Service director Stephen Matter inspected the Island, deeming it fit for a national park. In a report on the field study of the potential for Isle Royals as a national park, Adolph Muriel wrote: “To administer Isle Royals as a wilderness area, It Is Important to secure a personnel which has a feeling for wilderness and an understanding of wilderness values; otherwise the desire to be doing something to the areas will be hard to curb. The administrators should be told that their success and achievements will be measured, not by projects accomplished, but by projects sidetracked.
In the management of a wilderness area, we must somehow depart from the 20th century tempo of activity… ” In 1931 President Hoover signed the bill, making Isle Royals a national park, although formal dedication was delayed until August of 1946 due to World War II. Isle Royals National Park would become a natural laboratory to study the predator prey relationship between wolves and moose. The park Is free of roads, development and hunting. These conditions created a rare opportunity to research the moose and wolves Inhabiting the Island, In a nearly untouched environment.
Wolves not originally native to Isle Royals, migrated on an ice bridge between Thunder Bay, Ontario and the island in 1949. Moose had come to the island some 50 years before by swimming through the icy Lake Superior. There was concern among the National Park Service that the wild wolf population would get out of hand. Robert Line, for the National Park Service, became the first naturalist for Isle Royals and began a study on wolves in 1956. Linen’s study focused on how many wolves inhabited Isle Royals and how their activities might affect the moose population.
Linen’s letter and reports based on his study revealed that wolves were indeed not a threat to people and subsequently helped establish a policy through the National Park Service that would support the existence of an unmanaged wolf population. In 1 958 Outward Allen and his graduate student Dave Minch met Line when they first visited Isle Royals when they began a 10-year study to evaluate the role of the wolf with funds from the National Geographic Society and the United States Forest Service. Line would also become a huge supporter both morally and financially. Historically wolves have been systematically hunted, trapped and poisoned by
Americans and Europeans. The United States government via the United States Biological Survey was involved in a wolf eradication program for years. Humans have been fearful and loathe of wolves and have almost completely stamped them out of the ecosystem. Outward Allen writes “The wolf doesn’t live in the forest; he infests it. You don’t Just kill a predator; you execute him. You don’t hunt him for sport; you track him down in a crusade for moral reform. ” The goals of the project were and are; wolf predation patterns, wolf behavior and ecology and moose population dynamics.
Studies of wolf predation patterns have accentuated the age and sex of the moose killed, other prey species, effect of snow depth and hunting success. Hierarchy in the packs, breeding, territoriality and relationships with other neoprene species has also been detected. Moose field observations included age and sex ratios, population size, productivity, habitat relationships, food habits and mortality factors. Without predators for nearly 50 years, the moose population thrived. Their diets consist of much of the vegetation on the island and did not have ample competition from other herbivores.
The wolves began to be seen as a worthy component that could help control the overly large moose population. The base for research was initially out of the Winding Ranger Station; Flights were made everyday to observe the natural habitat of wolves and moose. Aerial observation became the prime method of research for both of the species. In 1975 Allen decided to retire and handed the project over to one of his last Ph. D. Students, Roll Peterson. At this time the headquarters were also moved to Michigan Technological University in Houghton, also the mainland headquarters for the park.
The wolf population grew from one alpha female and two male wolves that migrated on the ice bridge. For years the population grew steadily and hunted moose on the island, helping control the population. The wolves’ primary diet on the island is beaver, moose and hare. An interesting connection between wolves and ravens was also observed which is uncommon in other carnivores. Even in folklore the relationship between wolves and ravens has been recorded, where the wolf goes the raven will follow. Ravens scavenge wolves’ prey, sometimes leading wolves to a circus to tough for the raven’s beak to penetrate.
Ravens can steal up to one-third of the circus leading to Just one reason as to why wolves hunt in packs- to minimize the portion of the circus lost to ravens. Wolves and ravens have also been seen playing together. In 1980 the wolf population grew to 50, an all time high. During this same time the moose also appeared to be much healthier than before. Just nine years later, in 1989 the wolf population fell drastically to only 12 members. It is not entirely clear as to why this decline happened but there are a couple of suspects. There was a ovoviviparous outbreak among dogs and wolves in the mainland of Michigan.
Dogs are not allowed on the park but are occasionally brought over illegally by boaters. The disease is primarily transmitted through oral-nasal contact and can even be spread by feces on hikers boots. There has also been a concern for genetic diversity, because the entire wolf population is derived from one alpha female, the wolves may be loosing 10-15% moose lived without predation for nearly 50 years their population soared. When the wolves arrived the moose population and vegetation on the island became much healthier. Yet their population soared once again. Through Allen, Minch and
Peterson research it still has not become totally clear as to why the populations shift so drastically. The main reasons appear to be because of climactic factors, tick outbreaks and food shortages. Although there are fluctuations in the moose population of Isle Royals it stays at a steady pace and has no sign of dying out. As of 2014 there are only nine wolves left on the island. Due to inbreeding and the ovoviviparous the wolf population has grown weak and has begun to die off. The ice bridge that once formed regularly between Thunder Bay, Ontario and the island does to form as often as it used to due to rising temperatures in the region.
Now the question is being asked if scientists should intervene and introduce new wolves to create stronger genetic variation. On April 9th, the National Park Service stated it would not take any immediate actions to bring new wolves to Isle Royals. Opinions vary as to what should be done; some believe intervention would corrupt the study and others think wolves should be reintroduced to the island. Roll Peterson, the head scientist studying Isle Royals insists that letting Mother Nature take her course old imply that Mother Nature is intact, but, “we have been cutting her fingers off for a long time. Most likely there will be no intervention and the pack will go extinct for scientific purposes and then the National Park Service may reintroduce wolves to Isle Royals. This would be a unique experience for scientific observation and give insight to what populations around the world are headed for. Outward Allen described the study as “one of those continuous searches into the unknown that has no foreseeable end. ” The long-term wolf/moose research at Isle Royals has provided unique and one of a kind opportunity for science. It has provided an important insight to the unpredictability of ecosystems.
Long-term research is a vital component of understanding long-term processes that could help secure our long- term existence and the well being of the planet. To avoid disturbance the park is legally closed by the National Park Service between November 1st and April 1 5th, it is also zoned for visitor use and about 50% of the island is closed to camping. Isle Royals has been in countless news stories and has received wide support from the public. At one time the island was seen as America’s greatest moose refuge and now attracts attention because of the wolves.
This study has also massively changed the public opinion on wolves in general; people widely support the reintroduction of wolves into parks such as Yellowstone. Wolves are a part of the ecosystem as much as moose or any other animal, they are not villains. Isle Royals is a prime example of wilderness values. The island provides a rare opportunity to observe biodiversity and its impact on ecological balance. Isle Royals maybe more so than other wilderness areas is kept as untouched by man as can be in order not to disturb the wolves and moose.
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