Playtime over for the moose on Isle Royale, as the wolves are coming back

The National Park Service confirmed they'll add 20-30 wolves to the island by 2023.
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Gray wolf

There will be no more fun and games for the moose of Isle Royale on Lake Superior, as they're about to share the land once again with an apex predator.

The National Park Service confirmed on Thursday that it will be introducing 20-30 wolves to the isolated national park that is technically in Michigan, though is closest to the Minnesota mainland.

The island used to have a wolf population of around 50 in the 1980s, but they were descended from a small pack and inbreeding led to plummeting numbers to the point that only two remain today.

Meanwhile the population of their prey, the moose, has tripled over the last decade to around 1,500, thanks to the decline of the predator.

The NPS said that the historical average number of wolves on the island is between 20-30, which is why that many will be re-introduced to it over the next 3-5 years.

"This decision is an important step forward in attempting to obtain a proper predator-prey dynamic within the Isle Royale National Park ecosystem," said Midwest Regional Director Cam Sholly.

"We appreciate the intense public involvement throughout this process and look forward to continued outreach as this decision is implemented."

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Why intervention is needed

The park system said that it was unlikely that the wolves would repopulate the island themselves because of the previous inbreeding issues, as well as the unreliability of ice bridge formation in the winter that allows wild wolves to travel to the island.

If no intervention was taken, the NPS previously said that eventually moose would eat themselves out of forage (and all the other animals out of forage), which could "send ripples through the park's ecosystem."

The National Park Service usually takes a hands-off management approach to wilderness areas. In fact, it's part of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which defines wilderness as a place that "generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable."

As such, there has been some opposition to the plan by those who think the NPS is acting in conflict with the act, but supporters have praised the decision for securing the health of the ecosystem.

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