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What should be done about Isle Royale's wolves and moose?

John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson
Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study
The three wolves left on Isle Royale.

There are just three wolves left on Isle Royale in Lake Superior.  And researchers estimate there are 1,250 moose.  

The National Park Service is deciding whether or not to step in.

The park service is in the early stages of creating a management plan for the wolves and moose on the island.

There are six different concepts the NPS has laid out for Isle Royale. One would be to do nothing, and the other options are combinations of bringing in new wolves, moving live moose off the island or reducing the moose herd.

This spring Senator Gary Peters urged the park service to act more quickly and make a decision in a year.

We’ve known about the wolves’ decline for years now and the park service has been criticized for not acting fast enough.

Phyllis Green is the park superintendent.

“I think the concern would be if we act too soon and don’t get the results that we intend to achieve,” she says. “You only have to review the last two years, where we’ve had ice bridges to the island, to know that it’s a little more complex than what folks have been hearing.”

There were nine wolves on Isle Royale two years ago. But when an ice bridge formed, things changed. Green says one of those wolves left the island for good via the bridge.

“And we also know that two years ago we had nine wolves, and we’re down to three this year,” she says. “And we know we had a mortality on one. But five of them are no longer there, which means they either walked off on this last ice bridge or they might’ve died on the island, but normally the wolf researchers would pick up on that.”

Green says careful timing is a big component in the park service’s decision-making process.

“Timing is going to be everything, and having a real solid plan of what you want to achieve and then being able to manage it if the wolves do what wolves do on their own, I think is a pretty critical component of moving forward,” she says.

So will the management plan be completed in a year?

Green doesn’t think the park service will meet Senator Gary Peters’ proposed deadline.

“Right now our projection is that we’ll be finished with this process by 2017, so it’s more like 18 months to two years,” she says.

Green also says Environmental Impact Statements generally take between two and seven years. She says the wolf-moose decision process is on “one of the faster tracks.”

You can weigh in on what the park service should do here. The public comment period is open until August 29th.

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Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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