In hopes of saving four to six wolves facing starvation on a Canadian island after their main food source was taken away, parks and research teams are working together over the next few days to net-trap the big animals and fly them to Michigan’s Isle Royale.
If the capture-and-release is successful, it would be a big predator infusion for the remote Michigan island in Lake Superior where the National Park Service has been working since last fall to bring in more wolves to target the growing moose population. The concern has been that the island’s 1,500 moose could deforest the wilderness there, an archipelago which is also a national park. Since last September, six wolves from Canada and tribal lands in Minnesota have been re-homed on the island. They joined Isle Royale’s older existing pair of wolves, who have not had viable offspring in years. The NPS hopes to bring up to 30 new wolves to Isle Royale in the next few years.
The newest wolves targeted for transport are what remains of the pack on Canada’s Michipicoten Island, which is about 146 miles away, on the eastern side of Lake Superior. Earlier this month, project managers said they didn’t intend to trap and release any more wolves onto Isle Royale this spring because it might interfere with the wolves’ breeding season.
But the small group of wolves left on Michipicoten has been a big concern for researchers. The last of the caribou were removed from that island by Canadian officials last year, leaving beaver and hares as the only prime food sources for the remaining big predators.
“On Michipicoten, nature’s lessons can be cruel and starvation is one of them,” said Sona Mehring, the chair of the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation, which is helping to fund the transport. “For the remaining wolves on Michipicoten, that will be their fate unless we help move them to Isle Royale National Park, where their hunting skills and genetics can add value to establishing a new population of wolves on Isle Royale.”
Isle Royale officials are hoping the hunting skills shown by the Canadian wolves to track and kill even bigger prey will be put to good use on their island, which is twice the size of Michipicoten. Two of the wolves caught and relocated to Isle Royale earlier this year were from Michipicoten, including that pack’s large alpha male.
“We can use the good skills of those wolves, and this will match them with a larger island that will give them a better opportunity,” Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis GreenGreen said, according to the Associated Press.
An effort to fund this impromptu transfer is being led by two private organizations: the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation and the International Wolf Center. Together, they are covering $75,000 of the total cost for the four-day airlift, and have started a GoFundMe to pay for the remaining $25,000.ust like before, research and government teams will use net-guns, helicopters and crews on the ground to trap the wolves on the Canadian island. The wolves will be vet-checked and get GPS tracking collars before they are flown to Isle Royale for release.There have been a few losses to the wolf re-location project since last fall. One wolf caught in Minnesota died before she could be released on the island. A male wolf brought over last year was found dead on Isle Royale several weeks later. And a female wolf from Minnesota used an ice bridge formed by the Polar Vortex to trot back to the mainland and the end of January.