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MI: Wolves to return to Isle Royale this fall

National Park Service lays out a plan to trap six to eight animals in Minnesota and Michigan.

By Josephine Marcotty
Star Tribune

Six to eight wolves will be trapped in Minnesota and Michigan and flown to Isle Royale this fall, as part of a grand natural experiment in returning the top predators to the wilderness island in Lake Superior.

Four will be trapped on the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa reservation in northeast Minnesota, and two others will come from Michigan, Park Service officials said Friday as they detailed the first phase of an effort to re-establish wolves as means to control the rising number of moose on the island.

If they succeed, it opens the next chapter in the long and fascsinating saga of wolves and moose on Isle Royale that’s been documented for decades by research scientsts from Michigan Technological University.

The first pair of wolves first arrived on the island in the 1950s, most likely across an ice bridge that formed from the mainland. Their population peaked in the late 1970s at about 50, but inbreeding, diseasea and accidents have gradually reduced their number down to the two that are left today—a father and daughter who both share the same mother.

The number of moose, however, is rising — threatening the firs and aquatic vegetation with overeating.

Five years ago the Park Service began an environmental review to decide whether to artificially bring wolves to the island. In the past, the animals arrived there by crossing the ice bridges that formed from the mainland in winter. But warming temperatures due to climate change have greatly reduced their frequency,

Now the long-term goal is to bring in 20 to 30 wolves over the next five years. After bringing in the first batch from Grand Portage Chippewa land and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, sometime this winter wildlife officials will also try to capture a few more from Ontario, Canada, if the local government agrees.

All the new wolves will be collared in an effort to learn more about their survival, mating and predation patterns, Park Service officials said.

It’s the first time the Park Service has moved to pre-empt natural dynamics in order to reset the ecological equilibrium in a wilderness area, which by federal designation is to be left largely untouched by human hands.