Jess Edberg, information services director — International Wolf Center
The 2011-12 annual report on the wolves and moose of Isle Royale “Ecological Studies of Wolves on Isle Royale” is available and reveals the lowest documented population of wolves since monitoring began in the late 1950s.
This low wolf count raises concerns about the future of wolves on the island. Researchers Rolf Peterson, John Vucetich and Michael P. Nelson have provided insight into what the loss of wolves on the island may mean to humans in a paper to be published in The George Wright Forum this month titled “Managing wolves on Isle Royale: What should be done if an icon of wilderness culture dies out?”
Although the biological consequences of losing wolves on Isle Royale will significantly change the ecological dynamic of the wolf/moose study, the human response to this loss may prove to be just as dynamic and influential on its future. In the article, Peterson, Vucetich and Nelson conclude that:
“Should the wolves of Isle Royale go extinct, human response involves five principal values: nonintervention, wilderness character, ecosystem health, science, and education. Failing to reintroduce wolves would:
• dismiss the value of science and education by resulting in the end of a long-term research project that is globally significant, unique, and irreplaceable.
• more likely denigrate the value of nonintervention because this value is contingent on humans not having impaired the wolf population’s viability or the chances for subsequent recolonization; human activities have impaired these processes.
• diminish the island’s wilderness character and ecosystem health.
For these reasons, failing to reintroduce wolves would degrade the wilderness value of Isle Royale, and wolf reintroduction is an appropriate way to honor that value. Lingering concerns about the inappropriateness of intervening in a wilderness are further mollified by the evolution of our understanding of wilderness. That is, ecosystem health may well be superseding nonintervention as the central value of wilderness (Cole and Yung 2010).”
So what is the right way to respond to the potential loss of wolves on Isle Royale?