NPR did a piece last week about the alarmingly dwindling gray wolf population on Isle Royale which is definitely worth reading. Isle Royale, for those unfamiliar, is a large (200+ sq. miles) island in Michigan, off the northern shore of Lake Superior near Ontario. Isle Royale boasts no roads, flying or floating its visitors in by small bush planes or via ferry. The island also only provides year round home to a very small handful of people. Less people visit Isle Royale National Park in a year than the Smokies get in a day.
Isle Royale sits 15 miles off the shore from Ontario, its location playing an important role in the island’s moose and wolf relationship. This predator-prey relationship has been studied for quite some time, virtually untouched by human interaction. The island’s location allowed moose to swim to the island, it is suspected, sometime around the turn of the 20th century. This distance does not allow other “similar” predators or prey to swim to the island, like deer or coyote. It is thought that wolves then traveled an ice bridge from Canada as soon as 60 years ago, and numbers flourished to near 50+ until recent years. Wolves tend to prey on the weakest of the moose, allowing both species to in turn grow stronger and more vital.
Recently, because of “parovirus, bitter winters, hunger and warfare between packs” the Isle Royale wolf numbers have dwindled to 15, with a suspected one or two reproducing females. If both of these females were to die without raising a healthy litter of pups, this would spell the end of the gray wolf on the island.
Cold Splinters is hoping to make the jaunt to Isle Royale later this summer. Beautiful place.