Park service made right decision in Isle Royale wolves case

We know not everyone agrees but the decision to relocate a handful of wolves to Isle Royale National Park is the right thing to do.

It was announced last week that 20-30 new wolves would be reintroduced, perhaps as early as this fall. The species is currently on the verge of dying out on the island. The decision followed what can only be described as an exhaustive review process conducted by the National Park Service that considered a variety of options, including doing nothing at all.

The park service has traditionally taken a hands-off approach to such things. A key complicating factor in the Isle Royale decision was the fact that the lack of wolves on the island contributed to the park’s moose population becoming so abundant they overeat its trees and shrubs, damaging the environment and eventually threatening their own food supply, according to Cam Sholly, the park service’s Midwest regional director.

“This decision is an important step forward in attempting to obtain a proper predator-prey dynamic within the Isle Royale National Park ecosystem,” Sholly said for an Associated Press story on the issue.

AP reported that wolves are believed to have made their way to the park in the late 1940s by crossing an ice bridge from the Canada or Minnesota mainland, about 15 miles away. Their numbers grew as they feasted on moose, eventually forming several packs that battled each other for territory.

Their numbers peaked at 50 in the early 1980s but averaged in the 20s before falling sharply in recent years, a decline that scientists attribute to inbreeding, disease and accidental deaths. Only two remain — a closely-related male and female that are unlikely to breed.

As climate change shrinks Lake Superior’s winter ice cover, it’s considered increasingly unlikely that more wolves will reach the park on their own and refresh the gene pool, as happened previously, stated AP.

Meanwhile, the island’s moose population has ballooned to near 1,500.

The reintroduction details are still being worked out. Needless to say, though, there will be cost associated with it. And resources will be needed to monitor what’s happening on the island, going forward.

But overall, at the end of the day, we believe the benefits long term will greatly outweigh the costs. It will be money wisely invested.