Should humans intervene to keep a pack of wolves on Isle Royale?

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. The wolf population on Isle Royale now down to eight individuals. (AP Photo/Michigan Technological University, John Vucetich)

The wolf population on Isle royale is down to eight individuals. For the first time in 50 years of intense study, there is no evidence of reproduction. In considering what to do next, the National Park Service is investigating three options: the first is to do nothing, let nature take its course. The wolves may or may not die out. The second option is to introduce one or more new wolves to provide fresh genetic material. The third option is to wait until the current population dies out and then introduce a new group of wolves.

MPR News reporter Stephanie Hemphill examines the main arguments:

The lead researchers in the 55-year-long study, Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich, have published an article in the op-ed page of The New York Times arguing for a swift genetic rescue. They say it is true the island is designated a wilderness, but the human footprint is now evident on Isle Royale and practically everywhere else. They say it is time to place the highest value on ecosystem’s health, even if humans need to intervene to maintain it. And they say a healthy ecosystem depends on having a top predator, such as wolves, to keep everything else in balance.

But other researchers disagree. Dave Mech, a wolf expert with the U.S. Geological Survey, said science will gain the most if we wait and see.

“If we don’t do anything now, we can do something later if it’s necessary. But if we do something now, we can never undo that,” Mech said. “We have a pure population just doing its thing. And we have 55 years of data on it; why not see what else can happen here?”

A hundred years ago, Isle Royale had a different wildlife population. It had no moose and no wolves. It was home to caribou, coyotes and lynx.

Nancy Gibson, co-founder of the International Wolf Center in Ely, said if interfering with the current wildlife population is up for discussion, broader options should be considered.

“Maybe should we reintroduce caribou? It’s also an ecosystem that doesn’t have bears,” Gibson said. “I also think it’s a little bit interesting that we’re not talking about introducing lynx back to Isle Royale. It’s a very interesting dilemma, and I think we really need to have a vigorous debate on it.”

A panel of experts will take up the question tonight at the Humphrey School in Minneapolis.

Today’s Question: Should humans intervene to keep a pack of wolves on Isle Royale?

  • Gary F

    Maybe we should re-introduce wild buffalo to southern and western Minnesota?

    • JQP

      or the epi-continental sea! imagine a balmy warm sea in Luverne!

      • Gary F

        Then we’d have to change our licence plate to….Minnesota, Land of 1 Big Lake.

  • Gayle

    If they are dying out due to natural selection, then we should not intervene. It will be interesting to see how the ecosystem and food chain on Isle Royale change in the coming years. Perhaps a new pack will naturally establish itself in the future.

  • Pearly

    Let nature take its course

  • Gayle

    We should not intervene, since we have 55 years of data it would be good to continue to monitor and learn.

    Similarly, we should not intervene in any more wars or conflicts around the world. Stop military spending and spying on the world. All I am saying is give peace a chance.

  • david

    Does anyone know when the last time an ice bridge formed to the island? 20 some years ago when I hiked the island I got interested in the subject and wondered if it would be possible to walk out there myself. I have since then never heard of the lake freezing enough to do it.

    I guess I’m inclined to at least reintroduce wolves once the current pack is gone. Since moose are all but extinct in the state I think it would be a good idea to maintain the balance on the island. Its an experience you never forget to be hiking alone down a trail and a full grown bull moose is walking towards you and you have to step off the trail at the last second to let it pass so not to get stepped on.

  • rev

    Of course we should intervene. It’s never ok to let something die off or die out.

  • Sue de Nim

    I don’t have an opinion on this particular question, but I do find one thing interesting. The economy and the ecosystem produce opposite opinions from liberals and conservatives. Liberals usually want to leave the ecosystem alone and manipulate the economy to achieve desired results; conservatives usually want to extract profits from natural resources and let markets run wild. I think both sides are half right and half wrong in both spheres.

  • Jim G

    Most of the time I don’t want to fool with Mother Nature, but all this group of wolves needs to survive is one individual female with good genes. That would be a great research study too.

  • scott44

    No!! They want to study the complete cycle right? If man intrudces a new female then the cycle has been broken by man. In due time the Big Lake will freeze enough and a new female and or maybe a breeding pair will cross the ice. Let mother nature run its coarse.

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    Let nature take its course. If wolves disappear from Isle Royale, then so be it. The loss of wolves would provide a tremendous opportunity to reintroduce woodland caribou to the island–preferably from the Slate Islands in Lake Superior, where they number several hundred animals–too many for their available habitat.

    A successful caribou reintroduction would result in the only population of those animals in the Lower 48 States, as they were long ago extirpated from their native range in the northern parts Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New England.

    A related question could be: Does the National Park Service have any visionaries among its leaders?

  • Todd

    No, it is no longer studying “natural” situations, but it is research for the sake of research ($$$$). What is the value of “studies” if nature is going to be manipulated to keep a project going? Far too much tax payer money is already spent on so called “research” that is manipulated for certain outcomes.