NPS getting closer to reintroducing wolves on Isle Royale

Although it’s not quite a done deal, it appears the National Park Service is on the cusp of finalizing a plan that would see 20 to 30 gray wolves relocated to Isle Royale National Park, bolstering a population that has dwindled down to two, believed to be a father and daughter.

NPS officials will make the final decision in the next month, during which time the public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposal.

Wolves have been the apex predator on the remote island since crossing an ice bridge from the mainland in the 1940s. And over the years, they have, among other things, helped keep the number of moose in check.

And, indeed, wolf numbers averaged in the low- to mid-20s, divided into several packs, before going into a deep and apparently irreversible slump, The Associated Press reported recently.

The number of gray wolves on Isle Royale has decreased, many scientists believe, due to global warming that produces fewer ice bridges from which new genetic material can be obtained.

One unintended consequence of the reduced number of wolves has been an explosion in the number of moose, whose numbers have topped 1,600. The long-legged animals have overbrowsed fir trees and other vegetation on the island, creating the possibility of mass die-offs due to starvation in future years.

As it became evident that the wolves wouldn’t recover on their own, scientists and advocates have debated whether people should intervene or let nature take its course, the latter being standard policy in federal wilderness areas.

AP reported that in an environmental impact statement released Friday, the wolf restoration price was estimated at nearly $2 million over 20 years.

The park service received nearly 5,000 comments on its draft plan released in December 2016. It offered several options that also included taking a smaller number of wolves — perhaps 15 — to the park in the short term and adding more over a 20-year period, or doing nothing immediately while keeping the door open to adding wolves later. Or simply letting them die off, said AP.

We’ve used this space previously to opine that the wolves should be replenished. We still feel that way.

While we fully understand and are sensitive to the view that nature should just be allowed to take its course, we believe that giving nature a helping hand to restore balance is appropriate, given what the park has become and what it means to not only nature and scientists but casual visitors, too.