In an earlier post entitled Islands of Wolves, Rats, Lions and Dogs, I detailed the different social-demographic-and genetic loads and problems that occur when different species occupy islands or otherwise suffer from extremely isolated (and therefore inbred) populations.
As I noted, what species an animal is, where it feeds on the pyramid, and how it lives and loves are very important issues so far as genetic health and long-term population viability are concerned.
To illuminate that point I compared the extreme genetic isolation of the Isle Royale Wolves in Michigan to what has occurred when rats, and lions have found themselves on similar sized islands.
Now comes word that scientists are worried that the Isle Royale Wolves may go extinct.
Isle Royale National Park's gray wolves, one of the world's most closely monitored predator populations, are at their lowest ebb in more than a half-century and could die out within a few years, scientists said Friday.
Only nine wolves still wander the wilderness island chain in western Lake Superior and just one is known to be a female, raising doubts they'll bounce back from a recent free-fall unless people lend a hand... There were 24 wolves — roughly their long-term average number — as recently as 2009.... The only intact pack had six members. One wolf wandered alone, while a couple — including the only known female — staked out territory and apparently mated.
Should the Isle Royale Wolves be allowed to go extinct?
If that happens, what will happen to the moose population, and what will that mean for the island's vegetation?
To be clear here, there is no great decision to be made here.
We have many thousands of wild wolves all over the lower-48 now, and extremely healthy wolf populations exist all over Canada and Alaska as well. The wolf is an animal that is not only off the Endangered Species List, but is allowed to be hunted in a few states.
The fate of a dozen wolves on Isle Royale, then is largely a philosophical debate, and not necessarily one of great import or permanence. After all, wolves did not exist on Isle Royale at all just 70 years ago. Even if all the wolves on the island died out this year (a very unlikely scenario), a hard freeze over Lake Superior next winter might return a new population from the mainland soon enough.