The National Park Service wants to save the wolves on Isle Royale

There are only two highly-inbred wolves left on the island.
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The National Park Service wants to step in to help save the wolves on Isle Royale National Park.

There are only two, highly-inbred wolves left on the Lake Superior island, and scientists believe their population won't recover naturally.

That's why the National Park Service wants to introduce 20 to 30 new wolves to the island over the next three years. It's one of four options suggested by the agency to address the declining wolf population and preserve the island ecosystem.

Wolves from the Great Lakes Region – including Minnesota – that are genetically diverse and have the traits needed to survive on the island (like hunting moose) would be captured and then introduced to Isle Royale over the next three years. This is the park service's preferred option, because it believes it will be the best way to re-establish a healthy, self-sustaining wolf population.

Saving the island's ecosystem

Isle Royale is home to the longest predator-prey study in the world, which focuses on wolves and their prey – the moose, the National Parks Conservation Association says.

But the wolf populations have fallen 92 percent since 2009, the 2015-2016 annual wolf report says, in part because of in-breading and because other wolves can't get to the island unless there's an ice bridge from Canada, National Parks Traveler reports.

Because of that, the number of moose on the island has grown. And if their population continues this way, it could ruin the island's ecosystem. National Parks Traveler goes into detail about that, saying 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."

What do conservationists think?

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."

This has some conservationists criticizing the plan, saying introducing wolves onto the island could be in conflict with the act, the National Parks Traveler says.

But others are praising the park service's plan. Environmental ethicist Michael Paul Nelson of Oregon State University in Corvallis told Science it's a "really important step. We are facing a future where human intervention is going to be required to secure ecosystem health. … We can’t just do nothing.”

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society, also approved of the plan, saying in a statement that humanely capturing wolves and reintroducing them to Isle Royale would "restore the ecological integrity" of the island, as well as help out farmers in Great Lakes states who have had to deal with problem wolves attacking their livestock.

The National Park Service's proposals for how to intervene on Isle Royale is open for public comment through March 15, 2017. If the park service decides to move forward with the plan to introduce wolves over the next three years, it probably wouldn't happen until the winder of 2018-19, Science says.

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