ISLE ROYALE -- Six wolves that appeared destined for starvation on Lake Superior’s Michipicoten Island were trapped over the weekend and helicoptered to Isle Royale where they should find plenty of moose to dine on.
The six, joined by a seventh wolf from the Ontario mainland, are part of the ongoing National Park Service effort to rebuild Isle Royale’s native wolf population, which had dwindled to just two, a father-daughter pair that are unable to successfully mate.
The seven join four others brought from Michipicoten in February and two remaining wolves from Minnesota brought to the island last fall. One of four Minnesota wolves brought over died, and another walked over ice back to Grand Portage.
For those keeping score, there are now 15 wolves on the island with about 1,500 moose.
The Michipicoten Island wolves, which crossed ice to the island in 2014 but apparently haven't been able to get off the island since, had eaten nearly all the caribou on that island, forcing the emergency evacuation last year of a few remaining caribou, the last Lake Superior region caribou herd remaining. But moving the caribou to a new island home left the Michipicoten wolves with nothing to eat.
So the weekend cross-border relief effort accomplished two goals — saving the starving wolves and getting more of the predators to Isle Royale where they are needed to keep the island’s burgeoning moose herd in check. And now Michipicoten Island, once bustling with caribou and then a killing ground for wolves eating caribou, has neither.
The emergency wolf transfer was funded by the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation with support from the Minnesota-based International Wolf Center which joined to cover the $100,000 cost. The groups are still seeking donations to help cover the cost at gofundme.com/winwin-wolves or at nplsf.org. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the U.S. National Park Service and private Bighorn Helicopters oversaw the trap and transport.
The new wolves were checked by veterinarians before being released on their new island home.
Isle Royale moose get transmitters
Isle Royale moose and wolves have been studied by Michigan Technological University researchers for 61 years, the longest running predator-prey study in the world. But, other than an annual aerial survey to estimate the moose population, there has been a less-intensive effort to study moose habits compared to wolves.
Now, for the first time since 1984, moose on the island have been fitted with transmitting collars.
A research team, including ecologists from Michigan Tech, fitted GPS collars on 20 moose last month to find out where they spend their time and what impact the newly bolstered population of wolves are having on the moose herd.
Scientists also hope to compare the island’s wolf-moose relationship with the moose-wolf relationship at nearby Grand Portage Reservation on the Minnesota mainland where moose have been declining in recent years while, just 15 miles away, the island’s moose population has grown.
The moose effort is a collaboration between Michigan Tech, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, National Park Service and Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
“We hope that collaring moose in Isle Royale, and drawing comparisons with the Minnesota moose population, will help us understand how predator-prey dynamics are influenced by parasites and moose foraging behavior,’’ said Sarah Hoy, a research assistant professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Tech, in a statement Monday, March 25.
Minnesota moose are in decline due to predation from bears and wolves on moose calves in early spring, as well as compounded effects of climate change — including more ticks and a fatal brainworm carried by whitetail deer. By contrast, the moose population on Isle Royale has increased rapidly in recent years. Although moose in Isle Royale also suffer from high winter tick loads, Isle Royale has no deer to transmit brainworm, has no black bears and has a lower wolf density than Minnesota’s moose range.