New wolves to be released at Isle Royale National Park

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
More wolves to be introduced before winter.

Isle Royale National Park will soon be home to at least a half-dozen new wolves, a move National Park Service officials say is aimed at rebuilding the depleted wolf population there and balancing its ecosystem.

The National Park Service on Friday announced the first phase of its plans for how it will introduce 20-30 gray timber wolves at Isle Royale National Park over three years. 

The first phase of the plan includes introducing six to eight wolves this season trapped and relocated from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Grand Portage area of Minnesota and Ontario.

"While six wolves for this first phase may not be as many as people expected this year, we appreciate the multi-agency, science-based plan that we know to be thorough and diligent," said Lynn McClure, senior regional director for National Parks Conservation Association. "And we support their efforts to ensure a success for the island, it’s ecosystem, the wildlife and all who visit this national park."

The island, surrounded by Lake Superior, has been introducing wolves since the late 1940s. Inbreeding, disease and accidental deaths caused a sharp drop-off of wolves in recent years, leading the park service to plan a rescue as a warming climate prevented the formation of winter ice bridges that previously enabled natural migration to the island. Only two wolves remain.

Officials say without wolves, the island’s moose population will continue to grow, threatening the long-term health of the island ecosystem. The efforts, they said, help ensure neither species will disappear from the park.

The operation will involve about 30 scientists, pilots and technicians from federal, state and tribal agencies. They will select healthy, genetically diverse wolves, prepare them for the journey and transporting them safely to the park, which lies about 14 miles off the Minnesota coast and 60 miles from the Upper Peninsula.

Mainland wolves will be caught in leg traps, anesthetized and examined for suitability. Preferred are those aged 1 to 5 years – ideal for reproduction – with clear eyes and strong canine teeth needed for killing and eating moose, said Mark Romanski, the park’s natural resources chief.

Park service veterinarian Michelle Verant will conduct tests to make sure a candidate is free of diseases that could lower survival prospects and infect the island’s population.

Isle Royale has no airport, so the wolves will be flown aboard floatplanes that can land on the water and taxi to shoreline docks. In some cases, boats may be needed to get them from aircraft to land.

The wolves will be placed in different sections of the park, which is 45 miles long and includes one large island and hundreds of smaller ones. The animals will be fitted with radio collars, enabling scientists to trace their movements, life spans, pack formation and success with hunting and mating.

On average, adult wolves are five to six feet in length, with females weighing 50-85 pounds and males weighing 70-110 pounds.

“We look forward to witnessing this unfold, following along as the wolves make the island their new home. We are proud to be part of the vision for a healthy island ecosystem," said McClure. 

Associated Press contributed

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