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Researcher shares details of Isle Royale wolf project

Wildlife researchers involved with the wolf relocation to Isle Royale. Photo courtesy of: USFWS/Courtney Celley
Wildlife researchers involved with the wolf relocation to Isle Royale. Photo courtesy of: USFWS/Courtney Celley

Reports surfaced in late 2016 that only a few wolves remained on Isle Royale, perhaps as few as two, and the wolf population had been slowly declining due to inbreeding and genetic deformities on the 45-mile-long, 143,000-acre Island, which is located about 15 miles off of Minnesota's North Shore.

The National Park Service released a draft plan in Dec. 2016 and made public a consideration to bring 20-30 wolves to the island. Superintendent Phyllis Greene said the project is “about more than wolves, it’s about a balanced ecosystem.”

More than a year later, in March 2018, WTIP reports that the federal government and its partners in the project plan to capture and relocate wolves from the mainland, and relocation efforts would take place between late fall and winter of 2018. Relocated wolves will be fitted with radio or GPS collars so they can be tracked.

On Sept. 21, it was announced that an estimated six to eight wolves will be brought from the Upper Midwest and possibly Ontario to Isle Royale by the end of October. Despite their previous objections to the project, it was announced there would be a partnership involving Grand Portage, and that wolves would be transferred from the reservation to Isle Royale in coordination with the project. Last month, a 4-year-old female and 5-year-old male captured in Grand Portage were released on Isle Royale. A second female wolf intended for Isle Royale died after being trapped, sedated and driven to a holding facility, the park service said in a news release.

As the project moved into October, a female wolf was transported by a park service boat from Grand Portage and released in the park. On Thursday, Oct. 4, another female wolf was flown on the US Fish and Wildlife Service airplane to the island and carried by park staff over a hiking trail to the release site. This brings the total number of wolves relocated since Sept. 24 to four.

The four wolves that were successfully placed on the island are being tracked via wildlife cameras and a GPS monitoring collar, according to the park service. They're feeding on moose carcasses that were left for them. 

So, as it stands today, the island is home to about 1,600 moose. Wolf numbers are at approximately six, including the two that are considered genetically impaired and the four that were brought from Grand Portage.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Dr. Tiffany Wolf from the University of Minnesota about the project. Wolf works in coordination with Dr. Seth Moore and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, including on the wolf relocation project at Isle Royale.