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Jeff Kart, Treehugger.com
March 17, 2012

Sad news out of the Isle Royale National Park, way up in Michigan, where scientists say there’s only one female gray wolf left in the nine that still roam a chain of islands in western Lake Superior. It’s the lowest population ever recorded there, in 54 years.

According to AP:

There were 24 wolves — roughly their long-term average number — as recently as 2009.

“The wolves are at grave risk of extinction,” said Michigan Tech University wildlife biologist John Vucetich.

Humans probably aren’t (directly) to blame for this one. Isle Royale National Park is one of the least-visited in the U.S., reportedly the only known place where wolves (for now) live beside moose, without bears. You need a boat or seaplane to get there. No hunting.

The study of wolves and moose on Isle Royale is said to be one of the world’s longest-running of predators and prey in a single ecosystem, at more than 50 years.

This year’s winter study (see Vucetich’s blog in The NYT) left researchers with “some grave realizations,” they wrote in a recent Facebook post.

Reported reasons for the near-extinction:

A shortage of females has cut the birth rate, while breakdown of several packs boosted inbreeding and weakened the gene pool. Other troubles include disease and starvation from a drop-off of moose, the wolves’ primary food source.

The question now is, what to do? Should humans intervene by bringing in wolves from the mainland, or let nature take its course? The wolf researchers prefer the latter, but say wolves should still be brought in to keep the moose population (about 750) under control.

Minnesota Public Radio talked to Michigan Tech wildlife biologist Rolf Peterson, who has been part of the long-running wolf study for more than 40 years.

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