FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves

A controversy has split conservationists over how much influence humans should have on the wilderness of Isle Royale. The debate revolves around wolves and moose.

The National Park Service has announced it plans to translocated 20-30 wolves to the island. On the surface this might appear to be something that wolf lover, and ecologist such as myself might support, however, I believe this is a mistake.

The Isle Royale was originally wolfless, but around 1948-50 wolves crossed to the island over ice. The wolf population grew to 50 individuals and then fluctuated for many years around 25 animals.

But genetic inbreeding is thought to have reduced the overall fitness of the wolves, and the island’s wolves have been in decline for years. Some fear without a “transplant” of new wolves, the wolf lineage on the island will disappear. Others, including Wilderness Watch, believe that reintroduction of wolves to the Isle Royale Wilderness is inappropriate and needless meddling in a wilderness ecosystem.

Michigan’s Isle Royale is a national park, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a 132,018-acre wilderness protected under the 1964 Wilderness Act. The park is one of the more remote wilderness areas in the lower 48 states. Lying in Lake Superior off the “coast” of Ontario, Canada, the park contains the main island, which is 45 miles long, as well as 450 smaller islands that comprise the archipelago. The island can only be reached in the summer months, and then only by boat or float plane.

Beginning in 1958 researchers began to study the moose-wolf dynamic. The study, which has continued to this day, is the longest running predator-prey study in the world and has provided immense insights into ecological relationships.

The island wilderness has a number of attributes that make this a unique place to study such predator-prey interactions. First, the wolves are the only predator on the island large enough to prey on moose. And moose are essentially the only prey for wolves. In addition, since this is a national park, there is no hunting or trapping of wolves. Finally, because of the island’s distance from the mainland, emigration of moose or wolves is rare.

Due to inbreeding, the remaining one to two wolves, closely related, and likely suffering from genetic inbreeding are in decline. Some wolf advocates recommend “genetic rescuing” the wolves with transplants.

Part of the justification for transplants is that without the presence of a significant predator, the island’s moose population is growing by 20% a year. Some fear the moose will over browse (which is a human judgment value, not an ecological value) the island, “harming” the vegetation and ultimately the moose numbers will crash. Another consequence of declining wolf predation has been an increase in beaver from 100 to 300 animals.

The National Park Service is poised to transplant wolves to the Island. Wilderness Watch believes this is interfering with a natural scientific experiment, which is one of the primary purposes of Wilderness.

The wolf-moose research that has occurred on Isle Royale has provided many insights into predator-prey relationships.  What happens when you no longer have a major predator?  This is just as interesting a question as looking at what happens with a predator. Keep in mind that moose existed on the island for as much as 4-5 decades without wolves.  Now we can study what happens without wolves. How do moose affect the vegetation? What happens to the moose genetics over time?  Not to mention, there is always the chance that wolves will cross the ice and recolonize the island at some future date.  So, the scientific research can and will continue.

Ultimately the essence of the 1964 Wilderness Act is that we minimize the human influence upon the land and allow the land to be “self-willed.”  We have as much to learn from a wolf-less Isle Royale as we have learned due to the presence of wolves.

And perhaps the biggest lesson we can learn is restraint and humility. Who is to say that Isle Royale is “better” with wolves? Are we willing to allow nature to operate without our continued manipulation and management? At least for me, as much as I am a wolf advocate, I want to see what happens without human interference. I want my wilderness to be “wild” not an artifact of human manipulation.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail