Isle Royale, an island national park in Lake Superior just miles east of Minnesota’s northern edge, is a special but distressed place of wilderness. The current instability of its wildlife and ecology led to the decision to add 20 to 30 wolves to the island (StarTribune.com, June 7).
The question now becomes which wolves will be used by the National Park Service to repopulate and help the island’s future ecology. We at the nonprofit organization Howling for Wolves call for the more than 100 wolves held in captivity by the Wildlife Science Center in Stacy, Minn., to be used for this special and important mission.
Restoring captive animals to the wild, or “re-wilding,” is a necessary conservation activity for many endangered species. Learning how to successfully re-wild a species and making scientific observations is a win for wildlife and for biologists. It is increasingly necessary as more species are driven from their natural habitats.
Currently, the wolves at the Wildlife Science Center live a caged and stark existence in captivity. Many wolves housed closely together where different packs can see and hear one another is not natural, not their social norm, and it creates perilous interactions.
These captive wolves can be freed on Isle Royale, which is a common-sense, humane approach. This would compensate these captive wolves for all they endured and allow them to live wild and free.
There are also particular challenges with using wild wolves to repopulate Isle Royale, because randomly trapping and removing wild wolves from their territories disrupts their existing family pack and social structure. We know from many research studies that removing wolves disrupts their packs and leads to increased predation on livestock in following years. This then results in more wild wolves being killed by USDA Wildlife Services.
All of this can be avoided by using captive wolves.
Releasing captive wolves is a win-win solution. Wolves are needed on the island to restore plants and trees decimated by the moose. They will serve a critical function for wildlife whose habitat depends on the wolf for vegetation growth. Any wolf on the island would face isolation socially, genetically and geographically, but using captive wolves shows we support re-wilding an endangered species.
Maureen Hackett is founder and president of Howling for Wolves.