Should a moose hunt be allowed on Isle Royale National Park? Some Michigan lawmakers think so
Jan 19, 2020 05:19AM
By Lauren Gibbons from mlive.com - January 18, 2020
In one of Michigan’s most remote locations, a steadily increasing moose population is putting extra pressure on the trees that make up the bulk of their diet - and some lawmakers think a lottery hunt could help bring balance to the ecosystem.
The House Natural Resources Committee heard testimony Tuesday on a resolution supporting a limited moose hunt on Isle Royale National Park, and are expected to vote on it at their next meeting.
The park - a 206-square-mile archipelago in Lake Superior located about 60 miles from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula - is Michigan’s largest wilderness area and is home to carefully-tracked populations of wolves and moose. The last published estimates showed more than 2,000 moose on Isle Royale, up from an estimated 1,500 moose in 2018.
The National Park Service is in the midst of a multiyear effort to relocate up to 30 wolves to the island to restore the island’s historic population levels. The wolves are the primary predator of the moose, but the population dropped to as low as two in recent years due to inbreeding, disease and other issues.
Researchers say the new wolves are quickly adapting to killing the moose. But supporters of the House resolution are concerned the wolves won’t be able to cull the moose population fast enough to protect Isle Royale’s balsam fir trees, which make up a large portion of the moose diet and are being impacted by over-browsing.
“You can continue to establish that wolf pack, but why not do a moose hunt in the meantime to help cull the herd down to help manage that population, so you don’t destroy the vegetation on the island,” said Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, who originally introduced the resolution in September with bipartisan support.
Other sponsors include state Reps. Gregory Markkanen, R-Houghton; David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids; and John Chirkun, D-Roseville.
Because Isle Royale is under the National Park Service’s jurisdiction, a hunt at the park would require federal approval. A 2018 NPS report on the subject dismissed the idea of moose hunts or a managed culling of the population, noting logistical difficulties and potential impacts to Isle Royale’s wilderness.
No motor vehicles are allowed on Isle Royale, and the park is only accessible by boat or seaplane, which could make it tough to track moose or successfully transport moose meat out of the park.
Johnson said he thinks hunters are up for the challenge, adding the prospect could be a financial boon for the park and the state: “When you have prime wilderness hunting location with abundant wildlife opportunity, hunters find the way to get there - they find a way to get their meat out,” he said.
Sarah Hoy, a research assistant professor at Michigan Tech University, is one of the leads on an annual study of moose-wolf relations at the park each year. She said the new wolves haven’t been on Isle Royale for long, so it’s hard to know what their long-term impact on the moose population will be yet.
Researchers will be back at the park soon to get the latest estimates of the populations. Hoy noted about 60 moose were confirmed killed by wolves in sites searched before October 2019.
The moose population also faced tough conditions in 2019 due to a late spring and deep, compacted snow that made it difficult to access food sources, Hoy said.
“It’s likely that the survival in moose is lower this year, just because of that hard winter they experienced,” she said. “I’m expecting growth of the population has slowed."
The House resolution has support from the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. The group’s executive director, Amy Trotter, said implementing a regulated system could allow interested hunters to take part in helping balance the ecosystem while having a great recreational opportunity.
The Michigan Environmental Council and the Michigan Sierra Club opposed the resolution.
If it’s passed, copies of the resolution would be forwarded to the director of the National Parks Service, members of Michigan’s congressional delegation, the director of the Department of Natural Resources and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
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