NPS OKs Isle Royale wolf plan

HOUGHTON — It’s official: more wolves are coming to Isle Royale National Park.

The National Park Service announced Thursday it would add 20 to 30 wolves from the mainland over the next three to five years in an effort to preserve the dynamic of wildlife on the island.

The 20-30 range is based on the historical average for wolves on Isle Royale. They first came via an ice bridge from the mainland in 1948.

With the number dropping from accidental deaths or disease, and fewer ice bridges occurring to replenish the population, that number has dwindled to the current population of two. The closely-related wolves are not believed to be able to produce viable offspring.

To ensure genetic diversity, wolves will be imported from locations around the Great Lakes, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as tribal lands and Ontario, said Mark Romanski, division chief for natural resources at Isle Royale. It will include both individual wolves and packs, he said.

The reintroduction is expected to cost about $660,000, Green said.

The additional wolves will result in minor increases in the annual cost of monitoring wolves and moose — about $95,000 instead of $70,000.

About six to 10 wolves could be brought to the island in the first year, Superintendent Phyllis Green said.

Capture methods could include leg holds or being darted from a helicopter.

“We’re going to keep our toolkit as wide open as possible, so we have as much opportunity as possible to implement this plan,” Romanski said.

After capture, they will undergo health screening, including vaccinations for distemper. Fixed-wing aircraft will likely be used to bring them to the island.

The new wolves will be brought to a part of the island separate from the two existing wolves.

“It’s not going to be a sudden influx of animals,” Romanski said. “They’re going to be sorting out territory and their own dynamics.”

Thursday’s announcement follows a three-year process of deciding whether to bring more wolves to the island, including several public hearings.

The population is expected to be able to be self-sustaining. They will have a ready food supply — the moose population. With no apex predator to check it, the moose population has reached almost 1,500. Beaver population is also plentiful.

“Should that fail, I think we’re really going to take a hard look at why, and the sequence of events that caused that failure,” Green said. “But we have every reason to believe that will be successful.”