The Park Service Mulls a Decision About Michigan's Isle Royale

Photograph by John Vucetich

The Park Service Mulls a Decision About Michigan's Isle Royale

Wolves in one national park may go extinct without government intervention.

By Susan Cosier
Published: September-October 2013

In the middle of Lake Superior, an ever-smaller pack of wolves hunts a swelling moose population on Isle Royale National Park. The island's predator-prey relationship, one of the most studied in the country, is dangerously close to flickering out. For the first time in four decades researchers failed to find a single wolf pup last summer, and, thanks in part to warmer winters and less lake ice, it's extremely unlikely that any new wolves will find their own way to the island from the mainland. This fall the National Park Service will decide whether to introduce new wolves to Isle Royale, now or after the last individual dies, or let the population go extinct--perhaps marking the first time the agency will make a decision directly related to climate change. Some, like wildlife ecologist Rolf Peterson, who has been studying Isle Royale for 43 years, favor preserving the population. He explains that other species, including foxes, beavers, ravens, and snowshoe hares, would benefit, and believes that letting the wolves die out would be "ill-advised." As climate change rolls on relentlessly, every national park will be affected, and managers will face no shortage of tough decisions. Few of the parks, however, will offer the relatively straightforward choice available on Isle Royale.

This story originally ran in the September-October 2013 issue as "A Shot in the Park."

Magazine Category

Author Profile

Susan Cosier

Susan Cosier is former senior editor at Audubon magazine. Follow her on Twitter @susancosier.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

Comments

Letting any species go

Letting any species go extinct is never a good idea. It is up to us to protect where we can. It's probably a good thing the animals aren't in charge they might decide to do away with us.

I am a little confused one of

I am a little confused one of your issues you say how the moose population is dropping at on uncomfortable rate, in another issue you say that there are so many moose and they are threatening the habitat of other animals. Now which is it, I realize the dangers are in two different localities, but some of the facts need to be checked out a little more, don't you think? If the herd is getting smaller in New England because of the ticks, and the warmer climate, can you blame the greater herds in Michigan on a warmer climate too? I think it is to easy to blame all on the climate change. I think a lot of the changes are how humans are impinging on the enviornmnent.

It is odd that the moose

It is odd that the moose population of Isle Royale, the main food source for wolves there, is not mentioned at all. I'm all for a continued wolf presence on the island, but with the moose population on the island growing out of control - count 750 last year, about a thousand this year - it is time to admit the reality that wolves will not control their numbers, as they did not the last time the moose numbers boomed exponentially to over 2500 and virtually destroyed their food supply and much of the vegetation of the Isle Royale, then crashed due to starvation to recover only along with the island.

In a few years the question will be whether to allow the moose to trash the National Park's wildlife habitat and starve themselves again, or allow human hunters to cull the moose herd's numbers and try to maintain a reasonable population, as is done for elk in the Rocky Mountain National Park and international biosphere reserve.

It is odd that the moose

It is odd that the moose population of Isle Royale, the main food source for wolves there, is not mentioned at all. I'm all for a continued wolf presence on the island, but with the moose population on the island growing out of control - count 750 last year, about a thousand this year - it is time to admit the reality that wolves will not control their numbers, as they did not the last time the moose numbers boomed exponentially to over 2500 and virtually destroyed their food supply and much of the vegetation of the Isle Royale, then crashed due to starvation to recover only along with the island.

In a few years the question will be whether to allow the moose to trash the National Park's wildlife habitat and starve themselves again, or allow human hunters to cull the moose herd's numbers and try to maintain a reasonable population, as is done for elk in the Rocky Mountain National Park and international biosphere reserve. There will not be enough wolves from any attempt to replenish the population in time in any case.

As most threatened animals

As most threatened animals and environments are in their perilous state because of us we owe it to them to do all in our power to protect them. Without top predators the populations of their prey species often get out of control and cause major environmental damage and whilst a new equilibrium may be established in decades to come it is likely to be a poorer environment with much less diversity.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.