Wolves to return to Isle Royale this fall

September 21, 2018

Six to eight wolves will be trapped in Minnesota and Michigan and flown to Isle Royale this fall, as the National Park Service undertakes an unprecedented effort to bring back the predator population on the wilderness island in Lake Superior.

Four will be trapped on the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa reservation in northeast Minnesota, and two other will come from Michigan, Park Service officials said Friday as they detailed the first phase of a plan that’s been five years in the making. The goal is to re-establish a balance between wolves and their primary prey on the island, moose.

After wolves arrived on the island in the 1950s their population peaked at 50, but their number in the national park is now down to two. Their numbers have been decimated by inbreeding, disease and accidents.

The number of moose, however, is rising — threatening the firs and aquatic vegetation with overeating.

Five years ago the Park Service began an environmental review to decide whether to artificially bring wolves to the island. In the past, the animals arrived there by crossing the ice bridges that formed from the mainland in winter. But warming temperatures due to climate change have greatly reduced their frequency,

Now the long-term goal is to bring in 20 to 30 wolves over the next five years. After bringing in the first batch from Grand Portage Chippewa land and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, sometime this winter wildlife officials will also try to capture a few more from Ontario, Canada, if the local government agrees.

All the new wolves will be collared in an effort to learn more about their survival, mating and predation patterns, Park Service officials said.

It’s the first time the Park Service has moved to pre-empt natural dynamics in order to reset the ecological equilibrium in a wilderness area, which by federal designation is to be left largely untouched by human hands.

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394

Update hourly