The island’s wolves are nearly extinct, too inbred and weak. Without predators, the moose population is exploding; they are overbrowsing. Checks and balances are no longer working, experts say.
The latest research showed just three wolves remain on the island, and one was not expected to survive. There are an estimated 1,250 moose, up from about 500 in 2009.
In a public letter to the park service’s chief, Peters, D-Mich., asked to speed up the process, completing it by July 1, 2016. The park service told Peters it would take two years to come up with a plan.
Cam Sholly, the park service’s Midwest director, met with Peters in Washington, D.C., and Peters visited the island two weeks ago, a parks official said. Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, was also present.
“Senator Peters is glad that NPS is developing a plan, but he remains concerned that NPS will not have a plan in place before next spring, when researchers predict it is possible there will no longer be any wolves on the island,” said Allison Green, Peters’ press secretary.
Isle Royale Superintendent Phyllis Green said the park service is already “moving along in a streamlined fashion.”
“It is a pretty fast timeline for an issue that has some complexity,” Green added.
In a May 29 letter, Peters said, “Replenishing the current Isle Royale wolf pack should be strongly considered, especially as an emergency measure if the process takes longer than 12 months.” The letter was also signed by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
A public comment period on how to handle the problem ends Saturday.
One proposal from the the park service calls for the “genetic rescue” of existing wolves by bringing new wolves on the island to create a stronger species by breeding.
A leading island researcher said it is already too late. He also called one park service option of culling moose to keep their numbers in check logistically “silly.”
“Those wolves have been doing so poorly that genetic rescue is not even a possibility,” said John Vucetich, of Michigan Technological University. “Culling? I really — how do I say it politely — it is really the most silly, ridiculous idea you can even consider.”
For comparison, the western Upper Peninsula has 323 moose on 3,864 square miles, the state Department of Natural Resources says. The island is about 210 square miles.
Jack Parker guides hikers on the island. “In 15 years, I have only not seen a moose once,” said Carter, 62, of Kalkaska.
Activists are already gearing up. They say hundreds of comments submitted before the public-input window opened in late July are being ignored.
“The people who wrote care deeply and support the wilderness qualities of Isle Royale, yet their comments will be totally disregarded,” said Nancy Warren, a leading wolf preservationist from Ewen in Ontonagon County.
Warren said she obtained nearly 1,100 such comments through the Freedom of Information Act. Seventy-five percent called for “genetic rescue,” she said.