ENP 22.3 Isle Royale: Roaming With The Wolves
02/18/2020One of Isle Royale National Park’s most famous attractions is one that visitors rarely see: wolves. Bryan had the opportunity to speak with Park Ranger Mark Romanski, Division Chief of Natural Resources, about the park’s most elusive resident.
Female Wolf at Night. Trail camera photo of the first female wolf released on the island. Captured 9-27-18. Photo by National Park Service.
Wolf CrossingPark Ranger Mark Romanski, Division Chief of Natural Resources at Isle Royale National Park. Photo by National Park Service.Mark wants to make one thing clear from the four-legged point of view. “It’s a hard life being a wolf.” Even when you’re the only predator in an island ecosystem. Still, planning a trip to Isle Royale is made all the more exciting with the lore and romance of the park’s famously secretive inhabitants in mind. The park’s current population, translocated from the surrounding mainland, are fascinating animals in general. But it’s their predecessors, specifically, who warrant further awe. Those wolves decided, in the winter of 1948, to take a stroll across Lake Superior’s frozen straights - a crossing that, in summer, takes hours by ferry - and made Isle Royale their home.
Fall 2019 First Wolf: Observation 2
From left, National Park Service veterinarian Michelle Verant, Michigan Department of Natural Resources veterinary specialist Dan O’Brien and Michigan DNR wildlife technician Brad Johnson take vital signs and measurements of a gray wolf captured Sept. 6, 2019 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.Photo by National Park Service.
Since then, the population has fluctuated. Today, park management, in conjunction with Michigan Technological University’s long-term research project, keep tabs on the wolves via GPS and other advanced recording methods. These censuses have tracked the ebb and flow of pack numbers from few as a pair to upwards of 50 at its peak. The team consistently evaluates the merits of assisted species reintroduction strategies against allowing island wolves to become extinct for good. “I think the two biggest factors we deal with [are]...we’re able to do this, but should we?” In the end, Mark’s team viewed predation on Isle Royale as a valuable ecosystem dynamic to preserve. Without it, the moose population would grow unchallenged.
Wolf Censuses And Repopulation
Third wolf runs out of crate while Ranger Mike Ausema, Natural Resource Chief Mark Romanski, researcher Beth Orning, and Superintendent Phyllis Green observe. Photo by National Park Service.
A Wilderness Beyond The WolvesFall 2018: First Male Wolf in Holding Facility before transport. Photo by National Park Service.Although recently reintroduced to the park, your trip most likely won’t include a wolf sighting. They’re notoriously evasive, despite the finite land on which they have to roam. Hard borders aside, wolves manage to stay well clear of humans and, even when they don’t, they pose little to no threat. Wolf lore aside, Isle Royale has so much to offer, whether you’re a day-tripper or a backcountry adventurer. “That’s the whole package, right? It’s your journey to the island that gets you in that space of like, ‘oh my gosh! I’ve got to be on this boat for this many hours before I get there’ and your mind has a chance to calm down,” says Mark. “And then you get out and into the wild and out on the trail and I think it’s the whole experience.” There’s an entire wilderness to discover beyond the wolves. But you’re walking the same trails as these secretive, socially remarkable creatures so who knows? You just might get lucky.
Fall 2019 First Wolf: Loading Wolf Crate into Plane 1
From left, Todd Kautz and Ashley Lutto, both students at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, prepare to move a gray wolf transport crate from a van to National Park Service veterinarian Michelle Verant and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot Stephen Earsom. The wolf was captured and released Sept. 6, 2019. Photo by National Park Service.
0:02 - Past episodes listening suggestions: Ken Burns interview, Biscayne National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Everglades National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Olympic National Park, Saguaro National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park
1:04 - Mark Romanski, Division Chief, Natural Resources, Isle Royale National Park
1:56 - When and how wolves made their way to Isle Royale
2:54 - Population Programs: From a 1948 collaboration with Detroit Zoo through today
3:55 - Shifting policies, shifting populations of an island ecosystem
6:00 - The big bear question (and answer), “Why are there no bears on Isle Royale?”
6:53 - Collecting data on Isle Royale’s current wolf population with Michigan Technological University
8:16 - Caucusing: The winter study with Dr. Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich
11:02 - Modern tech, modern tracking
11:25 - Wolves: Social lives and relationship structures
13:53 - Wolves: Hunting and adaptability
17:01 - Collecting data, part II
18:22 - Moose: Not the easiest kill
19:32 - Slim chances of seeing (or hearing) Isle Royale’s most elusive residents
23:47 - Wolf calls
25:21 - Beauty beyond the wolf
26:27 - Femur finds
27:20 - Wolf observation plans for 2020
28:18 - Ranger Mark shares his favorite wolf-related Isle Royale story