Import wolves to Michigan’s Isle Royale ‘as soon as possible,’ says biologist
HOUGHTON, MI — As the National Park Service mulls what, if anything, should be done to save the meager wolf population on Isle Royale, a leading environmental science researcher says the best way to tame the exploding moose population and protect island vegetation is to begin importing wolves.
Only three wolves remain on the Lake Superior island park and experts say those animals are inbred and weak. Without intervention, the island’s native population wolf may go extinct. The moose population, on the other hand, is estimated to be about 1,250 and climbing.
“It’s important that action be taken sooner rather than later,” said John Vucetich, a Michigan Tech University biologist who studies the wildlife of Isle Royale, an island covering 206 square miles in the northwest portion of Lake Superior.
Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow are trying tospeed things up by urging the park service to complete a management plan to save the wolves by next July, a deadline that’s unlikely to be met.
The senator is “concerned because researchers have said it’s possible the wolves won’t survive the next couple of winters,” said Allison Green, Peters’ press secretary.
In August, Isle Royale Superintendent Phyllis Green told Michigan Radio that an environmental impact study on the problem could be finished by 2017, a timeframe she characterized as swifter than usual. The Park Service has indicated it doesn’t plan to import new wolves in the immediate future.
Vucetich thinks the impact study process should have begun years ago.
“The park took about four years to decide if they would embark on the decision-making process that would take another two years, at least,” he said.
During that time, three wolves on the island fell into an old 19th century Pittsburgh and Isle Royale Co. mine pit and drowned in 2012. Three wolves might not seem like many, but they represented about a 25 percent population loss for the island, said Vucetich.