Airborne Wolves Drop Into The United States

U.S. Army photo

No, this is not the lead to the new “Snakes on a Plane” cult movie. However, it is a Canadian invasion of sorts. Four Canadian wolves were air-dropped into Lake Superior’s Isle Royale National Park in Michigan to augment the island’s dwindling wolf population and to control the resulting rising Moose population. That might seem an unfair advantage when the perspective of the moose but the park long had a wonderful balance between the populations of wolves and moose. I have a particularly interest in Isle Royale because I have spent many weeks backpacking around the island when I lived in Chicago.

I adore the park and the ecosystem on the island. I was surprised by the drop in the wolf population.

The moose population has reached 1,500. If I recall, it used to be around 1,200 when I regularly backpacked the area. The wolf pack will now number eight.

The National Park Service captured the three males and one female Canadian wolves Michipicoten Island in Ontario and dropped them from helicopters. This is really good news for the park and all of us who love it.

Isle Royale also has a wonderful history to go with its wonderful ecosystem. There is evidence cooper mining from prehistoric time. The island was a part of the 1783 treaty with Great Britain negotiated by Benjamin Franklin and others. It was viewed as strategically valuable for both its location and its cooper deposits.

Of course, as Canadians they will be given time off to watch hockey.

The National Park Service hopes to take 20 to 30 wolves to Isle Royale over the next several years.

23 thoughts on “Airborne Wolves Drop Into The United States”

  1. “There is evidence cooper mining from prehistoric time. The island was a part of the 1783 treaty with Great Britain negotiated by Benjamin Franklin and others. It was viewed as strategically valuable for both its location and its cooper deposits.

    Because if we run out of cooper, where will our wooden barrels come from?

  2. This is an unfortunate post quite obviously borne of nostalgia and some emotion. While understandable, emotion is a poor rationale for environmental policy and can blind one to harsh facts. Moreover Professor Turley, if you intend to post along these lines, I think you have an obligation to educate yourself about the likely environmental consequences of the actions you highlight or laud. Karen S makes many fine comments in this section. I’d like to add to those.

    There are three recognized sub-species of gray wolves in NA. The large Canadian or Alaskan wolves, the so-called plains wolves, and the Mexican Gray. Adult males can weigh up to 140#, 110# and 80# respectively. It’s not clear from the story whether it was the larger sub-species which has been moved to Isle Royale. That is the sub-species which has been used to restart wolf packs in MT and WY. Unfortunately, the big Canadian wolves have a highly refined sport killing reflex. There are clear, documented cases of packs of less than ten wolves killing respectively 122 sheep near Dillon, MT and 19 cattle including 17 calves near Bondurant, WY. In neither case did the wolves feed significantly. They simply killed and moved on. In most cases, kills are not quick. The prey is worn down through chase, hamstrung if possible, and the pack begins to feed on the terrified animal while it is still alive. The Canadian wolves are wreaking havoc throughout the Rocky MT west among deer, elk, and moose populations. They’ve now been de-listed as endangered in, I believe, MT and WY. These packs will also kill other top predators including other wolf packs if they can.

    The implied romanticization and idealization of wolves in Professor Turley’s blog is highly unfortunate. These are apex predators and unarmed hikers are not at the top of the food chain. I’ve seen the big Alaskan wolves in the wild and they are huge. I had a German Shepherd, Alaskan Husky, Alaskan wolf (1/8) cross that weighed 110#. He could put his paws on my shoulders at 6’2″ and look me right in the eye. The idea of an even larger wolf weighing another 30# is truly scary.

    A far better solution would have been to let hunters cull the herd because as, Karen S carefully pointed out, Isle Royale has not been able to consistently support a moose and wolf population. This is just wishful, idealistic thinking.

  3. As a lifelong woman/conservationist, I’m of the belief a cull hunt would have benefited all parties much better. 1. Cull hunts remove a specific number of specimens by human harvesting practices. 2. The cost of capture/release of trapped wolves is eliminated. 3. Trapping/relocating pack animals has always been problematic…on a small island I’m thinking, when more so. 4. Fees from lottery sales of hunting permits would be funneled into future and better conservation practices of these specimens. 5. No removal of established wolf populations is needed.

    1. I agree. What they are currently trying has already resulted in the deaths of several wolves.

      What I would like to add is that when they do such culls, it would be nice if they could use the meat in a food pantry to help the poor, as well as selling regular hunting permits.

      If they want to maintain a permanent residence of moose, that, too, would require permanent human intervention. If so, then they need to ensure they cull weaker, unfit, and diseased animals. Hunting permits remove healthy animals, as they are used for human consumption. They need to augment that with trying to select against unfit animals on the island.

      1. Absolutely, meat donations absolutely, after the hunters are rewarded. Those that pay for the privilege must be treated appropriately. Hunters hunt for many reasons…ultimately…it’s all about the meat.

  4. Moose is food. Want to reduce the population then hunt. Wolf can’t distinguish between moose and you. Good luck with that.

  5. I both love and hate this idea of manmade or man-sustained microbiomes. I am not intimately familiar with Isle Royale, and can only speak from the point of other such projects

    Isle Royale National Park is roughly 45 X 9 miles. Typically, island species miniaturize as they evolve. Moose who are over 6 feet tall at the withers (or over 18 HH), are obviously not that well suited for an island. That may be why their population fluctuates from 500 to 2400 animals. They arrived in 1900, which makes them a really recent addition to the ecosystem. https://www.nps.gov/isro/learn/nature/moose.htm

    We are coming out of an Ice Age. Typically, ice bridges allow large mammals to travel back and forth between the mainland and such islands. When they get marooned is when their adaptability determines how lucky they are in the evolution hunger games. Are the moose lucky?

    The moose are a tourist attraction, so a government agency decided they get to stay. But moose are not endemic to the island. When they get stranded, they would over graze the entire island, destroy the ecology, and starve to death. The island would probably recover after the moose were gone, but the trees would get girdled and die in the process, and it would take decades to see significant canopy height.

    They don’t want the moose taking the island ecosystem down with them while they starve to death, and they want to keep the megafauna tourist attraction, so they “reintroduce” the gray wolf. And by “reintroduce” I mean put a species back on the island that has been unsuccessful there every time it crosses an ice bridge and gets stuck there. Usually, there is a reason why an animal is not in a location. If it was wiped out from human hunting, there is a chance it will survive. If that wasn’t the cause of its demise on the island, it’s not going to work unless the island is treated like a zoo, with continuous intervention.

    During the cooler periods of the last Little Ice Age, moose would migrate to the island, and either leave or starve. Wolves would trail them, and either leave on the ice bridge, or starve. The island does not seem able to support a moose and wolf population on its own, or there would be a moose and wolf population there.

    When the moose started damaging the island ecosystem, so they have periodically sent wolves there. One died from sedation. One died form pneumonia. One went home to Canada over an ice bridge. Through a series of unfortunate events, they were down to two wolves. Being worried about genetic diversity, they plan to import up to thirty over the next several years. That is still a significant genetic bottleneck.

    In addition, unless I am mistaken, they are simply trapping and relocating random wolves that they find. The primary cause of wolf deaths on the mainland is fighting with other wolves. These animals form packs where there is a fight for dominance. Males who want mates eventually either challenge the alpha or leave the pack to strike out on their own. Most will die from either territorial fights with other wolves, or from starvation, being unable to bring down large prey without a pack. Even female wolves are killed in territorial disputes.

    Scientists seem to be randomly plucking animals, without any regard to who seems the most fit. Who is canny. A better solution would have been to select an intact pack and relocate it. That would have been less stressful to the wolves. Otherwise, perhaps they could find a prime alpha who lost his pack, perhaps through hunting, and offer him a variety of females, who will then try to destroy each other until they establish a pecking order. Even the omegas, whose vital role of being a sweetie in their own pack will likely be killed. They don’t exactly try to get to know your stellar personality as they bite your butt running you off.

    What they have set up is a hunger game for the wolves. Dump a bunch of strangers on an island together, not really large enough for the inevitable lone wolves, and see who survives and glues together a pack. That is why they plan on putting 30 wolves there. Most of them are going to die so they want to make sure there are enough left to form a viable pack. That is really grim for the wolves who get trapped.

    If the ice bridges are no longer viable migratory routes, then they could just remove all the moose and leave the island alone. This project, if you can distance yourself from all of the wolf losses, might work out if they can reach equilibrium. I would not consider this project a success if it requires continuous human intervention. Then, it’s more like a large, remove, open air zoo. That could still have value to the public. We will have to see what happens.

    https://www.npca.org/advocacy/37-wolves-at-isle-royale

  6. “Cooper deposits”? I imagine that this was supposed to be “copper”, rather than there being any deposits of barrels.

    I am always lucky when the spelling errors are not my own, as I often type faster than my own internal spell check.

  7. Please don’t tell the Trump brothers or Sarah Palin the brothers will hire a undocumented worker to book the hunt, and Sarah will be shooting them from a helicopter.

    1. upon information and belief, it’s about $10K to hire a cover entry via boat from Canada to the US on the great lakes. No wall can stop that, but watch out if the Witch of November comes early.

      by comparison, ocean based landing from TJ to San Diego area is $5K and a typical coyote crossing by land is around $2,500. no personal knowledge of this, just repeating hearsay.

  8. One presumes the air-drop officials taped the wolves in various stages of their air-drop adventure. Perhaps said wolves were drugged unconscious so they wouldn’t freak-out in flight..? But then again, they would have to be conscious when deposited in their new home turf. Hopefully National Geographic went along to document this mission.

  9. Could the wolves be considered illegal aliens? Was a family separation involved here? Will they be issued a green card? Will they have an expedited path to citizenship? At least, they have shown there is a way to skirt a border wall.

  10. They should have used American Wolves. After all it is a USA National Park. 😀
    Me and my wife spent our honeymoon there, stayed at the lodge, wonderful place.

  11. Did you ever fly on the puddle jumper piloted by Coley Thede? The take-offs and landings are a true experience.

    1. Yes-
      Flew Rock Harbor to Houghton late summer of 1971. Slept past takeoff, ran to the dock and boarded next plane out- already full but Capt. Thede allowed me to sit just aft of trim console for balance until after takeoff, then on gear piled on the floor.

      Docking at Houghton he turned in, cut motors and stepped out onto a float to prep a line while we were still out a bit. Giving me the wheel he asked me to maintain course drifting into the dock. Easy enough but a thrill for a seventeen year old to handle the craft even that much.

      Also flew on the twin from Windigo to Rock Harbor but can’t recall whether Coley Thede piloted that one. Lots of moose there but saw no wolves then or during the preceding hike down Greenstone Ridge from Rock Harbor to Windigo. Didn’t plan food well for the hike and supplemented as needed with huckleberries and thimbleberries at trailside for the walk. Late summer a great time for northland hiking.

  12. In other news:

    The budget deficit grew by 77% in the 1st Q of the budget year compared to last year.
    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/federal-budget-deficit-leaps-77-percent-so-far-for-fiscal-2019/

    “Tax cuts pay for themselves”

    The trade deficit for 2018 set a record at over $4 trillion, the highest by far over the last 11 years.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenroberts/2019/03/06/for-u-s-trade-2018-was-a-record-setter-new-data-shows-but-china-trade-war-prevented-one/#55fa95d915ea

    Trump campaigned against this stat, a mistake by some economists, but live by the stat ……..!

    NK is fixing up an ICBM site.
    reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-usa-trump/movement-at-north-korea-icbm-plant-viewed-as-missile-related-south-korea-idUSKCN1QO0B7

    “Just landed – a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump tweeted as he arrived back in Washington. “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” – Jun 13, 2018

    Good times!

    1. thank you for those irrelevant and utterly disconnected news headlines anti Trump obsessive anon

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