Paul Brown, Chief of Natural Resources for Isle Royale National Park, and the Isle Royale National Park service is spending the next two weeks speaking to the public about the status of Isle Royale wolves. He said it is believed that the first wolf made its way to the island by an ice bridge from Canada in 1949. Though the wolves thrived at various points over the last 64 years, there are currently only 10 or 11.
â??Anything that is on an island has a chance of being eliminated from that island, and the larger the population of animals, the more stable it is,â?? said Brown.
Michigan Technological University has been studying the wolf population on Isle Royale for over 50 years. Many biologists are concerned about the low numbers because wolves play a vital role in the ecosystem as the primary predator to the Isle Royale moose, which is believed to have traveled to the island via an ice bridge in 1908.
â??They are also a secondary predator of beaver, so theyâ??re directly related to that,â?? Brown explained. â??Fox and raven are known to use wolf kills for food sources, so thereâ??s a lot of overlapping use that the other animals on the island are provided by the actions of the wolves.â??
Climate change factors into the ecosystem as well. Brown said with projections of a warmer, drier climate in the future, the moose population could be hit hard. He said some Isle Royale flora eaten by moose could be eliminated in a warmer climate, thus affecting their diet.
He said it also would mean warmer water temperatures and less chance of stable ice bridges.
â??Itâ??s not only the thickness of the ice and the extent of it from the island all the way to Canada, but itâ??s also how long it persists,â?? he added. â??So, if it lasts for just a day, thatâ??s really not that feasible for the animals to get out there.â??
Right now, three different management strategies are being proposed for consideration and public input: a hands-off approach, reintroducing wolves with a new genetic stock if the current wolves do disappear, or augmenting the current population by introducing new wolves to the park.
He said because the island is a federally designated wilderness, park staff maintains a hands-off approach unless an action meets two specific qualifications: the action must be deemed necessary, and the â??most minimumâ?? technique must be used to apply said action.
â??There are a lot of different organisms out there that are going to be affected in the next few decades because of human-induced changes, and we want to be able to make sure that we can provide the best possible ecosystem for people to enjoy the island in the future,â?? Brown said.
Brown said currently there is no specified timeline of when the park service wants to have a plan in place or take any actions. The park service is spending time gathering public input on the matter.
The next presentation will be in Chelsea, Michigan on November 14. Two other presentations will be made in St. Paul, Minnesota, November 19 and Duluth on November 20.