Not Gone Yet: Scientists Find Evidence of Wolves on Isle Royale

Wolf tracks on Isle Royale, Feb 2016
Wolf tracks on Isle Royale, Feb 2016 (Photo courtesy Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale Facebook page)

Wolves have been disappearing rapidly on Isle Royale in Lake Superior the past several years. The population has dropped from about 50 at its peak to just three last winter. Without a mating pair present,  researchers have been wondering if there were any left alive.

A couple weeks ago, scientists determined there are still at least two. Michigan Tech researchers working on the island found prints from a pair of wolves, reporting on Facebook, “We found tracks of two wolves frozen in the slush of Lake Eva. They had spent time during a two-day thaw nosing around an active beaver pond.”

The wolf population has dropped by 90 percent since its high of about 50 animals in the 1980s, the Grand Rapids Press reported. The population has been tracked since the 1950s as part of a long-running study of the relationship between wolves and moose.

Most of the observations during the annual Winter Study are performed from a two-seater airplane circling the park. The scientists count moose and look for signs of wolves.

The difficulty of confirming the presence of wolves was highlighted in a blog post this time last year, when the team tried to relocate the group of three wolves they had observed earlier. During a snowy stretch, they figured the wolves were laying low, hunkered down under balsam firs, and impossible to find from above.

“We can look under clumps of fir, and we do. Get the Flagship to circle in just the right way, peer at just the right angle into the forest, and you can see beneath a clump of fir. But the island is two hundred and ten square miles of forest and swamp, ten thousand clumps of balsam fir, fifty thousand clumps of spruce, and a hundred thousand clumps of cedar. A wolf cannot live long enough for us to look beneath every clump,” they wrote.


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