Friday, March 18, 2016

Park Service to focus on Isle Royale wolf management issue; public comment period extended

By Michele Bourdieu

Isle Royale wolf. (Photo © and courtesy Rolf Peterson)

HOUGHTON -- Last year the National Park Service (NPS) began considering a broad range of management actions as part of determining how to manage the moose and wolf populations at Isle Royale National Park for at least the next 20 years. Following public comments and additional internal deliberations, the NPS has determined that it will revise and narrow the scope of the EIS (Environmental Impact Study) to focus on the question of whether to bring wolves to Isle Royale National Park in the near term, and if so, how to do so.

Over the past five years the wolf population on the island has declined steeply. There were three wolves documented on the island as of March 2015 and recent surveys confirm only two wolves as of February 2016. At this time, natural recovery of the population is unlikely. The potential absence of wolves raises concerns about possible effects on Isle Royale’s current ecosystem, including effects on both the moose population and Isle Royale’s forest/vegetation communities.

In an article published in the Winter 2015 UP Environment Newsletter of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC), Rolf Peterson, Michigan Tech research professor and co-director of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study, states that the virtual absence of wolf predation on Isle Royale since 2012 has resulted in rapid increase in both the moose and beaver populations on the island. He adds, however, that moose populations on the mainland have recently declined.

"Mainland moose populations have always dealt with predators, both black bears and wolves, and climatic warming is not appreciably different between Isle Royale and the mainland," Peterson writes. "What is different is that white-tailed deer do not inhabit Isle Royale, and it is well known that deer in the Midwest harbor an endemic parasite known as the brainworm (Paraelaphostrongylus tenuis) that is fatal to moose. Fully one-third of the adult moose radiocollared by the Lake Superior Band of Chippewa on their reservation at Grand Portage, Minnesota, have died of brainworm. With moose not doing well in the upper Midwest (there is a petition for federal listing of moose as Threatened), Isle Royale may be an important reservoir for a brain-worm-free population of moose. Of course, if Isle Royale is a last reservoir for moose in the Great Lakes region, then it will be critical that the population stay healthy. The best assurance of health in a moose population is the presence of wolves."

Peterson will be one of the speakers at UPEC's Celebrate the U.P. event TOMORROW, Saturday, March 19, at Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College in Baraga. At 10:30 a.m. he will present documentary filmmaker George Desort's film Counting Wolves, in which Desort provides a behind-the-scenes look at the annual Winter Study of wolves and moose in Isle Royale National Park.*

The NPS held public meetings last summer and received thousands of comments from the public and stakeholders. Feedback was received from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 19 other countries. Many commenters urged the NPS to bring new wolves to Isle Royale as they fear the present population of wolves will die off. Others opposed management of the wolf and moose populations.

Following the presentations at the July 27, 2015, NPS Open House on the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose-Vegetation Management Plan/EIS, both Peterson and John Vucetich, Michigan Tech wildlife ecologist and co-director of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study, told Keweenaw Now they favored restoring the wolf population on Isle Royale to assure the health of its ecosystem.**

A Detroit Free Press article posted Wednesday, March 16, 2016, comments on the NPS plan to narrow the scope of its EIS to consider the wolf question. The article quotes Michigan U.S. Senator Gary Peters' reaction as follows:

"'I remain concerned that the wolf population on Isle Royale is dangerously low. Not only are the wolves a part of Isle Royale’s heritage, but their presence can help control the moose population and preserve the ecosystem,' said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich. 'While the Park Service must base their decision first and foremost on science and provide a full analysis of their plan, I believe narrowing the scope of the (study) is appropriate given the dire circumstances of the current wolf population.'"***

Public comment period extended

As a result of the revised scope, the NPS is offering an additional public comment period that will close 30 days after an amended notice of intent is published in the Federal Register.

"All comments already submitted have been posted online; however, we welcome additional input at this time," said Superintendent Phyllis Green.

The park encourages everyone to visit the project web page to review comments already submitted, read the newsletter, or provide additional comments. The newsletter includes four revised alternatives for wolf management. To read the newsletter with the revised alternatives being considered, go to and click on the link to the pdf newsletter at the bottom of the page. Then you can click on Comment Now or go to the form at to comment. 

The new Comment Period closes May 16, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. Mountain Time.

The public may also mail or hand deliver written comments to:
Isle Royale National Park
800 East Lakeshore Drive
Houghton, Michigan 49931

Editor's Notes:

* Click here for more info on Celebrate the U.P. (Inset photo: Rolf Peterson. Keweenaw Now file photo courtesy Rolf Peterson)

*** See the Detroit Free Press March 16, 2016, article, "Park Service limits Isle Royale study to wolves' future," by Todd Spangler.

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