Pieces of the Puzzle part II: biologists acting to improve ecological balance


A gray wolf at Isle Royale.

Story and photo by Scot Stewart

“A wolf singing of the beauty of the night, singing as no human voice had ever done, calling on a mate to share the beauty of it.”

The wonder, surprise and intrigue of the Isle Royale wolf story has continued this winter as scientists from the National Park Service and Michigan Technological University moved forward with their plans. The center of the world’s longest running mammal study has been in the spotlight as these scientists have attempted to bring a biological balance, featuring the wolf, back to this Lake Superior wilderness.
When wolves crossed the ice from Ontario to Isle Royale during the winter of 1948-1949 it sent shockwaves through the 44-mile-long island full of moose. It created a closed ecosystem of wolves, moose, boreal forest, tapeworms, beaver, snowshoe hare and U.P. weather.
The wildlife species of Lake Superior have become pieces in an elaborate biological chess game. Moose first appeared on Isle Royale in the early 1900s. Their population became established quickly on the island though some doubt on how they arrived.  Moose have been observed swimming across the 14-mile stretch of Lake Superior between Canada and Isle Royale. There is some evidence to suggest moose were introduced to the island by a group of individuals not associated with MiDNR or other government organizations according to a page on the park’s website. Twelve white-tailed deer were introduced on the island in 1906, but they all quickly died.  Red foxes were also introduced on Isle Royale around 1925.
Since first moving onto Isle Royale on their own during the winter of 1948-49, wolves have made several crossings since.  A single male crossed to the island in 1997, giving the biological diversity a boost. In 2008 an ice bridge formed, and it is believed two radio-collared wolves may have left the island. On at least one occasion a wolf walked across the ice to the island but turned around and returned to the mainland…

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