HOUGHTON - New genetic studies have detected more female gray wolves at Isle Royale National Park, boosting hopes the island's population is farther away from possible extinction than previously thought.
"We are still a ways off from making any decisions about the future management of wolves on the island, but these results are very encouraging," said Isle Royale National Park Chief of Natural Resources Paul Brown.
National Park Service officials at Isle Royale said the topic of the park's wolf population has been the subject of considerable debate over the past year. The park consists of one large island surrounded by more than 450 smaller islands; it encompasses a total area of 850 square miles including submerged land, which extends 4.5 miles out into Lake Superior, northwest of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Gray wolves are shown resting after a meal on Isle Royale in this 2001 file photo. (AP?photo)
"In early 2012, observations from long-running research by Michigan Technological University suggested there was only one female wolf left on the island, raising the question of how soon wolves might go extinct on Isle Royale," park officials said in a recent news release. "The need to further understand the population issue led to genetic analysis to decipher the number and sex of individuals in the actual population."
The previous research drawing the conclusion a lone female wolf remained on the island did not have the benefit of genetic study to reach that deduction, park officials said.
Genetic analysis was conducted, funded mostly by the National Park Service, but contributions were also made by wolf researcher L.D. Mech and contributors to an Internet funding initiative.
"The results from the genetic analysis, as well as field observations, suggest that not one, but four and possibly five, females were present in February 2012, including some that had been born the previous April," park officials said.
Researchers are currently updating information on Isle Royale wolf population trends, with winter wolf studies under way.
"Genetic considerations and tools, like those used to estimate sex ratio, continue to yield considerable insights about this population's status," said John Vucetich, the lead Michigan Tech wolf researcher at Isle Royale.
Brown said officials remain concerned about the overall long-term health of the wolf population on the island and the new genetic information "paints a very different picture than what we thought last year."
"The results of this year's winter study will be factored in with the genetics information during our ongoing review of the situation," Brown said.
Meanwhile, a national team assembled by the park superintendent at Isle Royale is reviewing climate change scenarios and a series of potential effects on several species on the island, including wolves.
To follow the progress of the study, visit the park's website at: www.nps.gov/isro.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.