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HOUGHTON– During a narrow weather window between storms last week, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) successfully transferred four wolves to Isle Royale National Park. Earlier this winter, severe weather on both sides of the border hampered the ability to capture and transfer wolves. However, NPS staff worked diligently with ONMRF and over the course of four days successfully translocated Canadian wolves. Two mainland wolves, one female and one male from the same pack and both with a black coat color variation, were captured on crown land near Wawa, Ontario, and transferred to Isle Royale. Weather cleared long enough on Thursday to provide an opportunity to access Michipicoten Island Provincial Park, where two males were captured.
All the wolves were captured using OMNRF aircraft. The operation was coordinated by Kevin Middel, OMNRF, and Brent Patterson, OMNRF researcher and Trent University adjunct professor. Two National Park Service veterinarians, Michelle Verant and Jenny Powers along with Graham Crawshaw, an OMNRF veterinarian, supported the project to ensure animal welfare and assess the health of the wolves to be transferred. Two veterinarians completed health assessments in Wawa and one veterinarian received the wolves on Isle Royale to ensure they were fit for release. All four wolves were evaluated based on expectations for winter body conditions and deemed healthy enough for transfer and release.
The first Canadian wolf, a 65 pound female, arrived at Isle Royale on Tuesday afternoon. The next day, OMNRF successfully captured a large 92 pound male from the same pack. He was held for evaluation and transported to Isle Royale and released on Thursday. The clear skies on Thursday finally allowed OMNRF to reach Michipicoten Island Provincial Park. While there, they captured two male wolves, one at the very end of the day as operations were winding down. The first was delivered directly to Isle Royale and released in the late evening hours under clear starry skies on Thursday. The team also captured the alpha male of the Michipicoten Island pack. He was transported and released on Isle Royale Friday.
“I am impressed by the resilience this international team showed to overcome adversity and meet project objectives: polar vortex, federal government shutdown, complex aviation logistics, the list is endless,” stated Mark Romanski, Division Chief of Natural Resources for Isle Royale National Park and project manager for the reintroduction efforts. He continued, “I am even more blown away by the resilience of these wolves who within hours after undergoing capture and handling and arriving on Isle Royale, immediately got on the trail of their pack mates. These large males, all around 90 lbs., will almost certainly know what to do when they encounter a moose.”
NPS made the decision to restore predation, a key ecosystem dynamic, to Isle Royale National Park last June and sourcing the startup population from diverse geographic areas was essential to ensure genetic diversity. Canadian wolves have been a critical component to future success and graciously Ontario Premier Doug Ford approved the operation in October to support NPS objectives. Understanding the goal of balancing the male/female wolf ratio on Isle Royale combined with a need for robust wolf genetics from Canada, OMNRF personnel remained committed to providing wolves from Ontario to support the repopulation of Isle Royale. Knowing weather could prevent access to Michipicoten Island, OMNRF worked with NPS to develop a strategy to acquire wolves from the mainland in Ontario if they were unable to access the island.
Superintendent of Isle Royale National Park, Phyllis Green stated: “ to see these wolves disappear into the forests of Isle Royale and to have an opportunity to start a new generation of wolves on the island fulfilled a major objective in the first year of reestablishing the population. The success reflected six months of planning and represented a major accomplishment by the agencies involved.” Changing ice conditions and winter storms foiled a previous attempt to acquire the Canadian wolves. This week afforded only four operating days between weather windows and the success of the operations can be attributed to the planning and expertise of the OMNRF. Green cited the amazing aircraft resources of the OMNRF, normally used for firefighting, which were critical in capturing the wolves and delivering them to Isle Royale National Park.
Additionally, the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation (NPLSF) has played a crucial role in supporting and documenting the translocation efforts from Canada. When this translocation phase of the project experienced cost overruns due to weather, the Chair, Sona Mehring, worked with the International Wolf Center to ensure the operation continued through the end of the week. The Foundation plans to continue to support the remaining two years of the project and is developing documentary films regarding the project for audiences of all ages.