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Wolves Moved To Isle Royale National Park Exploring The Park

Oct 02, 2018 06:16AM ● By Editor

A GPS collar helped biologists monitor the movements of a female wolf transplanted on Isle Royale National Park/NPS

By Kurt Repanshek of National Parks Traveler on October 2nd, 2018

Two wolves transplanted to Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior are getting their bearings, roaming the park's forests and feeding on moose carcasses left to orient the animals to a specific area of the park.

The two, a 4-year-old female and a 5-year-old male, were taken from different pack territories on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation in northeastern Minnesota and flown to Isle Royale last week. Since their arrival, the wolves have been seen on wildlife cameras and tracked via a GPS monitoring collar. They've moved around the island and fed on provisioned moose left for them.

The joint capture effort between the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and USDA Wildlife Services has expanded the dataset and knowledge of wolf pack activity in Minnesota and caught more wolves in the first week than expected. Their efforts have been a critical part of the success of the wolf relocation to date. 

Over the weekend, game cameras monitoring a moose carcass caught the first images of the two wolves. As part of the translocation efforts, moose carcasses were placed in specific areas on the landscape to provide initial nutrition and attract wolves to these locations while subsequent wolf translocations occur in different areas, the National Park Service said. At different times both wolves, outfitted with GPS collars, visited carcass sites.

The image above shows GPS locations for the female. She found the first carcass (green square in the map) within two hours of leaving her crate, a park release said. She remained in the vicinity of the carcass through the following morning and then moved northeastward and visited another location where the NPS stationed a moose carcass.

As of Monday afternoon, her last GPS position indicated she had moved at least 12 miles into the interior of the island. The Park Service will use GPS collar data to determine how translocated wolves form social groups and visit kill sites to understand more about predation impacts, to keep track of individual life histories, and to confirm reproduction.

The collar signals from the male have not uploaded any data, which is normal for satellite monitoring startups, the park said, but he has been seen in game cameras and is moving around the island. The capture and translocation operations will continue in Minnesota and Michigan for the next several weeks.

This male wolf was transported to Isle Royale National Park on TuesdayUSFWS

This male wolf was successfully moved to Isle Royale National Park on September 26/NPS

Another effort late last week to capture wolves for the recovery program ended in failure. While the wolf was sedated and taken to a holding facility for a more detailed exam, her condition deteriorated and she died. The wolf was transported to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Lab for necropsy and diagnostic evaluation Friday.

After that incident, biologists "adjusted the mix and timing of the sedatives used in the field and lengthened the time for the sedation to wear off before the wolf was transported to the holding facility," park spokeswoman Elizabeth Valencia said. "They also lengthened the time between the capture and release on the island to make sure there were no health issues with the wolf."

Under a plan adopted earlier this year, up to 30 wolves are to be set free at Isle Royale over the next three years under a plan the National Park Service has settled on in a bid to bring genetic diversity back to the park's few remaining wolves. This fall they hope to move six wolves to the island.

Chronic inbreeding has impacted the health of the island's wolf population. There was hope that "ice bridges" that formed between the Lake Superior island and the Canadian mainland during the winter of 2013-14 would enable wolves to arrive from Canada with new genes. But no new wolves reached the island, while one female left and was killed by a gunshot wound in February 2014 near Grand Portage National Monument.

Isle Royale wolves have been in decline for more than a decade. In recent years, park managers have discussed island and wolf management with wildlife managers and geneticists from across the United States and Canada, and have received input during public meetings and from Native American tribes of the area. Those discussions examined the question of whether wolves should be physically transported to Isle Royale, in large part due to concerns that a loss of the predators would lead to a boom in the moose population that likely would over-browse island vegetation.

Late this spring biologists said just two aging wolves remained at Isle Royale, while the park's moose population had swelled to nearly 1,500. Balsam fir forests on Isle Royale are vanishing in large part due to heavy browsing by moose, according to this year's ecological study of the two species at Isle Royale. Without intervention, the biologists who wrote the study -- Rolf O. Peterson, John A. Vucetich, and Sarah R. Hoy -- predicted the park's wolves would vanish and the island ecosystem will suffer.

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