Category Archives: Isle Royale

Environmental Impact Statement – Isle Royale Wolves 

It is utterly astounding to me that any wolf advocate would support this cruel manipulation of wolves.

Members of a helicopter net gun trapping team use nets shot from a helicopter to capture and place radio collars on wolves in Yellowstone National Park.                                
The draft Environmental Impact Statement to Address the Presence of Wolves on Isle Royale (draft EIS) has been released and can be read here or is available at Isle Royale Wolves.

The draft EIS describes how park resources would be affected by the no action alternative and three action alternatives that involve the introduction of wolves to the island.  The draft EIS analyzes the impacts of each alternative on the island ecosystem, wilderness character, wolves and moose of Isle Royale.


Under alternative B, the National Park Service would introduce 2030 wolves to the island within the first three years.

Wolves selected for introduction would be captured using available tools ranging from helicopter netgunning, modified padded foot–traps (ie. leg hold traps)darting from a helicopter or modified snares with appropriate stops. 

During initial release, carcass provisioning of natural prey may be implemented to ensure the success of initial establishment. Moose carcasses would be“harvested” on Isle Royale and not from off island to prevent the exchange of disease, parasites, or other foreign materials from the mainland to the island. The provision of carcasses may serve as a means of encouraging recently introduced wolves to stay in certain areas of the island. Additionally, carcass provisioning may be used as a strategy to contain pair-bonded  individuals to one area of the island while the release of another animal or group of wolves occurs elsewhere. 

Wolf introduction would occur by hard release. This entails release of individuals or groups of wolves onto the island with no time to acclimate in holding pens prior to release and without intensive support provided following release. 

Moose on Isle Royale, Michigan. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Michigan Tech University, Rolf Peterson)

Bottom line: 20 to 30 wolves lives will be transformed permanently. They will be trapped, snared; darted or netted via helicopter. Many wolves will be injured, some will be gravely injured, some will live, some will die, most will be torn forever from family members. Certainly, all will be traumatized. Furthermore, harvesting (hunting) of moose in the National Park is something which I find unacceptable. 

During the collection of animals for the Yellowstone reintroduction programme at least 10 wolves died early in the process through trapping and snaring, and at least one died during incapacitation from the helicopter

Removal of the alpha animals from a pack would cause huge upheaval, and studies show that it would almost certainly lead to the dissolution of the pack. Packs that may have been in existence for generations could literally be wiped out by the removal of perhaps just one animal (Learn more here).
Wolves may also attempt to make their way back to their own territories. Relocation of wolves in Alaska’s Denali National Park has led to them returning hundreds of miles to their previous locations. Obviously wolves reintroduced to Isle Royale would be unable to do that, but the instinct to return home could, to say the least, be troubling for them. 

And what of the primary food source…As I have mentioned before, the moose population was near 2,400 individuals in 1996, but plummeted in just one year to 500 animals due to an outbreak of moose ticks and a severe winter. When moose became increasingly rare in 2006, capturing food became increasingly difficult for the wolves…“One wolf pack failed after another, with the population reduced by half. ” The 1,250 or so moose presently on Isle Royale, feeling the effects of climate change, can easily be devoured by a couple of dozen wolves and “wink out” leaving the wolves without a key and primary food source. 

Because your feedback is essential to the development of the EIS, NPS is asking for your thoughtful review and comments during the 90-day comment period, which concludes on March 15, 2017. For your comments to be considered during this review period,  you must submit them online at  or hand deliver or mail them to the park at the following address: Superintendent Phyllis Green, Isle Royale National Park, ISRO Wolves, 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, Michigan 49931-1896.  Read about the alternative options  here or visit the Park Service’s website: Isle Royale Wolves.

Please take the time to read the Technical Input regarding options for bringing wolves to Isle Royale National Park, particularly page 16: If the current population of wolves on Isle Royale persists to the time of reintroducing new wolves, are there concerns with these wolves passing on deleterious traits (e.g., spinal malformations) to the introduced population? Should members of the current resident population of wolves be removed from the island before the introduction of new wolves due to their poor genetic health? What are the pros and cons of retaining these wolves or removing these wolves?

Unfortunately (or not), I  was unable to find a video of wolf net-gunning but the following video will suffice as an example of the misery and suffering during wildlife helicopter capture.

Related content:

Wolves of Isle Royale: Genetic Rescue or Sacrificial Lamb

 My Name is Rolf

 With wolves its all about family.

Needless to say that I am completely against this displacement of wolves and have selected Alternative A – No Action

Copyright © 2016 [COPYRIGHT Intheshadowofthewolf, name and webpage]. All Rights Reserved.


My Name is Rolf

My name is Rolf.

I live on an island.

A few years ago I lived elsewhere, in a forest now lost, with my lifelong mate, my pups, and several other members of my pack. I was the alpha wolf then… back in 2017.

Time passes, yet I remember. I will always remember. In my dreams my pack resides.

We were hunting that winter day, my family and I. My pups were nearly 8 months old, still in the learning stages of mastering the skills needed to take down prey. Quite suddenly we heard a loud whirling sound coming from a creature in the sky which seemed to be chasing us, I felt a sharp sting in my leg and became very tired.

This was the final day spent with my pack in our forest.

I awoke here on this island alone, no mate, no pups, no pack. I searched for them but failed. This was an extremely disconcerting time for me, how would my family carry on without me? Who would lead the hunts? Would they survive? Would the pack dissolve, leaving my mate and pups to fend for themselves, resorting to surviving on “easy prey” like cattle or sheep, getting themselves into trouble with the ones who walk upright?

They say that time heals all wounds. The scars remain as reminders of just how painful our loss has truly been.
The memories inside of my mind,
ache to be manifested into my reality once again. These scars were not necessary for anamnesis, my life long mate lives in my heart until my last breath.

Time passes.

There are others wolves, many, like me, torn from home and family, living on this island. Perhaps we are a population of 25 or 30. I have a new mate now, we have 3 pups. Things seem peaceful here and the food is plentiful, well, was plentiful. We have been surviving on moose which have been a surprisingly easy catch as they were weakened by ticks and unusually hot summers. This past spring their condition worsened, and many died. Indeed, many moose did not even survive last year’s harsh winter.

Time passes.

Winter draws near again, and like other packs here, I have not been able to provide properly for my family for several months now. We are all very hungry. Some of us have been unable to fight off illnesses due to poor nutrition.

Time passes.

It is cold. The snow is deep. The prey are few and far between. This is my 3rd winter here on this paradise.

It is cold, the snow is deep. We are starving. Death for many of us is imminent.

I am old now and grow strangely tired.

I am Rolf. This was my life.


Related content: Genetic Rescue or Sacrificial Lamb 

As Isle Royale prepares to add wolves, a look at just how that might be done

Feature image: Curtis Snow

Copyright © 2015 [COPYRIGHT Intheshadowofthewolf, name and webpage]. All Rights Reserved. 

No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

The Wolves of Isle Royale: Genetic Rescue or Sacrificial Lamb

“The “natural” assumption. 
Most people who are familiar at all with Isle Royale assume that the national park’s famous populations of wolves and moose are “natural” residents of the archipelago. Thus, the impending decision of what to do if wolves became extirpated on Isle Royale seems to be an
easy managerial one: replacement wolves should be brought in. But a historical view of major mammals on Isle Royale in the last hundred years reveals a much more complicated situation.

The first major published study on the wolves and moose of Isle Royale (The Wolves of Isle Royale), makes this very point. An astounding discovery made in a summary table of the “History of Isle Royale Mammals”  shows that all the large mammals on Isle Royale have changed in the 20th century. Coyotes and lynx have gone and wolves appeared. Woodland caribou were extirpated and moose arrived and have become the dominant herbivore. Red fox arrived circa 1925…Otter were missing for much of the 20th century but now are quite common. And a little earlier, in the late 1800s, beaver were nearly extirpated. This radical composition turnover may be an effect of island biogeography. One
primary indication of island biogeography is that the island(s) being studied have only a subset of the animals and plants found on the nearest mainland. Island biogeography also
routinely maps species turnover on islands, as species “wink out” and different ones “wink in.” But also quite often a species winks out and then recolonizes on its own, as happened
with otter and beaver at Isle Royale.
This fact of potential periodic and extensive change needs to be built into any discussions of augmenting wolf numbers in the near term. We need to acknowledge the possibility that the winking out of wolves on Isle Royale might be a natural phenomenon of island biogeography. But unfortunately, our yardstick for making such decisions is compromised: what appears to be the natural island fauna in the 20th century is actually a chimera, greatly altered
by human actions…”

Should we intervene…  
Is it a succession of human actions—inadvertent intervention to be sure—that has had a direct role in wolves “naturally” appearing on Isle Royale. Even if moose and wolves had arrived on Isle Royale as a very direct consequence of human action, does that change the question of whether we should intervene to maintain the wolf population in the national park? For comparison, neither wolves nor moose are present on Michipicoten Island, an archipelago in northeastern Lake Superior that is similar in distance from the mainland as is Isle Royale. Due north of Isle Royale, and much closer to the mainland, wolves made it to the Slate Islands, hunted woodland caribou, and then left in the 1990s. Could the arrival of moose and wolves on Isle Royale be more an aberration than an inevitable event? Furthermore, if recent immigrants to the park were aided directly or indirectly by human actions, does that make them “exotic species” as defined by NPS management policies? NPS defines exotic species as those “that occupy or could occupy park lands directly or indirectly as the result of deliberate or accidental human activities….” The newly crafted resource management recommendation for the NPS, Revisiting Leopold: Resource Stewardship in the National Parks, is written, in part, as a policy response to the array of environmental changes, such as climate change, that are confronting national parks. The report calls for an expanded scientific capacity to guide resource management “to steward NPS resources for continuous change that is not yet fully understood, in order to preserve ecological integrity….” Wolves are clearly native to the region, but perhaps not to Isle Royale. Might their indigenousness to the region and their place in the ecological process in the region outweigh their potential non-native history on Isle Royale? Because wolves are part of a “largely self-sustaining and self-regulating” Isle Royale ecosystem, should we overlook their questionable “natural” tenure? If so, we should at least make this decision transparently. Intervention can be an important tool to maintain a park’s ecological resiliency. But “intervention” as a concept exists on a continuum of human actions that range from unintended consequences (wolf trapping on Ontario) to intervention (radio collaring of wolves and moose on Isle Royale, closures of zones to protect denning areas, closure of the park to dogs and cats) to intentional manipulation (the introduction of the Detroit Zoo wolves).
A historical view of Isle Royale’s mammalian history suggests there are both known and likely unknown limits to species persistence through time. It is likely that many animal species’ tenure on the island is episodic, ranging from a single colonizations of short duration to
persistence lasting decades. It may not always be anthropogenic forces that result in a species winking out or another winking in; an example is the episodic presence of sharptail grouse at Isle Royale.

A historical view of the relatively short and possibly atypical residence of wolves suggests the proposed reintroduction could become a recurring need to sustain the health and persistence of the population. Do we want to reintroduce wolves to Isle Royale National Park every 50 or so years?
To further explore how much intervention is appropriate, it’s useful to turn to a long-used Isle Royale metaphor, namely, that the national park is an “outdoor laboratory.” Vucetich et al. are proposing a level of intervention for wolves which bespeaks of the park as more of a laboratory. If intervention is too frequent, then Isle Royale stops having the feel of an outdoor laboratory, and its wilderness character is diminished to boot. Periodic interventions would run counter to one component of the Wilderness Act, namely, that “the imprint of man’s work” must be “substantially unnoticeable.” But Isle Royale has not been unimpacted for quite some time. Regional, national, and global impacts have greatly altered the naturalness of the Isle Royale lands and waters, even if the results are sometimes hard to see (source).

Moose on Isle Royale, Michigan. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Michigan Tech University, Rolf Peterson)

 And what about the moose (the primary food source for Isle Royale wolves) which tend to become infested with an astounding number of ticks at one time. Thanks to global warming, one animal which typically can get 30,000 ticks in normal fall weather conditions, now contends with as many as 160,000 ticks during warmer winters and in years with a late first snowfall. The eventual result for heavily tick infested moose is malnutrition and death; a high number of ticks is “almost a death sentence” for calves because they can lose their entire blood supply over just a few months. Climate change magnifies the tick problem because the pests live longer and reproduce in greater numbers if there’s less snow on the ground by spring. Source

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, moose lived longer and gave birth to more calves as predation was down due to a steep decline in wolf survival. The moose population nearly tripled to almost 2,400 by 1996. During the winter of 1996, lack of forage for the moose, an outbreak of moose ticks , and severe winter all conspired against the moose. The winter had been more severe than any in over a century. The moose population collapsed from its all-time high to just 500 moose. The next year, during the winter of 1997, a wolf from Canada immigrated to Isle Royale. He crossed on an ice bridge that now rarely forms between Isle Royale and Canada, and revitalized the wolf population’s genetic diversity. Living in three packs, with 30 individuals, the wolves had been “thriving” until 2006. But with moose becoming increasingly rare (weakened by heat and ticks, fueling high rates of predation, moose dropped to their lowest observed levels) capturing food become increasingly difficult. One wolf pack failed after another. By 2011, the population was reduced to 9 wolves living in one pack and another half dozen wolves, the socially disorganized remnants of another pack (Source). As many as 50 wolves once roamed the island, though scientists think 25 is a more reasonable baseline number,  according to the Wildlife News. Since scientists began keeping records in 1973, ice accumulation in the Great Lakes has declined by over 70 percent, an ice bridge may only form once every 15 years. With Lake Superior warming faster than any large lake on the planet, any hope of a “natural” genetic rescue disappears. John Vucetich, a researcher on the island, asserts that a genetic rescue is critical — not only for animals, but for the entire Isle Royale ecosystem, designated a protected biosphere reserve in 1981 for its pristine lake forest wilderness. “What is really important here is not the presence of wolves, per se,” Vucetich said. “But the wolves need to be able to perform their ecological function — predation. Predation has been essentially nil for the past four years now, and has led to a 22% increase in the moose population for each of the past four years.” This increase has brought the island population of moose up from 500 to 1,200 compromising the ecosystem integrity (An individual moose consumes up to 40 pounds of vegetation a day).

Bring in the wolves…problem solved…or not.

The wolves populated Isle Royale around 1949, and were believed to have been basically isolated ever since, comprised typically of just a couple dozen wolves. Small, isolated populations of wildlife never fare well and always exhibit high rates of inbreeding. The deleterious effects of inbreeding begin to become evident at a COI (coefficient of inbreeding) of about 5%. At a COI of 10%, there is significant loss of vitality in the offspring as well as an increase in the expression of deleterious recessive mutations. The combined effects of these make 10% the threshold of the “extinction vortex” – the level of inbreeding at which smaller litters, higher mortality, and expression of genetic defects have a negative effect on the size of the population, and as the population gets smaller the rate of inbreeding goes up, resulting in a negative feedback loop that eventually drives a population to extinction.

“Fragmentation of natural habitats is associated with population declines of many species. The resulting small and isolated populations are threatened by extinction for several reasons. Such populations are more vulnerable to demographic and environmental stochasticity. They also face several genetic threats. First, due to restricted mating opportunities, inbreeding becomes more likely. Second, if populations remain small and isolated for many generations, they lose genetic variation necessary to respond to environmental challenges (random fixation or loss of alleles through genetic drift). Third, unfavourable mutations are
expected to accumulate because selection operates less efficiently in small populations. Of these processes, inbreeding poses a more immediate threat, whereas
genetic drift and mutation accumulation affect the population in the long term. Environmental, demographic and genetic factors can interact and reinforce each other in a downward spiral, an extinction vortex.”  BMC Evolutionary Biology


“For many decades, the wolves of Isle Royale had been taken as an example of a very small, isolated and highly inbred population which showed no signs of inbreeding depression, the negative impact of inbreeding. But we had it wrong, very wrong. In fact, the population dynamics of Isle Royale wolves have been affected by genetic processes in ways that have been as important as they are subtle.

In 2009, with the help of Jannike Räikkönen, an expert in Canid anatomy from the Swedish National Museum, we systematically inspected the skeletal remains from 50, or so, Isle Royale wolves that had been collected over the past five decades. A surprising number of these wolves suffered from several different kinds of congenital malformity in the spine… A particular kind of deformity, known as a lumbosacral transitional vertebrae (LSTV), is particularly well studied in dogs and wolves. Among healthy, outbred populations LSTV occurs in one out of a 100 wolves. On Isle Royale, a third of the wolves suffered from this malformity.

Not only did Isle Royale wolves exhibit LSTV at a high rate, but the rate of malformities had once been relatively low and increased over the decades…”.  John A. Vucetich

Learn more about Congenital defects in a highly inbred wild wolf population
(Canis lupus) here.


Cause for alarm.

Obviously an isolated and small population of wolves is a bottleneck leading to extinction due to lack of genetic diversity. Without continuous human intervention this will be the case for any wolves brought to Isle Royale in the future, and, as the isolated species spirals downward to the extinction vortex there comes a great deal of suffering due to genetic deformities. The deterioration of the animal takes its toll; one female wolf on Isle Royale died during childbirth when her uterus quit working, trapping the pups inside her while she bled to death. The young wolf pictured here, presumed 


dead, certainly experienced a miserable short existence (I, myself can hardly bear to look at this poor deformed animal). And what of the food supply? As I mentioned earlier the moose population was near 2,400 in 1996, but plummeted in just one year to 500 animals due to an outbreak of moose ticks and a severe winter. When moose became increasingly rare in 2006, with a population of a little over 500, capturing food become increasingly difficult for the wolves.. “One wolf pack failed after another, with the population reduced by half.” The 1,250 moose presently on Isle Royale, weakened from the effects of climate change, can easily be devoured by a couple of dozen wolves and “wink out” leaving the wolves without a key and primary food source.

So, should wolves be reintroduced to Isle Royale?
Really this is a difficult question. For the sake of the ecosystem, then yes, perhaps the wolves should be reintroduced. But what about the wolves… One aspect in all this discussion needs to be the welfare of the wolves captured for augmentation. Wolves for re-introduction on Isle Royale would have to be sourced from multiple populations to give an initial genetic diversity. More wolves would possibly have to be added later to maintain this genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding.
Then, there is the physical collection of wolves which would pose difficulties and is likely to result in some deaths. Would they be collected by trapping, snaring or be incapacitated by dart from a helicopter?
During the collection of animals for the Yellowstone re-introduction programme at least 10 wolves died early in the process through trapping and snaring and at least one died during incapacitation from the helicopter. Perhaps techniques have evolved and improved since then, but some losses would almost certainly occur.

Removal of the alpha animals from a pack would cause huge upheaval, and studies show that it would almost certainly lead to the dissolution of the pack. Packs that may have been in existence for generations could literally be wiped out by the removal of perhaps just one animal (Learn more here).
Wolves may also attempt to make their way back to their own territories. Relocation of wolves in Alaska’s Denali National Park has led to them returning hundreds of miles to their previous locations. Obviously wolves reintroduced to Isle Royale would be unable to do that, but the instinct to return home could, to say the least, be troubling for them.
For the wolves sake, perhaps reintroduction is not a good idea.

The National Parks Service would like to hear from you. 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 determined that it will revise and narrow the scope of the EIS 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.

Revised preliminary draft alternative concepts have been included in a public scoping newsletter, which is available online at  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, NPS welcomes additional input at this time.  If you would like to submit additional comments for consideration, you must submit written comments online at or mail: Isle Royale National Park, 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, Michigan 49931-1896   or hand deliver them to the park. Comment period was originally to close May 16, 2016 at 11:59 PM Mountain Time, but has been extended. The comment period now closes Jul 06, 2016 at 11:59 PM Mountain Time.

Researchers would love to prolong their studies of the predator-prey system on Isle Royale.

I, myself, would like to see an end to the suffering. Perhaps the moose population should be controlled with PZP.

Related content: My Name is Rolf

Featured image: Ian McAllister


Copyright © 2015 [COPYRIGHT Intheshadowofthewolf, name and webpage]. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.