facts that wolves would help he eco system of the island.

  2. Theo Chu says:

    Humans need to butt out here. We have a hard time doing so because we view things from the time scale of a human lifetime. This cycle may take thousands of years to play out completely.

  3. Ed Loosli says:

    Your idea of “butting out” of involvement with Isle Royale wolves might be appropriate, except for the fact that Isle Royal does not exist in isolation, and the truth is we are not butting out of interfering with nature all around Isle Royale, in the water, air and the land beyond. Instead of allowing the killing of a wolf family in the Great Lakes region, this wolf family should be re-located to Isle Royale to assist in re-establishing the balance of nature. Actually, it should have been done several years ago.

    • Theo Chu says:

      How exactly do YOU define the “balance of nature” on Isle Royal? I’ve seen several descriptions including one that indicates the most natural and original species composition there was lynx and caribou.I am interested in your definition. The “killing of a wolf family in the Great Lakes region” while unfortunate is not germane to the scientific question of how, if at all, we should interfere in what seems to be a largely natural process on Isle Royal.

      • Ed Loosli says:

        Theo: My balance of nature attempt is what I previously stated: Instead of killing off a nearby wolf family from the Great Lakes region, it should be relocated to Isle Royale — the wolves and the ecosystem win.

        • Theo Chu says:

          How do we know the ecosystems wins under that scenario Ed? Yes maybe it wins by our definition as seen through our eyes as tempered by the perspective of our brief lifespans. We can’t say that the ecosystem on that island didn’t develop under repeated cycles just like this one, perhaps over hundreds or thousands of years. Additionally removing a wolf family has the same effect as killing it on that ecosystem. Good discussion – thanks.

  4. Outdoorfunnut says:

    Ralph, didn’t a Michigan zoo bring wolves to the Island in the early 1950’s. If memory serves me right Four wolves were sent from the Detroit Zoo some time before 1958 when the official study began 1951 to 1954??

    • Richie G. says:

      To all who oppose intervention: It is our obligation as human beings to intervene and help a species survive whether it is a wolf, a bear, a lion, or any wild animal that God has put on this earth, if you believe in a supreme. Isn’t it a part of earth day or nature that we keep our creatures in tact as much as we can. Having a species survive should be our obligation, not to stand by and let it disappear , what does that say about us as a supreme species.

      • Ida Lupine says:

        +1 Richie

        We only intervene for ourselves right now. At least let wolves disperse in without trumping up some kind of a reason to kill them.

        It always gives me pause that Isle Royale is the place where we would choose the path of non-intervention, because it is in our favor.

        I do like the idea of nature taking its course, as Theo posted and he makes a great point – but I hope all the hunting, interference disguised as management and knowledge gaining, and hysterical rhetoric won’t destroy wolves and other predators (the ‘undesirables’) before that time.

        • Ida Lupine says:

          From the Nature post:

          “We have science coming out our ears and it wasn’t enough to carry the day against an entrenched bureaucracy with a culture of non-intervention,” says Peterson.

          But Phyllis Green, superintendent of Isle Royale National Park says that science is just one of several factors that will influence her decision about whether to intervene, along with NPS policies, relevant laws and the needs and desires of park visitors. “Some people love hearing a wolf howl in the wilderness; others say ‘if you put the wolf out there, I am not as thrilled about hearing it,” she says.

          At least the Park Service admits that things other than science will influence the decision! *eyeroll* 🙁

          Again, I do hope that people will choose ‘not to intervene’ if wolves migrate in and out as well.

    • WM says:

      See p. 23, paragraph 3, an extract from Rolf Peterson’s 1995 book, “The Wolves of Isle Royale.”


      It appears zoo wolves and the translocation effort of 4 food conditioned and habituated wolves did not work. Net effect – zero, as they were subsequently removed in short order (did they leave any progeny or new genetic material behind?).

    • Ralph Maughan says:


      I have not heard of this. I don’t think it happened.

      • Ed Loosli says:

        It looks like “Outdoorfunnut” is correct regarding the Detroit Zoo sending 4 wolves to Isle Royale in 1952:


        “For decades, the Detroit Zoological Society has played a role in the conservation of wolves in Michigan. In 1952, the Detroit Zoo sent four wolves to Isle Royale in the Upper Peninsula to be released as part of a program to re-establish the species. As with other native Michigan animals living at the Zoo, the DZS is engaged in conserving wolves in the wild.”

        • Outdoorfunnut says:

          Ed, Thanks for looking that up. Do you think that they do not advertise this because it doesn’t lend to the “climate change” narrative (true or false)that land bridges are effecting wolf numbers? If people are going to believe in climate change we can not use it to loosely. This is just one of way to many examples.

        • Outdoorfunnut says:

          Ed, FYI WM book reference says that indeed 4 wolves were brought to the island. Because of habituation issues one was trapped and two were shot……They do not know what happened to the 4th. “Big Jim”

  5. Yvette says:

    Interesting to read your discussion. It leads to other questions.

    Though I’ve not read any of the results to come out of the Isle Royale wolves long term research, I’ve wondered why the decision was made to not intervene. I think of a similar case with the Florida panther subspecies, which had genetically bottlenecked. Had it not of been for the introduction of the Texas panther, which was the closest genetic subspecies, the Florida panther would not have survived. I’ve wondered why something similar was not done for the Isle Royale wolves.

    Who decides when we humans should butt out and when we should intervene? Careers have been built on the Isle Royale wolf research so it makes me wonder if butting out has been in the shadows of some of that research.

    It’s sad that the DNA of the Isle Royale wolves will likely die with these last three wolves.

  6. Ed Loosli says:

    Yvette: My cynical side tells me the purposeful inaction by the National Park Service in response to the severe decline in Ilse Royale wolves is due to the simple fact that it was easier for the NPS to do nothing than it was to do something. Biologists have been calling for wolf re-introductions for awhile now. Taking no action in Isle Royale, unfortunately, could have had a different outcome if the NPS had intervened several years ago, just like they did with the Florida panther – as you rightly point out. I am afraid that the Dept. of Interior under Pres. Obama is pretty pathetic in more ways than one.

  7. Richie G. says:

    again I made a mistake supreme being

  8. Richie G. says:

    Their are articles on the 1958 project I just could not paste it on Ralph’s website.

  9. Immer Treue says:

    During last Friday’s International Wolf Center presentation by Rolf Peterson he shared an interesting graph concerning Isle Royale moose. Prior to wolf colonization, average size of moose declined, a Wrangel Island effect, during a relatively short period of time. Post wolf colonization, average moose size began to increase, up to the present time.

    To those who say do nothing, it would be interesting to observe if this effect continues when the wolves are gone (it ain’t over til the fat lady sings). However, tiny moose would not be present during the course of your lifespan.

    Peterson offered this as at least some evidence that the wolves preyed upon smaller moose, this allowing nature to select for larger moose survival. This is the exact opposite, let’s say correlation, found with big game trophy community selecting the largest to be placed upon walls, leaving the smaller to reproduce.

    • Ida Lupine says:

      🙂 Congrats on your new puppy, Immer. He sounds like a sweetie.

      • Immer Treue says:

        Thank you Ida. Pretty intelligent pup who was for all practical purposes housebroken by 4 months, picks up on basic sit, paw, down, stay, and loves to retrieve and follow a mountain bike… Has no shut off button, and is orally fixated on everything. He is without a doubt, considering current circumstances, the most challenging pup I have ever had. He is sweet when sleeping.

        • Professor Sweat says:


          I wish we had more people like you in L.A. The German Shepard shelter I volunteer at in the inner city is full of surrenders, because many of the folk around here can’t deal with their pet’s energy. Even as puppies, they are not built for apartments.

          Most people don’t come to Los Angeles for the common sense though.

          • Immer Treue says:

            Professor Sweat,

            Thank you for the compliment. Believe me when I say I have had my doubts, and seriously considered returning himmtonthe breeder, but then I considered what would probably happen. I do not profess to know everything about GS pups, but I certainly learned something in regard to this pup.

            There is another person who is very involved with German Shepherd rescue. I’ll allow her to respond to your volunteer work. I have a lot to say about this pup’s circumstances, but the wolves of Isle Royale is probably not the proper format.

        • Harley says:

          You got a puppy!! How cool!

          I think maybe it would be best to take a step back from the situation on Isle Royale. Wolves and Moose are not native species to the island. If memory serves me correctly, moose migrated around the turn of the century and wolves followed about 50 years later. Wolves have not been extinguished from the island due to human interference, it’s been a natural process, for the most part. It is tempting though, I believe it was Immer who suggested putting the problem wolves on Isle Royale from the mainland. That would take care of things rather nicely. As long as they didn’t find a way back to the mainland!

          This is turning out to be a very fascinating ongoing story, this saga on Isle Royale. It will be very interesting to see how it continues to play out.

    • Jeff says:

      Your comment about trophy hunting culling for the smallest is misleading or ill informed. When someone shoots a mature buck, bull, ram etc… the presence of that dominant animal within the local her genetically is given. He probably was the dominant breeder is an area for 2-4 years leaving his presence for generations.

      • JB says:


        Actually, Immer’s post is spot on. You may be interested in the following:

        Coltman, D.W. et al. 2003. Undesirable evolutionary consequences of trophy hunting. Nature 426, 655-658.


      • JB says:


        Schmidt, J.I. et al. 2007. Antler Size of Alaskan Moose Alces Alces Gigas: Effects of Population Density, Hunter Harvest and Use of Guides. Wildlife Biology 13(1):53-65.

        “Moose Alces alces gigas in Alaska, USA, exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism, with adult males possessing large, elaborate antlers. Antler size and conformation are influenced by age, nutrition and genetics, and these bony structures serve to establish social rank and affect mating success. Population density, combined with anthropogenic effects such as harvest, is thought to influence antler size. Antler size increased as densities of moose decreased, ostensibly a density-dependent response related to enhanced nutrition at low densities. The vegetation type where moose were harvested also affected antler size, with the largest-antlered males occupying more open habitats. Hunts with guides occurred in areas with low moose density, minimized hunter interference and increased rates of success. Such hunts harvested moose with larger antler spreads than did non-guided hunts. Knowledge and abilities allowed guides to satisfy demands of trophy hunters, who are an integral part of the Alaskan economy. Heavy harvest by humans was also associated with decreased antler size of moose, probably via a downward shift in the age structure of the population resulting in younger males with smaller antlers. Nevertheless, density-dependence was more influential than effects of harvest on age structure in determining antler size of male moose. Indeed, antlers are likely under strong sexual selection, but we demonstrate that resource availability influenced the distribution of these sexually selected characters across the landscape. We argue that understanding population density in relation to carrying capacity (K) and the age structure of males is necessary to interpret potential consequences of harvest on the genetics of moose and other large herbivores. Our results provide researchers and managers with a better understanding of variables that affect the physical condition, antler size, and perhaps the genetic composition of populations, which may be useful in managing and modelling moose populations.”

    • Outdoorfunnut says:

      I always thought that in general the farther north you go the bigger the animals. Is it not true that Moose, deer, elk, bears,wolves and Lynx verses bobcat are bigger the farther north you go? Survival of the fittest in the colder harsher environment where the weak /small are weeded out by weather.

  10. Richie G says:

    To Ida and Ralph and all: When we as caretakers of the environment and I will add are not we caretakers being we can control some effect on climate change and our wolf introduction project and when we killed off every wolf in our country that is our history. So as caretakers don’t we have an obligation to save any endangered genetic pool of a endangered species. This is not my field like you ladies and gentleman that is easy to tell by my terminology but this is simple to me. Save what can be saved that’s it simple we are all God’s creatures, we have an obligation as caretakers in our world I know Ralph and Ida agrees with my statement , or at least I hope so.

  11. Susan Armstrong says:

    Just want to add that there was indeed a deliberate release of zoo wolves on Isle Royale in the 1950’s. The following is from Peter Steinhart’s book The Company Of Wolves (1995).

    “Adolph Murie had studied the eruption of the moose population on Isle Royale in 1930 and had suggested introducing wolves as a way to keep the moose from overrunning the island. A similar proposal was made in 1951 by Michigan biologist A.M. Stebler, but the park superintendent opposed it because wolves were ‘vicious beasts’ and he feared reintroduction would be bad public relations. Durward Allen says today [early 1990’s] that he had been dreaming of wolves on Isle Royale for years: ‘I was an undergraduate when I saw the possibility of moving some of the wolves from Michigan to that island.’ He confesses that when he was a student he and a close friend, Lee Smits, talked about sneaking wolves onto the island.
    “Smits, a Detroit conservationist, eventually did put wolves on the island. In 1952, Smits persuaded the Park Service to agree to an introduction. Four wolves born in the Detroit Zoo were brought to the island. At first they were kept in pens to acclimatize; then the pens were thrown open, in the hope that the wolves would eventually move out on their own into the wild. But the wolves were too habituated to humans, and too little skilled at moose hunting. They hung around campgrounds and cabins, scaring tourists and tearing up the nets and laundry lines of fishermen. The Park Service trapped one of them and removed it to the mainland, and shot two of the others. The fourth, Big Jim, a wolf reared at home by Smits, vanished into the wild.”

    I believe Big Jim was sighted one last time after the others were dispensed with (can’t remember where I read this.) Wild wolves were colonizing the island around this time so it is remotely possible that Big Jim’s genes made their way into the newly established Isle Royale wolf population.

  12. Susan Armstrong says:

    A little more about the wolf release and Big Jim, from Mech’s “Wolves of IsleRoyale” monograph (1966).

    “Meanwhile, before the wolf was known to be present, a plan had gained impetus to establish a sanctuary for it. . . . The original plan was to pay Michigan bounty hunters to secure two pairs of wolf pups, each pair from a different den. These pups were then to be released on Isle Royale with a wild-trapped adult female. However, the bounty hunters were unable to obtain wolves, so arrangements were made for the Detroit zoo to supply the animals. On August 9, 1952, four zoo-bred wolves were imported to Isle Royale. Since the creatures were not in the habit of fending for themselves, the plan was to keep and feed them in pens and allow them to come and go as they please, in hopes they would leave of their own accord and eventually revert to the wild.
    “Pens were built near the camp of Pete Edisen, Rock Harbor fisherman, who agreed to feed and care for the
    wolves while they were in his vicinity. This turned out to be a bit more of a chore than Pete had expected, for the wolves soon escaped their pens and began harassing the Edisens. The creatures tore up one of Pete’s nylon fish nets and made off with several handmade rugs that his wife Laura had laid out to air. They began seeking food at various areas of civilization on the northeast end of the island, including Rock Harbor Lodge. . . . No one got eaten up, but many people were certain they had narrowly escaped such a fate. Thus Park Service personnel trapped the wolves and ferried them 30 miles away, but the next day the animals were back harassing tourists. Finally two of them were shot, one was trapped and returned to the mainland, and the fourth escaped. This individual, “Big Jim,” had been reared at home by Lee Smits of Detroit and was an excellent retriever. He weighed 90 pounds when 8 months old and was about 15 months old when released. He never returned to the tourist lodge, but a year later, fishermen several times spotted a wolf swimming between islands and supposed it to be Big Jim, the retrieving wolf.
    “Because of the wide publicity afforded the wolf-importation plan, many people [in 1966] still hold the misconception that the present Isle Royale
    wolf population is descended from the zoo-bred wolves. But, as has been stated, wild wolves were known
    to exist on the island before the tame animals were imported. Since the tame females were disposed of, the
    present Isle Royale wolf population must be free of any influence from the zoo wolves — with the possible exception of whatever stud service Big Jim may have performed.”

    At this link there are several photos of Big Jim during his days as a pet:
    This NPS document gives a slightly different version of the fate of the released wolves.

    • WM says:

      One would think if zoo wolf Big Jim bred with any of the females, the genetics would have been tracked/identified at some point. And, who better to know this than Rolf Peterson?

    • Ida Lupine says:

      It’s so sad – didn’t anyone consider that habituated animals would/might get into trouble? They had probably become used to humans feeding them, and then we capriciously turn on them. We muddle everything.

      A certain website is all up in arms (literally!) about Arctic wolves walking right up to humans without fear(the gall!). When you watch the video, it is painfully obvious that someone has been feeding them and they have become habituated to humans. They wouldn’t behave like your pet dog otherwise. 🙁

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      OK. I searched the information on the genetic background of the wolves on the island.

      These wolves never bred with the extant population of wolves.

      A similar thing happened during the Yellowstone Park wolf reintroduction. Wolf pups from a wolf pack targeted for termination on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front were brought to Yellowstone and penned until they were large enough to be set free. Of the 9 wolf pups (not trained or educated by wild wolves)only two survived. The rest died or had to be killed.

      • Richie G. says:

        Just curious I can see them not surviving but were they killed by humans and for what reason , did they go in camps and steal food or did they kill cattle? Did they overstep their bounds ?

  13. Mareks Vilkins says:

    maybe this whole mess around this issue has some beef with the jealousy and resentment that some pro-wolf scientists (RP & JV) have secure funding for long-term study but the ‘rational/pragmatic hunter-biologist’ community doesn’t?

    IR is the only place to get the data from controlled experiment about predator-prey interactions but for some folks it’s knee-jerk reaction to cry about ‘give Mother Nature a chance!’ when it suits their agenda.
    How sad.

    • Mareks Vilkins says:

      currently, on the IR there’s moose & 3 gasping wolves not caribou & lynx

    • Ida Lupine says:


      How long before we hear that that hunters are going to ‘manage’ the moose population and bring the moose numbers down to acceptable levels. Who needs predators anyway? Or even trees for that matter. Check your watches….5….4…..3….2

  14. Matt says:

    There are wolves in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula now and plenty in the Upper.

  15. Richie G. says:

    Why not let them evolve in their environment and if they die off in years too come and so be it let nature have it’s say. Wildlife in nature will always come to an equilibrium if left alone, except for effects of climate.

  16. Helen McGinnis says:

    WOLVES OF MINONG (1979) by Durward Allen has good summary of the changes wrought by the White Man on Isle Royale. Allen was Mech’s dissertation adviser. We have changed the island and can never go back to the late 19th century when small bands of woodland caribou roamed. I predict that if wolves are not restored, the moose population will decrease and habitat on the island will be degraded. The moose will persist in smaller numbers and smaller size. Let’s sit back and see what actually happens.

  17. Helen McGinnis says:

    Isle Royale does not have to be managed for moose, wolves or other desired species, unlike public lands that are not national parks. With less vegetation, some park visitors may appreciate the improved views. Until today, after reading Allen and thinking about it, I would have chosen reintroduction.

    • Mark L says:

      I think you are right here, Helen McGinnis. Islands are sinks as defined by island biogeography. This is what happens on islands everywhere, ecosystems collapse as they move between green and brown (or vice-versa). It’s about as natural as it gets as far as distribution after we’ve already ‘dirtied the waters’ there.

      • Ed Loosli says:

        Mark L:
        Thanks for pointing out the “island effect”. b What this Isle Royale reminds us is how fragile “island ecosystems” are, and it should point us to the conclusion to NOT de-list wolves and grizzly bears in the West, because as of now we have relatively small islands of these rare species that are not yet connected. Perhaps the day will come when wolves and grizzly bears will be connected by migration corridors, but that time is a long way off.

        • WM says:

          ++ …the conclusion to NOT de-list wolves and grizzly bears in the West because as of now we have relatively small islands of these rare species that are not yet connected. ++

          Oh, come on Ed, get real. All it takes is a few wolves to disperse or be translocated and Poof! Problem solved in a very few years. Afterall, that is how the GYE wolves expanded from 36 or so plus a few in Western MT, to well over a thousand in the GYE (and the geneticists said there was connectivity), with annual take-off of problem wolves or those hunted, sometimes up to 10- 20 percent or so removed in some locales yearly.

          Wolves are an incredibly resilient species. The mainstream conservation biologists seem to think the gene pool is fine, or can be easily fixed if there is a problem by moving a few around. You tying to pump sunshine up the butts of the gullible?

          Grizzly bears are a different story, for several reasons.

          • Ed Loosli says:

            If wolves are removed from the Endangered Species list, including from being listed as a “Threatened” species, do you really think that wolves will re-populate in sustainable numbers Utah, Eastern Wyoming, Eastern Montana, Colorado, etc.?? I am pleased to read that you do support connectivity for grizzly bears, which also can only occur with the grizzly bear still being under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

  18. Kathleen says:

    A reminder that 99% of Isle Royale is designated Wilderness. When Idaho slaughtered wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (and the Feds sat back and allowed it to happen), Wilderness suddenly had many new vehement defenders among wildlife advocates. Well, it works both ways. If slaughtering wolves in Wilderness is unnatural and impairs Wilderness values, then manipulating their population after they left (or died) on their own is also unnatural and impairs Wilderness values. My 2 cents.

    • Ed Loosli says:

      Where exactly do you think the wolves came from that are now in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness?? They and their recent ancestors were brought there by humans in a rescue/re-introduction plan. Thirty-six wolves were reintroduced into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness during January 1995 and 1996… This is exactly the same sort of plan that can (and should) now occur on Isle Royale, Michigan, only involving fewer wolves.

      • Mark L says:

        Ed Loosli says,
        ” Thirty-six wolves were reintroduced into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness during January 1995 and 1996… This is exactly the same sort of plan that can (and should) now occur on Isle Royale, Michigan, only involving fewer wolves.”

        I disagree, I don’t think they are exactly alike…or even close. Heck, Ed, I support reintroductions of wolves, but not on islands where they would be occassional dispersers. It’s a whole different ballgame on islands. Your comment above about wolves being in ‘islands’ of non-connectiveness might work if only males dispersed long distances…both sexes do it though, unlike panthers.

        • Helen McGinnis says:

          I am a long-time supporter of wilderness preservation. One of the main reasons for preserving wilderness is to have areas where nature is allowed to take its own course. The wolves on Isle Royale are presumably not different genetically from wolves elsewhere in the general region. It’s a different situation with Florida panthers, the last remnant of the cougars that once inhabited the entire Southeastern US. It’s worth going to great effort to preserve that genotype.

      • Jay says:

        So you’re saying that reintroducing wolves to an area the size of the entire NW United States where there were functionally no wolves (outside of NW MT) is analogous to repopulating a relatively small island in the middle of a large lake that sits in the middle of occupied wolf territory are remotely comparable?

        • Ed Loosli says:

          On a relative scale, yes, they are comparable.

          • Jay says:

            I’m sure it’s comparable in your mind–more reasonable folks, probably not so much.

          • ma'iingan says:

            On a relative scale, yes, they are comparable.

            Bull. It’s unethical to translocate wolves into a landscape where we know they are genetically bottlenecked. Without a periodic refresh, they would be sentenced to develop genetic abnormalities, possibly worse than what we’re currently seeing.

            Take a look at the smaller of the three wolves that was photographed on IR last winter – it appears to have a visible spinal deformity and a malformed tail, and a general unthrifty appearance.

            Once such program is begun, we have created an outdoor laboratory – and I don’t see a lot of scientists lining up to support this.

            What if the three remaining wolves had left the island on their own last winter?

            • Ed Loosli says:

              Actually, some of the main Isle Royale scientists have been “lining up” and saying that a fresh genetic wolf re-introduction is in order.

              • ma'iingan says:

                Actually, some of the main Isle Royale scientists have been “lining up” and saying that a fresh genetic wolf re-introduction is in order.

                Actually,Ed, I attended the Great Lakes Wolf Stewards Conference over the last couple of days, and there was very little support for genetic rescue among the attending biologists.

          • Jay says:

            On a relative scale, Tonka toys and Mack dump trucks are both construction vehicles.

            What an inane comment…

            • Ed Loosli says:

              To Jay and all the other Ostriches with your heads in the sand, perhaps you should read Mareks Vilkins post below and read the associated article and the opinion of one of the top Isle Royale scientists (Peterson).

              • Jay says:

                Hmmm–better buried in the sand then up your…well, you know where your head is buried.

              • ma'iingan says:

                …read the associated article and the opinion of one of the top Isle Royale scientists (Peterson).

                Thanks for schooling us about IR, Ed. Actually (Peterson) was the keynote speaker at the Wolf Stewards Conference I attended last week.

                Rolf is much beloved and highly respected among the wildlife professionals and wolf advocates that were in attendance, however the issue of what to do is far more nuanced than what is expressed in the news article you directed us to.

                For instance, what is the long-term prospect for the IR moose genome? Are there recessive genes lurking there that have not been expressed yet? What is the long-term prospect for the moose population and its forage base given the effects of climate change?

                And then, what about the IR pine marten and red fox? If we are going to translocate wolves to “rescue” this population, should we not be considering other low-density predator species as well?

                And of course there is the larger issue of whether we should intervene at all – and there is no consensus to do so among the scientific community.

      • Kathleen says:

        The wolves that were reintroduced into central ID by the Nez Perce (and onto Nez Perce traditional territory) were reintroduced because wolves there had been *extirpated by human beings*. No such extirpation has ever occurred at I.R.–wolves and moose arrived by natural processes and natural processes should be allowed to play out now. The two situations simply aren’t analogous.

        • JB says:

          This is a good point, Kathleen. Of course, wolves once existed in much higher densities in areas adjacent to the park…and before human-induced climate change, Lake Superior froze more regularly…

          So what is a “natural” process?

        • WM says:


          Perhaps you could enlighten us on the role of the Nez Perce in the initial reintroduction?

          • Ed Loosli says:

            Here is an interesting account about the wolf reintroductions to central Idaho including the vital role the Nez Perce played in the return of the wolf:


            “A plan to bring gray wolves from Canada to Yellowstone and central Idaho was finally signed in 1994 by Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt. The plan called for state agencies to manage the wolves once they were released, but the states declined to cooperate. “The issue was too hot to handle,” says Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for U.S.FWS in Helena, Montana. “In Idaho, the Nez Perce said, “We´ll be glad to handle it.” They had reservation lands in the area and treaty rights in central Idaho where the wolves were to be put. And they put together a good plan for wolf management, so we contracted them to manage the program. The tribe brought a number of important assets to the table, Bangs recalls. Unlike federal officials, who some westerners view as meddlesome outsiders, the Nez Perce lived in the area and understood local sensitivities. Also, says Bangs, “They bring a different attitude about wolves–a reverence for wildlife is part of their heritage.”

            • WM says:


              It may well be a technical distinction, but I do not recall, nor does the article you cite, say the Nez Perce “reintroduced” the wolves. It was my understanding from everything I have read FWS did the heavy lifting, so to speak, and the reintroduction wolf orientation and release was all on National Forest or Natonal Park lands. While the Nez Perce may have initially lended spiritual support, and later specifically employee Curt Mack and other employees of the tribe took on a strong “management” role, mostly because the State of ID really wanted no part of it. It is also important to remember the federal government does lots of things to provide natural resource jobs for enrolled tribal members because reservation unemployment is so high.

              I do think Nez Perce pride is justifiably high for the role they took and continue to take in wolf management, not always in harmony with the state of ID.

              If there is more

              • Yvette says:


                Quotations? The Nez Perce agreed to manage the wolves when ID refused. You know that.

                Arrogance and rudeness are the training wheels on the bicycle of life——for weak people who cannot keep their balance without them. Laura Teresa Marquez

                • WM says:


                  My point was that Kathleen’s statement is not quite correct. Nez Perce did not do the reintroduction, though they were from the start and still are to some degree involved in management, especially autonomously on reservation lands (but not treaty off reservation lands) and report preparation/monitoring. They have had a role state wide, at the start, when the state of ID got a little pissy and said it wouldn’t play as they have said at least twice. It was the federal government, specifically FWS, Dept. of Interior, that did the reintroduction as a “non-essential, experimental population” and declared a Distinct Population Segment in a federally defined 3 state area, when Canadian wolves from Canada were trans-located to federal land in Central ID, and Wyoming. Let’s not forget that.

                • Kathleen says:

                  The Nez Perce were involved in the process with FWS prior to taking over management duties:
                  “For the Nez Perce Tribe, one of the “highest priorities” is to support environmental assessment activities for projects on tribal lands.’ As a result, the tribe was an active member of the gray wolf EIS advisory team and a participant in the planning for wolf recovery. In its public comments on the DEIS, the tribe made it clear it wanted to be a participant in program management and indicated that no matter what alternative was chosen, the tribe “should be ‘a’ or ‘the’ major player in Wolf Recovery.”‘”
                  …starts on page 553: http://lawschool.unm.edu/nrj/volumes/39/3/05_wilson_wolves.pdf

                  Yes, technically, FWS led the reintro effort. (Hopefully, that meets “enlightenment standards.” As a mere mortal, I’m subject to occasionally making statements that are ‘not quite correct’–sometimes even downright wrong. I’m always willing to admit this.)

        • Ed Loosli says:

          If you think that these Isle Royale wolves are living free from human caused moralities, please think again. It could well be that as wolves come and go from Ilse Royale in the winter they are getting killed by humans on the mainland:


          “2014 (necropsy #4937)
          In 2014, a radiocollared female wolf from Isle Royale, five years old and unable to find a mate on the island, took advantage of her first
          chance to cross ice to the mainland in search of a better situation. Within days she was dead, fatally shot with a pellet gun.”

          • Jeff N. says:

            In the late 1940’s wolves first appeared on Isle Royale while a bounty on them existed in MN.

            And whether they arrived from Canada or MN the social landscape was hostile towards wolves.

            I had my first backpacking experience on Isle Royale back in 85′ and returned the following two years.

            I find the topic fascinating and I was originally pro genetic rescue and on some level still may be. However, as we now know, in the 90’s, and as recently as the past few years wolves have travelled to and from the island. I do realize that the occurrence of an ice bridge is a crap shoot but at this point, since genetic rescue is off the table, It would be interesting to let this play out naturally for a while longer. My 2 cents.

  19. Mareks Vilkins says:


    for now, Green and the park service are still sticking with the wait-and-see program that Peterson, in uncharacteristically hot phrasing, derided to Nature as “dithering – we have science coming out our ears and it wasn’t enough to carry the day against an entrenched bureaucracy with a culture of non-intervention.”

    Some … draw a distinction – which I confess I have more trouble grasping – between restoring wolves to Yellowstone as a remedy for human overreaching, and restoring them to Isle Royale, where the entire history of wolves carries human fingerprints.

    Infection with canine parvovirus from park visitors who brought their damned dogs ashore is just one example. The dwindling frequency of ice bridges in an era of warming climate is another.

    And let’s remember, too, that no less an advocate of the Wilderness Act than Aldo Leopold – a Yale-trained forester and pioneering ecologist – was arguing for importing wolves to Isle Royale as a check on the moose and savior of the fir forest even as the first arrivals, some of them in cages, made the whole matter moot.

    • Ida Lupine says:


      “Some people love hearing a wolf how in the wilderness; others say ‘if you put the wolf out there, I’m not as thrilled about hearing it.’ ”

      I have to say, that last bit disappoints me, because if ever there was a resource-management issue on which the tourists don’t deserve a vote, this is it.

      It disappoints me too! This is what annoys me about ‘science isn’t the only factor in considering whether to intervene or not We don’t have the right to decide which animals we want to hear and which we do not. I don’t like being in overcrowded venues full of loud harsh and ill-mannered human voices either – but then I do like music. And it is so very disingenuous because we intervene in everything wildlife related for our own selfish needs, constantly and since forever.

  20. Mareks Vilkins says:

    Q: how much ‘new blood’ would be required for healthy wolf population on Isle Royale?

    and the main scientific purpose of IR study has been the prey-predator dynamics/interaction, not ‘genetic bottleneck’.

  21. Mareks Vilkins says:

    just think – no cattle to worry about, no hunter expectations / ‘perception’ hurt (about decimated ungulate herds) … still the same neurotical message coming from officialdom – no wolves no wolves no wolves damn genetic bottlenecks everywhere, man! never again.

    it seems only anti-wolf neurotics can apply for wildlife senior management positions.

    purely hysterical stuff

  22. Mareks Vilkins says:

    then and now trap few wolves and send them to IR (after those last 3 will die in near future) – that’s all it would take for IR wolves to linger on

    would Mollie Beattie drag her feet as Green does?

    it seems YNP (non-harvested wolf population in NP) and IR (non-harvested wolf population on IR) is too much to ask – therefore pro-establishment wildlife biologists tend to dismiss IR and the killing of radio-collared YNP wolves. Population matters;individuals – don’t.

  23. Immer Treue says:

    And now that all the experts and non-experts have weighed in, my question is, what happens when the over browsing leading to mass starvation of moose comes about?

    Certainly there will be hand wringing from many different points of view as moose starvation begins.

    Park Superintendent Phylis Green’s comment,

    ““Some people love hearing a wolf how in the wilderness; others say ‘if you put the wolf out there, I’m not as thrilled about hearing it.’ ”

    Is perhaps one of the more ridiculous comments I have read/heard on this issue. Though not a betting person, I’d wager a large sum that more folks visit Isle Royale for that rare chance to experience wolves, than does fear of wolves keep those people away.

    I wonder if there will continue to be a fascination to visit Isle Royale when the stench of rotting moose carcasses becomes more common.

    I have voiced my opinions on this issue in the past. My question now that Isle Royale wolves seem to have every card in the deck stacked against then is, is it really non-intervention when the outcome is all but guaranteed?

    • Mareks Vilkins says:

      wolves cannot ‘overeat themselves to death’ but ungulates (moose) can ‘overbrowse themselves to death’ and usually do, just give’em time

      • Immer Treue says:

        All variables included, wolves will also starve from lack of food. With MN deer population down, and a relatively mild Winter, I’m sure many wolves did not survive due to starvation.

        That said, all factors known,one might predict a large surge in livestock depredation.

        • Mareks Vilkins says:


          yes, both species members can die of starvation – but wolves don’t die because they had killed every calf / fawn etc. as their success rate is ~15% + their pressure on ungulate /prey species are controlled by the size of their territories

          In brief, wolves are self-regulating/limiting species but the ungulates – ain’t. Therefore, wolves cannot ‘overeat themselves to death’ but ungulates (moose) can ‘overbrowse themselves to death’.


          “Wolves will kill for more space, new USU study finds”

          The study followed 280 collared wolves in northern Yellowstone for 13 years. “This study produced a generally novel result because the conventional thinking is that large carnivores are limited by the abundance of prey in a given area,” MacNulty said. “But what these wolves are ultimately limited by is the amount of space they have to raise their pups in safety.”

          Wolves killing wolves is their No. 1 cause of death in Yellowstone and MacNulty said the research showed that adult survival rates dropped below 70 percent if there were greater than 65 wolves per 1,000 square kilometers.

          For those concerned about wolf populations, even when you have super abundant prey like in Yellowstone, there are limits to wolf population growth. There is an intrinsic limit to the number of wolves that occupy a given space,” MacNulty said, adding that because rival packs will attack and kill rival wolf pups, their numbers are self-limiting. “What this paper does say is, though there is this notion that wolves will increase like a locust without any sort of natural limit, that idea is not supported by the data,” he said.

          the rivalry among wolf families ramps up despite ample food when they are packed in too closely to one another. “One of the things everyone needs to realize is that these wolf packs are not random collections of individuals.
          More wolves meant more fighting and killing. As a result, survival rates declined as wolf density increased.”

          • Ida Lupine says:

            Mother Nature’s plan and works beautifully. It’s all designed for the strongest and fittest to survive – whether wolf or bison or elk. It isn’t easy for a wolf to take down a healthy animal, so there are a lot of limiting factors.

    • Ida Lupine says:

      Yes, and I don’t think others should have the right to decide for/deprive those people who do want to hear a wolf howl. In our modern world, the opportunity has become less and less, and replaced with noise. I sometimes think it’s more important for me to hear a wolf howl than to see one.

      But I full expect someone to announce that human hunters will take care of ‘the moose problem’.


April 2015


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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