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That question seems to have lobo likers all in a tizzy of late.

It started with the anual 2 week wolf observation that happens every winter that has been ongoing for decades on an island in the great lakes that is also a National Park and Wilderness (kind of) area. I'd been following the Scientist at Work Blog at the NYT by the wolf researcher John Vucetich which I'd urge anyone who enjoys a very interesting read by a scientist to go read. I'm big on scat and tracks and bones found in the woods myself so the reading was absorbing for me.

Without fact checking myself the story roughly goes, way out in one of the great lakes is an island, moose swam over about a hundred years ago and wolves fifty years ago. The wolves have been eating the moose ever since. I'm not sure of the numbers but I believe the first wolves were a pair. The island is a long way from land and the wolves only crossed that vast expanse of ice due to a cold winter and chance.

Well now we're down to one maybe pregnant female wolf from a high of a few dozen, there were signs that she was bred during the yearly arial observation, but it's feared that narrowing the genes down to one female again might have serious inbreeding issues. Strum the deliverance banjo now.

The she wolf also might well die.

Isle Royale has provided a nice clean place to study wolves for a long time. There are no other predators or prey to complicate things. No bear, mountain lion, no white tail or elk. Of course having only one predator and one prey doesn't really give one a clear picture of what the two animals relationship might be like in the real world. One would hope that sort of understanding would have tempered all research, but I doubt it. I'm not sure how it goes in other parts of the scientific world but wolf biologists seem to easily slip over the line into species advocacy.

Advocacy brings with it additional baggage, mainly laissez faire views of wildlife management. If you're promoting one of the fastest reproducing predators with an ability to live just about everywhere just letting nature take it's course becomes very attractive.

But then the wolf population at Isle Royale might end and moose would turn that paradise of a formerly copper mined and heavily logged wilderness area into a barren and dry leafless plain as happens inevitably to any place without wolves. Never mind the fifty years when the moose had the place to themselves.

Adding a female wolf or ten would be, shudder, wildlife management.

The anti hunting Western Watersheds forum

Q+A with someone working on them for 40 years

I wish scientists had access to the web and could read a definition of extinction.

Originally posted to ban nock at DKos on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 05:14 AM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.


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Comment Preferences

  •  There are complaints that there are too many (9+ / 0-)

    wolves in the UP now. Why not snag a couple and boat them over? It's not really transplanting them, much, it's more helping them get over the water after global warming kept another ice bridge.

    If I wanted government in my uterus, I'd fuck a senator

    by second gen on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 05:21:22 AM PDT

    •  Yes, there are too many wolves in the UP. (7+ / 0-)

      I'd have no issues with live trapping some and transplanting them to the island. It makes sense from a wildlife management standpoint.
      The Isle Royale wolves, most likely, came from Minnesota. It is much closer physically to the island and there may not have been wolves in the UP  at the time of their introduction to Isle Royale.

      Fuck me! He made it. Will Scarlet

      by dagolfnut on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 06:12:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  it's even closer to Canada (7+ / 0-)

        and there are more wolves there, so I'd imagine that's where they came from.  

        I've been to the island twice and I'm of mixed feelings about managing the wolves.  In one respect I'd like to see it since it would ensure a more healthy moose population, but it's pretty much a laboratory for unmanaged wildlife interaction, which can be valuable in itself. I think, though, it's inevitable that wolves will be introduced.  The moose population will probably be ravaged by some disease if it isn't or they'll eat themselves out of fodder.

        Isle Royale is quite the place.  There are few places like it left.  I'd really hate to see it change much from the isolated wilderness that it is now.

        A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.' Douglas Adams

        by dougymi on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 06:28:35 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Is this the result of something humans have done? (6+ / 0-)

    Or simply bad luck?  While I'm all in favor of keeping large predators that humans have forced out of habitats around, is there anything genetically unusual about these particular wolves?

    I suppose if it's a 'paradise', that it might be worth reintroducing more simply to keep the moose in check as you suggest, even if it does screw with nature.  Or was that simply sarcasm, and you don't think moose will significantly alter the landscape for the worse?

    •  I think it's because the wolves that have been (5+ / 0-)

      there for 50 years have had no new blood introduced. I believe this is a product of too much inbreeding.

      Thing is, if the wolves aren't there, the moose have no other natural predator and no hunting is allowed on the island. In 10 or 20 years, we'll be asking if we should be allowing hunting on Isle Royale because the moose are starving due to over population.

      If I wanted government in my uterus, I'd fuck a senator

      by second gen on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 05:47:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Parvo virus from someone's dog (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ban nock, Wee Mama, PeterHug

      may be a factor.
      Detroit News

      "That's a little mysterious," said Michigan Tech's Rolf Peterson, a researcher in wildlife ecology. "Disease is a possibility. Parvovirus is a possibility."

      Parvovirus — an easily transmitted disease that can be lethal — has been a factor on the island since the 1980s. A visitor to the island brought along a dog carrying canine parvovirus and unwittingly spread the disease to Isle Royale's wolf population.

      The question now becomes whether wildlife officials should step in or stand back and allow nature to run its course.

      Republicans: if they only had a heart.

      by leu2500 on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 06:54:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Any ecosystem this small will IMO (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ban nock, Dr Erich Bloodaxe RN

      inevitably be susceptible to periodic crashes that are basically brought on by an interaction of low (but not vanishingly so) probability events and the lack of replenishment from the outside.

      I think that bringing more wolves in would be preferable to the only other real option if the wolves go away - which would be to kill off all the moose.  We may as well accept that most of our world is now (or soon will become) fragmented and damaged enough ecologically that the ONLY way to have ecosystems survive will be to manage them.  That means making choices that will sometimes be unattractive, but we no longer have the option of letting it be.

  •  wolves should always be saved (5+ / 0-)

    next question

    Never forget that the Republican War on Women originated with religion; the GOP is but theocracy's handmaiden.

    by Cedwyn on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 05:29:06 AM PDT

  •  The Isle Royale moose/wolf system (8+ / 0-)

    has been a classic study of predator prey interactions as you note.  More important than its simplicity has been its isolation - you have a closed system (with respect to the animals) for the most part.  But that has also resulted in the problems noted in the diary.

    In terms of it representing the 'real world' it is important to note that moose and wolves exist over huge areas of North America which vary considerably in a number of ecological factors.  Also in some sense no place in eastern North America can be considered the 'real world' due to the absence of several other large mammals that historically did occur here (Bison, Grizzly Bear, Puma (still present but in any meaningful ecological sense gone).

    Not to mention that if you were able to time travel and visited North America 20,000 years ago you would find moose and wolves coexisting with all kinds of other large mammals now extinct.

    "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

    by matching mole on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 05:57:53 AM PDT

  •  Island's Wolves Came on Ice ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ban nock

    Any attempt to re-introduce them will likely eventually end as the somewhat recent natural introduction. Apparently the island has not supported a viable genetically diverse population. If climate change precludes natural influx of genetic material over winter ice how can wolves survive in the long run?

    Unless it can be shown that the wolves decline was caused by accidentally introduced disease, why artificially try to restore the historically recent "natural" status? The island as a managed zoo rather than a natural ecosystem?

    Lots of wolves nearby on the mainland in Minnesota, Canada and Wisconsin.  What purpose served by man's intervention?

  •  Having been out to Isle Royale many times (6+ / 0-)

    and knowing and working with Rolf Peterson who has managed the study for many many years, the solution to this problem is not an easy one.  This is a classic predator/prey cycle.  Moose populations go up when there are mild winters and food is plentiful, followed by increases in wolf populations when moose are plentiful.  Extreme cold and snow can cause moose to decline followed by wolf numbers also declining.  In the 1980's, many wolves died off due to the parvovirus mentioned above, so moose populations swelled.  They stripped the vegetation and died off over the next few years and the wolves eventually increased in numbers.  Inbreeding has always been a concern. Lately, the moose have suffered from a tick infestation which reduced their numbers and of course, the wolf numbers also then declined.  

    It has long been the policy of the National Park Service to not interfere with "mother nature."  So, this is indeed a dilemma. In the past, we have darted and radio-collared wolves to be able to track their movements around the island... which some would consider "interference." Should we have inoculated those wolves to prevent their die-off from parvovirus?  Should we have inoculated those moose to prevent their die-off due to ticks? Should we bring in new stocks of wolves and/or moose to enrich their gene pools?
    These are the questions the wildlife biologists are pondering as we speak.  Something must be done and soon or this delicate balance will collapse completely.

    "George Washington: "The power under the Constitution will always be in the people.... and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled." 1787

    by moose67 on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 09:58:09 AM PDT

    •  We've had pretty good results out in RMNP (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      moose67, foresterbob, PeterHug

      culling large ungulates for desired populations, not much different than importing, and it's a Park. Don't see why not inoculate too. But then I believe in scientific management.

      "Slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

      by ban nock on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 10:02:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Me too. I'd bring in some fresh breeding stock. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PeterHug, leu2500, Iron Spider, ban nock

        I was very pleased that the NPS just helped to save the last 60 or so members of the original bison herd from Yellowstone - moved to a reservation in Montana, because the ranchers complained there "might" be bovineTB in that herd that would endanger their livestock that are allowed free range on NP land. It always grinds me that those getting free food for their livestock complain the most and want to kill off the natural predators.  With that free food comes some risk and the NPS has always paid the value of the lost stock when it is proven to be a wolf/coyote/bear kill. These decisions are best left to wildlife experts rather than politicians, hunters or ranchers.

        "George Washington: "The power under the Constitution will always be in the people.... and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled." 1787

        by moose67 on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 10:11:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Actually there are 3,700 bison (0+ / 0-)

 Many would love the idea of free ranging bison again, and I'd sincerely encourage anyone to try. Especially somewhere other than close to me. Midwest might be a good place. They aren't moose.

          Many ranchers actually don't have leases from the feds, just use their own land. I certainly wouldn't think any cattle range on National Park land, don't you mean National Forest or BLM?

          Except for National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, and a few other instances, all animals are held in trust for the people of the state they are in. Scientists can inform the people so that they can make the best decisions about what to do with the animals but unless they are citizens of  the state, or are elected or appointed to positions of responsibility, scientists have no say whatsoever in the decision making process. Which is a good thing as scientists often have their own agendas which might or might not be in the best interests of the people.

          The predation payments were a failure otherwise ranchers would love having their animals get eaten. People don't even call them in even when they have a carcass. Ranchers are paid by the pound. Cows with calves go for more than 2K right now, many people have their entire net worth and retirement wrapped up in a few hundred head.

          Hunters pay for the care of all wildlife, and are responsible for what is universally acknowledged to be the finest system of conservation the world has ever known, you're welcome.

          "Slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

          by ban nock on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 05:50:24 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  About 60 bison from Yellowstone (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ban nock

            were shipped to northern Montana to Native American Reservations.  These bison are still genetically pure from the original herds that roamed the west.  Many others in Yellowstone have bred with various cattle breeds and are no longer purebreds.  Here is an article explaining the move

            "George Washington: "The power under the Constitution will always be in the people.... and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled." 1787

            by moose67 on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 07:42:03 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Yes 60 but not the last 60 genetically pure (0+ / 0-)

              and there are no mixed with cattle bison in Yellowstone. All 3700 are from the original herd.

              In the greater Western United States there are many, half a million, those are probably the mixed genes you're thinking of.

              The reason bison will never again run unfenced is that they plow through fences without a second thought. Ultimately a fence must be made of steel pipe and making a fence large enough is a problem. What happens is the cage becomes bigger and bigger but it's still a cage. Bison meat is a big business, that's why they grow half a million. Many foodies like to only eat "wild" meat. So they buy bison or caged elk from Whole Foods.

              All bison are classified as agricultural animals, not game animals, and so they are regulated by agriculture departments not Fish and Game. Agriculture means ranchers and they have held sway for quite a while. Someone, I think the Park Service, allows "hunting" by lottery as they have a problem of space. Too many animals for the available winter range.

              Now that the wolves have just about wiped out the largest naturally migrating elk herd on the planet, The Northern Yellowstone Herd, they have turned to the bison with mixed success, bison are a much more difficult species.

              "Slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

              by ban nock on Sun Mar 25, 2012 at 05:02:06 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  This island is far from a stabile Eco-system (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ban nock

    Wolves will walk over again. Parvo will die out. Moose will die out and walk over again. The island will change with these passing events. I think we should leave nature to nature on the island, otherwise we are just constructing our image or ideal of reality and subjecting these critters to our whims.

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