Coldest winter in decades could help Isle Royale wolves

In this Feb. 10, 2006, file photo provided by Michigan Technological University, a pack of gray wolves is shown on Isle Royale National Park in northern Michigan. AP Photo/Michigan Technological University, John Vucetich

For the first time since 2008 an ice bridge has formed across Lake Superior and is connecting Isle Royale to the mainland — a possible godsend for the wolves of Isle Royale, which face the possibility of extinction.

“Ice bridges are important because they represent the possibility that a wolf can migrate from Canada and infuse the population with new genetic material – this appears vital for the population’s vitality,” writes Isle Royale researcher Rolf Peterson.

Lake Superior ice thickness as forecast by NOAA’s Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting System.

The population has dwindled in recent years and is desperately in need of new genetic material from mainland wolves that can now migrate across Lake Superior to the island from Canada. Peterson confirmed to Michigan Radio that “a good ice bridge” has been in place since the beginning of February.

If climate projections are accurate, only one or two more ice bridges are likely before the lake is expected to be perpetually free of any significant ice formation by 2040. (National Park Service Wolf and Moose Project)

The odds appear stacked against the island’s wolves, but news of the ice bridge follows another hopeful sign for the population. Late last summer researchers discovered new pups on the island.

There is a debate underway if human intervention is necessary or wise to save the Isle Royal wolves. You can explore the three main arguments and have your say here.