Monday, March 13, 2017

March 15 is deadline for comments on NPS draft Environmental Impact Statement to Address Presence of Wolves on Isle Royale

By Michele Bourdieu

Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green and staff members field questions from the public during the well attended Feb 15, 2017, meeting at the Magnuson Hotel in Houghton. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- About 124 concerned residents and visitors packed a conference room at the Magnusun Hotel in Houghton on Feb. 15, 2017, to ask questions on the four alternative actions (A, B, C, and D) proposed by the National Park Service (NPS) in their draft Environmental Impact Statement (draft EIS) to Address the Presence of Wolves on Isle Royale. The deadline for the 90-day public comment period on this draft EIS is this Wednesday, March 15, 2017.

According to the NPS park planning Web site, "The purpose of the draft plan/EIS is to determine whether and how to bring wolves to Isle Royale to function as the apex predator in the near term within a changing and dynamic island ecosystem. A decision is needed because the potential absence of wolves raises concerns about possible effects to Isle Royale's current ecosystem, including effects to both the moose population and Isle Royale's forest/vegetation communities."

Since the public meetings held in February, NPS offered two Webinars for public questions and answers and posted the audio recordings of the Webinars on their Web page.*

Before taking questions from the public at the Feb. 15 meeting in Houghton, Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green gives a brief introduction on the reasons for the proposed introduction of wolves to Isle Royale, including the potential effects of climate change on moose. Click on YouTube icon for larger view. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Of the four proposed alternative actions, the Park Service presently prefers Alternative B, Immediate Limited Introduction. Under Plan B wolves would be introduced starting immediately as follows:
Timing: Starting immediately, completed within five years.
Number/Duration of Releases: Multiple release events, lasting up to five years.
Number of Founding Wolves: 20–30 within the first three years.
Supplementation of Wolf Population: After the third year, if an unforeseen event occurs, such as disease or mass mortality, that impacts the wolf population and the goals of the alternative are not being met due to this event, wolves may
be supplemented for an additional two years. No additional supplementation after year 5.
Radio Collaring: Wolves immigrating to the island would be radio collared on a case-by-case basis, plus up to all wolves introduced to the island would be monitored via radio collar.

Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green explained why Plan B is the preferred alternative.

"At this point in time, B is the preferred alternative because by having only a 5-year window to put wolves on the island you limit the impacts to the wilderness values."

Green also noted the inbreeding in the present wolf population (down to two surviving wolves) was caused by the genetics of one breeder female being passed on through the population for 58 years.*

"If the introduction as proposed occurs, it will start the population with a broader genetic base (more breeding females and males)," she said.

Alternative C, Immediate Introduction, with Potential Supplemental Introductions, differs from Alternative B basically in the number and duration of releases: Under Plan C multiple release events could take place. The number of founding wolves would be 6-15 wolves during the initial release event. Supplemental introduction would occur as needed over the 20-year life of the plan, based on consideration of a variety of metrics.*

Nancy Warren, Wolfwatcher Coalition executive director and Great Lakes regional director, noted during the Feb. 15 meeting that Plan B could be modified to extend beyond the 5-year limit.

"My recommendation would be a modified Proposal B that incorporated some of the components of Alternative C," Warren said. "It would be based on environmental changes and what happens with the moose population."**

A number of questions from the audience dealt with the methods of capturing the wolves, where they would come from, and how they would be brought to the island.

Mark Romanski, chief of Natural Resources for Isle Royale National Park, replies to a question on the means of capturing wolves for release on Isle Royale. Phyllis Green shares some points made by visitors to Isle Royale in their comments. Also pictured here is Liz Valencia, Isle Royale chief of interpretation and cultural resources. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Green noted comments from some wilderness advocates indicated they preferred Alternative A, No Action. Under Alternative A, no introduction of wolves would occur; however, wolves would not be prevented from immigrating to or emigrating from the island on their own.

Finally, Alternative D, No Immediate Action, with Allowance for Future Action would mean that wolf introduction would not start immediately but may occur. Multiple release events could take place, beginning with 6-15 wolves. Supplemental introduction would occur as needed over the 20-year life of the plan, based on moose population.

Click here to submit comments online or hand deliver comments to Superintendent Phyllis Green, Isle Royale National Park, ISRO Wolves, 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, Michigan 49931-1896.

* Click here to access the draft EIS, the Webinar recordings and public review banners on the Alternatives and other information.
* Editor's update: Setting the record straight: We incorrectly stated that the cause of inbreeding included the male genetics. Phyllis Green actually attributed the inbreeding to the genetics of the breeder female only. Thanks to Liz Valencia for this correction.