Canadian wolves added to U.S. park service’s work to revive island population
After years of dramatic decline, the wolf population on Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park is finally growing, thanks to human intervention — and down the road, recently moved Canadian wolves will also help in the revival efforts… hopefully.
In late September 2018, the U.S. National Park Service began capturing and transferring wolves from the mainland to the island, which is on Lake Superior, not far from the Wilderness North headquarters in Thunder Bay, ON.
The multi-year wolf transfer will involve capturing and moving mainland wolves from Michigan and Minnesota, but Isle Royale National Park’s superintendent, Phyllis Green, says they are also be interested in moving a pack from nearby Ontario.
Phyllis Green, Isle Royale Park Manager, said capturing and moving wolves is no easy task. Her recent podcast explains more:
“It is an amazing amount of work with some really great people that understand and know wildlife needs and how … to do as safe a transport as we can,” she said. “So it has been a unique and amazing experience.”
Canadian wolves could add to genetic diversity
The hope is the new wolves will revive the park’s wolf population. It had dwindled to just two inbred animals, and was in danger of being wiped out altogether on the isolated island — the site of a long-running study on the predator-prey relationship between moose and wolves.
Captured wolves are being carefully selected for transfer, said Green, and most that have been caught have not made the cut.
The animals must not only meet an age requirement, and pass medical tests administered by wildlife veterinarians before being moved, but they must also meet “distance criteria.”
“Basically they have to be far enough away from each other that we know that they’re not part of the same pack,” said Green. She said the population on the island must have broad genetic diversity.
Although, wolves were captured in Minnesota and Michigan, she said, but they may also look north of the border down the road.
Agreements have been reached with officials of the province of Ontario about adding Canadian wolves “into the mix,” she said.
“We would welcome Canadian wolves as part of this mix on the island … because they never went through the loss of numbers towards extinction that we did in the U.S. They’ve remained a little more pure in their genetics. They have very little dog or coyote in them.
“So you have some pretty robust wolves from the Canadian side.”
In fall of 2018, one male and three female wolves were moved to the island and released in selected locations, Green said, as far as possible from the two wolves that were there before.
The male was found dead… and one of the two remaining females walked across the “ice bridge” last month thanks to the polar vortex.
The relocated wolves are collared and being tracked by radio and satellite, Green said.
The park service ultimately plans to transport 20 to 30 wolves to Isle Royale.