Decision to restore wolves on Isle Royale makes sense

For some in the Upper Peninsula, more wolves are never the right answer.

Yet the recent announcement by the National Park Service that it will help restore gray wolves on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale National Park merits support even from staunch opponents of this predator.

Wolves had crossed frozen Lake Superior into Isle Royale in the 1940s, thriving once there on the already resident moose as a ready food source. At their peak, the wolves had several packs on the island and as many as 50 individuals by the early 1980s, according to the park service.

But the Isle Royale wolf population since have sharply declined due to disease and inbreeding from no new introductions from the U.S. or Canada, researchers said. Only two wolves have been found on the island in recent years, a male and his daughter that are too closely related to mate.

Isle Royale moose numbers, not surprisingly, have soared with the lack of predators, reaching nearly 1,500, hundreds more than normal, according to Michigan Technological University studies. That number likely will grow with nothing to check the population, they added, leading to too many moose in limited space that will strip the island’s trees and shrubs, perhaps to the point the animals begin to starve.

Isle Royale is too remote to make a moose hunt by humans feasible. So the Parks Service’s plan to transplant 20 to 30 wolves to the island within the next several years makes sense.

The agency did consider several alternatives, including letting nature take its course or restoring the wolves over 20 years, before settling on a plan to transport several dozen wolves to the park over the next five years.

Six to 10 new wolves could be added to the island in the first year, starting this fall, the Parks Service stated.

Yes, the relocation could cost $660,000, according to an environmental impact study. Monitoring and other measures are expected to bring that price to about $2 million over 20 years, the parks service acknowledged.

The alternatives, however, seem more harsh — the island’s habitat and vegetation deteriorate, a fair number of moose die.

Better to enlist the wolves to again restore the balance in this confined Lake Superior ecosystem.

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