By John Myers
Six wolves from Ontario’s Michipicoten Island in Lake Superior will be moved to Isle Royale in coming days thanks to a grant intended to “shutdown proof” the National Park Service effort from future federal budget woes.
The $50,000 grant from the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation allowed wildlife agencies from both sides of the border to make plans in recent weeks for the wolf relocation which could happen as soon as there are four straight days of stable, calm weather forecast.
The wolves will join three Minnesota wolves brought to the island last fall, all aimed at replenishing the island’s beleaguered native wolf population that had dwindled to just two animals, a male and female unable to successfully mate due to inbreeding and genetic deformities.
The relocations are aimed at restoring some sense of predator-prey balance on the island which has about 2,000 moose with no other predators. The project was opposed by some critics who wanted to let nature take its course even if it meant having no predators on the island.
The grant also will pay for ongoing monitoring of the new wolves even if another shutdown occurs. The government appears to be funded through Feb. 15 but future funding remains in limbo over disagreements between President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress.
The foundation also has made another $55,000 available to the Interior Department, which oversees the National Park Service, to cover any Park Service costs for the ongoing island research by Michigan Technological University researchers every winter since 1959. That effort appeared doomed for this winter when the National Park Service said the island would be off-limits during the shutdown.
It appeared the shutdown would scuttle this year’s research, but Rolf Peterson, who has headed the project for decades, said Monday that the field team is making plans to go to the island within the next week.
“We still have time to salvage this year. February is the most important month for us,” Peterson told the News Tribune. “And the foundation hopes to have the money available so that if another shutdown happens, we can stay out there and finish the work.”
Sona Mehring, chairman of the foundation, said they are “working directly with Michigan Tech and Department of Interior to ensure” the winter wolf-moose research “can move forward regardless of any additional shutdowns that threaten to interrupt the study.”
The annual research project is the longest-running predator-prey study in the world. The research is considered especially important this winter, just months after several Minnesota wolves were moved to the island to bolster the beleaguered island wolves that were down to two animals unable to successfully mate.
The 45-mile-long, 143,000-acre Isle Royale archipelago is about 14 miles off Minnesota’s North Shore. It’s mostly dedicated as federal wilderness.
Wolves are relatively new to the island, having crossed the ice in the 1940s. Their numbers reached a high of 50 in 1980. Wolf numbers on the island crashed from 24 as recently as 2009 to just a 7-year-old female and 9-year-old male. Moose came to the island much earlier in the 1900s, peaking at 2,445 in 1995 and hitting bottom at just 385 in 2007. In their annual survey last winter, scientists estimated the moose herd had grown to about 1,600 on the island.
Michipicoten Island has ample wolves that crossed over ice in recent years to feed on the island’s caribou herd. The wolves decimated caribou there and now have little to eat until another ice bridge forms to get back to the mainland.
The National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preservation of the natural resources and unique cultural heritage of Lake Superior’s five U.S. National Parks — Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Grand Portage National Monument, Isle Royale National Park, Keweenaw National Historic Park and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.