National Park Service mulls Isle Royale wolf rescue as sickly handful hang on

The heartbreaking plight of Isle Royale wolves was chronicled in Silence of the Wolves, a terrific package of stories published this weekend by Lansing State Journal writer Louise Knott Ahern.

It made me recall - you'll see why if you read a little further - walking to the middle of a frozen Torch Lake in the early 1980s to fire Jerry's* guns randomly down the lake lengthwise. We couldn't get away with that today -- there are too many uppity year-rounders with winterized cottages. But the bigger reason is that Torch Lake hardly ever freezes over any more like it used to when I was young(er).

Neither does Grand Traverse Bay, or many other parts of the Great Lakes, research has shown.

And, neither does the Lake Superior ice bridge between Isle Royale National Park and the mainland. In fact, Superior has warmed 6 degrees Fahrenheit in three decades. That's a scary trend that's sobering not only on a professional level, but a personal one: It's insulting to hardy Michiganders when any tourist with a Speedo can swim in Superior without getting an ice cream headache.

That warming is why the island's world-renowned study of the moose/wolf predator/prey relationship is almost done for. Too much inbreeding among the island's isolated wolfpack has put them on the brink. No ice bridge, no new wolves, no new genetics. Normally, that'd just be tough luck for Rolf Peterson and his inexhaustible band of researchers. National Park Service policy says don't mess with Mother Nature, no matter how much it hurts.

But here's the rub: Climate change - primarily caused by manmade emissions of greenhouse gasses - is the primary cause for the lack of ice and, therefore, the genetic collapse of the island's wolves. The Park Service's hands-off policy has wiggle room to intervene when species are endangered, or suffering due to the direct actions of humans. And so a vigorous debate is ongoing about whether new wolves should be brought in to rescue the island's wolves.

I've been to Isle Royale on three occasions - as a teenage YMCA camper in the late 1970s; with my wife and children in the 1990s; and with an environmental journalism fellowship group in 2005. On that last trip, Peterson pitched his tent next to mine for two nights -- a celebrity encounter of sorts by my standards. Peterson wants an exception to the Park Service policy to step in and repopulate Isle Royale's wolves. I am by no means speaking on behalf of MEC when I say, If it's good enough for Rolf, it's good enough for me.

I'll be rooting for the wolves. For a hands-on decision from the Park Service. And, perhaps for one last ice bridge to the mainland before Superior sadly becomes bathwater.

*A pseudonym. "Jerry" has a respectable job, a reputation to uphold, and fortunately Facebook photos did not exist in 1982.




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