Documentary film captures successful wolf introduction efforts on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale
HOUGHTON – National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation (NPLSF) announced today the premiere of an original film produced in partnership with CuriosityStream, called Breakthrough: Return of the Wolves. This 23-minute educational documentary chronicles the multiyear work of the National Park Service (NPS) and its partners to restore predation and diversity to the ecosystem of Isle Royale, the site of the oldest predator-prey study in the world. The film, which features sweeping aerial footage, detailed wolf capture and relocation practices, and in-depth stakeholder interviews, was produced by NPLSF as a part of its commitment to capture the Isle Royale wolf relocation story for future generations.
Coinciding with the film’s release is the announcement by Isle Royale National Park and State University of New York-College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry (SUNY ESF) that new wolf pups were born on Isle Royale, which is a key indicator of the wolf introduction program’s success.
“The return of the wolves to Isle Royale is a study in patience, perseverance, hard work and profound generosity,” said NPLSF Board Chairman Tom Irvine. “National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation is constituted with passionate, insatiably curious members. We are truly pleased to have played a role in relocating the wolves and working with CuriosityStream to bring this important project to life through this incredible documentary film.”
A recently published summary report of the relocation efforts, Wolves and the Isle Royale Environment: Restoring an Island Ecosystem 2018-2020, records how NPS and its partners transferred 19 wolves from locations around Lake Superior to Isle Royale between the fall of 2018 and the fall of 2019. Wolves on Michipicoten Island, Ontario had decimated the resident woodland caribou herd, a protected species in Ontario. With only two wolves on Isle Royale, the abundant moose population was destroying much of the island’s native vegetation.
During the operation’s first year, the NPS exceeded its wolf transfer objectives. However, the Michipicoten Island alpha male’s mate, who was possibly pregnant, was left behind where she faced starvation. Because the coming spring break up would have made aviation impossible, the relocation operation on Michipicoten became urgent and the alpha female’s capture was a priority.
To aid in this operation and also fund the helicopter transfers during the U.S. government shutdown in early 2019, NPLSF launched a successful donor campaign with additional monetary support from the International Wolf Center. Despite complicated logistics and sub-zero weather, the NPS and its partners were able to remove seven wolves from Michipicoten Island and mainland Ontario, including the sought-after alpha female.
Remote cameras and recent videography from NPS and SUNY-ESF confirm that the alpha female produced at least two pups shortly after her transfer to Isle Royale in 2019, and possibly a third in 2020. Importantly, the genetics of this wolf, along with pups likely produced by other female wolves, have added to the diversity needed to sustain a population of apex predators on the island.
“Thanks to the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation (NPLSF), we have met our objectives for restoring wolves to Isle Royale, thereby maintaining the island’s biodiversity that gives its ecosystem strength and diversity,” said retired Isle Royale Superintendent Phyllis Green. “Saved from probable death by starvation, these wolves are living out their days on Isle Royale where prey is plentiful and their genetic contributions will leave a legacy on the island.”
To view the documentary and learn more about Isle Royale’s wolves, the relocation efforts, and the birth of the wolf pups on Isle Royale, visit https://nplsf.org/wolf-project. To ensure that school-aged children tap into this unique predator-prey story as it evolves, go to https://nplsf.org/support.