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Wintry Weather Ends This Fall's Isle Royale Wolf Recovery Effort

Oct 13, 2018 06:08AM ● By Editor
This fall's efforts to relocate up to six wolves to Isle Royale National Park have ended due to deteriorating weather conditions.  Photo:  National Park Service 

From National Parks Traveler - October 12, 2018

A wet, cold preview of winter has brought an end to this year's wolf recovery efforts at Isle Royale National Park, where four wolves have been relocated this fall.

Though the original goal called for two additional wolves from Michigan to be relocated to the island park in Lake Superior this year, cold weather, extensive rain, and snow showers made it necessary to end trapping efforts.                                                                    

“Animal welfare is the primary concern,” said Isle Royale Superintendent Phyllis Green. “The continued cold weather, which created safety issues for trapping, and high winds and waves in the marine forecast which created additional issues for transportation, led to the decision to end this phase of the project a little early. The park and its partners in this project are already looking at the next phases of the translocation process, which may include relocating wolves from Canada this winter.” 

Chronic inbreeding has impacted the health of the island's wolf population in recent years. 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.

The three- to five-year effort approved earlier this year calls for up to 30 wolves of a certain age range evenly split between males and females to be relocated to the isolated island park.  Researchers recommend translocating this number of wolves to establish adequate genetic variability and to help accomplish the overall goal of restoring predation as a key part of the island ecosystem. The goal for the first phase of this multi-year project was to translocate up to six wolves from the Minnesota and Michigan mainland to the park this fall. 

The fall operation ended with four wolves relocated to the park: one male and three females. Their addition brings the island wolf population to six, which includes two animals on the island from a remnant population.  An additional four animals could be brought to the island this winter from Canada. 

“All of the wolves are moving about and exploring the island, as evidenced by GPS collar data," said Isle Royale National Natural Resources Chief Mark Romanski.  "We will continue monitoring their movements to determine if they form any new packs.” 

Sixteen different wolves were captured on the Grand Portage Chippewa reservation during the trapping cycle. Seven of those wolves were collared and released either on Isle Royale or at the site of capture. Young wolves were ear tagged and released. Collaring and ear tagging contribute to the Grand Portage Band’s on-going monitoring program.  Ear tags have been invaluable in determining age of wolves for the Isle Royale project and in population estimates on the mainland.  

One of those wolves captured, a female, died after being trapped and sedated.

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