Isle Royale

Environment & Science
5:48 pm
Fri March 14, 2014

Isle Royale wolf that crossed ice bridge was shot with pellet gun

"Isabelle" on the icy shoreline of Isle Royale before she crossed to the mainland.
Isle Royale Wolf Moose Study

A wolf that fled from Isle Royale National Park over an ice bridge was found dead on the Minnesota mainland last month.

Researchers were unsure how the wolf died at the time, but a necropsy found that the five-year-old female wolf was shot with a pellet gun.

Lee Berquist of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more:

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Environment & Science
3:02 pm
Fri February 7, 2014

Ice bridge to Isle Royale is complete, will new wolves cross it?

Lake Superior on Feb. 4, 2014. Can you find the ice bridge to Isle Royale in this photo? It's there.
MODIS NASA

The last time I checked, the ice bridge to Isle Royale had not fully formed, but there's an ice bridge now.

Michigan Technological University's Rolf Peterson confirmed it in an e-mail to me last night.

"There's been a good ice bridge for the past 10 days."

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Environment & Science
1:38 pm
Thu January 9, 2014

Wolf researchers keeping an eye on a potential ice bridge to Isle Royale

The ice forming north of Isle Royale on Jan. 1, 2014.
MODIS NASA

Update: Friday, February 7, 2014

The ice bridge to Isle Royale has formed. See our post here.

Original post: January 9, 2014

Wolves first came to Isle Royale in Lake Superior by crossing an ice bridge in the late 1940s, but these ice bridges have not been forming as often in recent years and the wolf population on Isle Royale has been suffering as a result.

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The Environment Report
1:17 pm
Tue November 19, 2013

The clock is ticking for a decision on Isle Royale's wolves

Isle Royale National Park Superindendent Phyllis Green talks with people at a public meeting in Chelsea, Michigan about the wolves on Isle Royale.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Wolves are doing fine in many parts of the Upper Midwest, so much so that people are hunting them now.

But a protected population of wolves on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior has plummeted.

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Environment & Science
4:38 pm
Tue November 12, 2013

Why are moose populations declining?

Rolf Peterson on Isle Royale.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

All across North America, something is happening to the moose.

From British Columbia to New Hampshire, moose populations are thinning out, and no one has been able to point to a good, clear reason why.

For the status of moose here in Michigan, we turned to Rolf Peterson, Professor at Michigan Technological University. He joined us from Houghton.

*Listen to the interview above.

Politics & Government
8:55 am
Sat November 2, 2013

Lessenberry talks elections, Detroit bankruptcy trial and Isle Royale's 'wasteful spending'

Dave Linabury Flickr

Week in review interview for 11/2/13

This Week in Review Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss next week's elections, the Detroit bankruptcy eligibility trial and the accusation by a Senator from Oklahoma that Isle Royale is wasting money and is not worthy of preservation.

Politics & Government
4:04 pm
Wed October 30, 2013

Oklahoma senator points to two Michigan national parks as examples of 'wasteful' federal spending

Isle Royale nature trail.
Wikipedia

Two Michigan landmarks have been targeted by a Republican senator as prime examples of wasteful federal spending.

Each year, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) issues a report on what he feels are the most egregious examples of government waste.

This report points to Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior and Keweenaw National Historical Park in the UP as "wasteful" and not worthy of preservation.

Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press Washington reporter joined us today to tell us what’s behind Sen. Coburn’s reasoning.

Listen to the full interview above.

The Environment Report
8:55 am
Thu August 15, 2013

Wolf pups a good sign for struggling population on Isle Royale

John Vucetich/Rolf Peterson Michigan Tech

An interview with Superintendent Phyllis Green.

The wolves of Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park have not been doing well, but there’s some unexpected good news.

Earlier this year, researchers from Michigan Technological University who study the wolves reported there were just eight wolves left - and they reported they were unable to find any evidence of pups born to those wolves.

But now, that has changed. Michigan Tech researcher Rolf Peterson heard two or three wolf pups in July.

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9:19 pm
Thu May 9, 2013

Should humans put more wolves on Isle Royale?

Lead in text: 
Times have changed. In Michigan we plan on killing wolves because some feel there are too many. It's a different story on Isle Royale where the wolf population is hanging on by a thread. But because Isle Royale National Park is a designated wilderness area, we, as humans, have pledged not to intervene. So what should we do? The National Park Service has a big decision to make. The folks who have been studying this place for a long time share their thoughts in this op-ed piece.
IN Lake Superior lies a remote island, Isle Royale National Park, 134,000 acres of boreal and hardwood forests where a life-or-death struggle between wolves and moose has been the subject of the world's longest study of predators and their prey, now in its 55th year.
Environment & Science
11:10 am
Thu May 9, 2013

You have to see this stunning video of Michigan's Northern Lights

From Shawn Malone's time-lapse video.
Shawn Malone Vimeo screen grab

The wonders of our night sky often escape us.

The rainbows of the fleeting Northern Lights or the bright streak of a comet frequently slip behind cloud cover or crowded city skylines, leaving stargazers unrewarded.

But Shawn Malone, of Lake Superior Photo, was luckier than most.

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The Environment Report
11:36 am
Thu April 18, 2013

Decision time for Isle Royale, only 8 wolves left

Rolf Peterson, John Vucetich Michigan Tech

You can listen to today's Environment Report here or read an expanded version of the story below.

Wolves and moose fight for survival on Michigan's Isle Royale National Park. For more than 50 years, researchers have been closely watching them in the world’s longest-running study of predators and prey.

The number of predators on the island has been sinking fast.

The Park is a dedicated wilderness area, so managers do their best to keep it as untouched by humans as possible. But people might need to step in.

Phyllis Green is the park's superintendent.  “At this point we’re concerned about the low levels of wolves on the island, but we’re also concerned about making sure the next steps we take are well-thought-out,” she says.

There are just eight wolves left on Isle Royale. This is the first year that Michigan Technological University researchers were unable to document any pups born to the wolves.

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Environment & Science
8:08 pm
Thu February 21, 2013

Park revises 2012 Isle Royale female wolf total

Rolf Peterson, John Vucetich Michigan Tech

ISLE ROYALE, Mich. (AP) - Isle Royale National Park's gray wolves apparently don't have a gender gap after all.

Scientists reported last year that only nine wolves remained on the Lake Superior island chain - the lowest total in more than 50 years. They said just one was known to be a female, raising doubts about the predator's long-term prospects for survival in the wilderness park.

But Superintendent Phyllis Green said Thursday that genetic analysis of wolf excrement and additional observations suggest that four or five of the animals are females.

Even so, Green says the wolves' situation remains tenuous and experts are studying how climate change may affect them.

Michigan Technological University biologists are conducting their annual winter study at Isle Royale and are expected to release updated wolf and moose numbers next month.

Environment & Science
5:12 pm
Tue December 11, 2012

Stateside: Studying wolves to understand the environment

Moose bones offer insight into Isle Royale's environment and its wolves
user metassus Flickr

Michigan Radio’s Rebecca Williams visited Isle Royale, a remote island in Lake Superior reachable only by ferry or airplane.

Williams spoke with scientist Rolf Peterson about the island’s diminishing wolf population.

“Over the past 54 years, researchers have collected more than 4,000 moose skeletons on the island.  The bones offer clues about the moose population – and about the wolves.  Wolves got here by crossing an ice bridge from Ontario in the late 1940’s,” said Williams.

Peterson’s studies are extensive.

“This study of wolves and moose is the longest running study in the world of a predator and its prey.  Rolf Peterson has been involved for 42 years of the study. He’s been here through the brutal black fly summers and the harshest winters. He and his wife Candy live in an old fishing cabin on the island for much of the year,” said Williams.

To hear and see the entire series, you can see our topic page: Lessons from Isle Royale's Wolves and Moose.

There are two ways you can podcast "Stateside with Cynthia Canty"

Environment & Science
3:27 pm
Fri June 15, 2012

Romeo dies in an old mine: How three Isle Royale wolves died

"Romeo" was eager to mate with other females. He was one of the wolves that died in the mine shaft last fall. He's seen here following a female wolf in 2010.
Michigan Tech

In the last year, seven wolves on Isle Royale died. The total population is now down to nine wolves.

That's the lowest number recorded by researchers who have been studying the Isle Royale wolf population for the last 54 years. It's the longest continuous predator-prey study in the world.

When Rebecca Williams and I visited Rolf Peterson on Isle Royale last month, we asked him about the die-off.

He told us they didn't know what happened to them, "but we will know," he said.

Well, now they know how three of the seven wolves died. One was a young female wolf.

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Lessons from Isle Royale
2:51 pm
Fri June 8, 2012

Extinction of wolves could lead to extinction of study on Isle Royale

Rolf Peterson holds up the song sheet for the evening. Candy Peterson loves to get people singing. She says "people shouldn't say, 'I can't sing,' they should say 'I don't sing very often.'"
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

We've been posting radio pieces, videos, and blog posts all week as part of our series Lessons from Isle Royale's Wolves and Moose.

Researchers like Durwood Allen, and Michigan Tech's John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson have been keeping a close eye on the animals on the island for more than five decades.

Peterson has been doing it the longest. He's been watching and documenting things on Isle Royale for 42 years.

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Lessons from Isle Royale
9:20 am
Thu June 7, 2012

Volunteers hunt for moose bones on Isle Royale

Moosewatch volunteer Dave Beck holds up a marked antler. Team leader Jeff Holden looks on. They mark the antlers and hang them in a tree so others know the antler has been found and documented.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Wolves and moose are at the heart of the world’s longest running study of a predator and its prey.  The drama unfolds on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

But it’s a big island, almost entirely wilderness.

The researchers from Michigan Tech say they can’t cover all that ground alone. 

So they have a program called Moosewatch.  It’s a backcountry expedition where you pay to help out with the wolf-moose study.  But be warned: it’s no easy little walk in the woods.

"We’re going to trash through the understory here for a third to half of a mile and see if we can find some dead moose."

That’s Jeff Holden. He’s a Moosewatch group leader, in charge of a group of six (himself plus five volunteers).  We’re going to push our way into the thick forest.

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Lessons from Isle Royale
2:46 pm
Wed June 6, 2012

Messages from Shelter #10 on Isle Royale

A message from a visitor in shelter #10 on Isle Royale.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

When you camp on Isle Royale, you don't necessarily have to sleep in tents.

You can sleep in a "camping shelter," which is basically an elevated, screened-in, wooden structure.

It can protect you from the elements and the bugs.

And based on our experience, it seems people have had some time on their hands waiting out storms in these shelters.

Park visitors have left messages on the walls - something we humans love to do - even long before we had Facebook walls to write on.

We were expecting profane, but we found inspiring, humorous, artistic, and messages describing their experiences while on Isle Royale. (O.k., there was a little profanity here and there. It is graffiti, after all.)

To see the messages, take a look at the slideshow above.

Some of our favorites:

  • "45 miles 8 days all w/diabetes! 2010"
  • A diagram showing you where to "BANG HEAD." It was surprisingly accurate. I hit my head on that low beam 5 or 6 times.
  • "Flight over for 3 - $625.00 - Gear and food - $300.00 - Spending my 50th birthday hiking with my daughter and son - priceless (50 miles) - JMR 8/2007"
  • "...My girlfriend says everything is my fault (it is)..."
  • "...Lots of rain, no bugs, probably going to have tapeworm. LIVING THE DREAM!"
  • "we came, we saw, we got eaten by giant, rabid, mutant squirrels! Help..."

Write on our walls! Tell us about your camping experiences around Michigan. The good. The bad. The unforgettable.

Lessons from Isle Royale
9:00 am
Wed June 6, 2012

VIDEO: Picking apart a dead moose on Isle Royale

Wolf biologist Rolf Peterson taking us to the site of a moose carcass on Caribou Island. He and other researchers collect bones from dead moose as part of their research.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

It's not as gross as it sounds. And if you heard yesterday's report from Rebecca Williams, it really does sound gross.

The wolf-moose research project on Michigan's Isle Royale National Park is in its 54th year.

A big chunk of their research goes into tracking down dead moose - bones and carcasses - around the island.

From these remains the researchers can pick apart the status and overall health of the moose population. And understanding moose is important to wolf research, since the wolves eat the moose.

It's like understanding the overall quality and quantity of food available at the grocery store. If there's good, abundant food available, you'd expect things to be good. If not, well - you get the picture.

When Rebecca Williams and I arrived at the Daisy Farm campground on Isle Royale, we were met by Rolf Peterson in his boat.

He said he'd just heard of a dead moose on Caribou Island and asked whether we would like to go see it with him.

A stroke of luck. We'd traveled by plane, car, and boat to get here, and here was our chance to see Peterson in action.

Here's a video of our trip with him. Is ripping the skull off a dead moose gross? I didn't think so, but you can be the judge.

So, what did you think? Vote by typing "gross" or "not gross" in the comment section below.

Environment & Science
9:00 am
Mon June 4, 2012

What's so special about Isle Royale?

The Isle Royale Queen IV docked at Rock Harbor on Isle Royale.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

For some, the magic of Isle Royale doesn't necessarily reside in the boat trip to the island.

Two days before Rebecca Williams and I left on our reporting trip, a friend and I were having lunch together.

"You're not riding on the 'Barf Barge' are you?!"

"The boat from Copper Harbor?"

"Yeah, I took that trip. We were on Isle Royale for a week. The first half of the week, all we could talk about was the boat trip over. And the second half of the week, all we could talk about was the boat trip back!"

On her trip, as the ship pulled out of Copper Harbor, the captain came on the loudspeaker.

"O.k., folks," the captain started. "We have the forecast for our crossing. And I just want to say... we're all in this together. We can get through this."

The snack bar was not open on that crossing.

But the snack bar was open for our trip.

The seas got a little rough (I saw a few eight footers roll by). And a trip to the restroom wasn't a straight walk to the door. You had to ping-pong yourself from table, to wall, to other passenger (excuse me), to the door.

Emergency cups and plastic grocery bags were deployed by some, but their "green-around-the-gills" condition didn't spread throughout the cabin.

The owners of the Isle Royale Line from Copper Harbor tell me the round-bottomed "Barf Barge" was retired in 2004. Their new boat, the Isle Royale Queen IV, rolls a lot less in heavy seas, and the new boat cut an hour off the trip.

What once took around four hours, now takes around three.

To get a sense of the crossing, I mounted a time lapse camera near the bridge. So here's the 54 mile crossing in less than two minutes.

Cell phones don't work on the island. Senses that can be overwhelmed by a connected, electric lifestyle are freed to look up, and take in the wind, waves, rock, and soil.

What makes the Isle Royale so special? We asked the Isle Royale Line's retired Captain Donald Kilpela that question:

Kilpela first made the trip to Isle Royale in 1945. And he and his family have been running the ferry service in Copper Harbor since 1971. His sons Ben and Don Jr. now run the boat. The family has been crossing Lake Superior to Isle Royale every summer since they started the business.

Two other people who know the island well have spent a good part of their lives here.

Rolf Peterson has been studying the interactions of wolves and moose on Isle Royale for more than 40 years. He and his wife Candy spend around eight months of each year on the island, and they raised their two kids on Isle Royale while living in the tiny Bangsund Cabin.

Isle Royale became a National Park in 1940, and was designated as a wilderness area in 1976. Humans are not in control here. It's an ideal laboratory for Peterson and the other researchers studying wolves and moose here.

Much of what scientists around the globe know about wolves and their behavior comes from Michigan's Isle Royale. The research project here is the longest running continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world.

All this week, we'll bring you stories about this research and about the people who make it happen - online and on-air.

You can find all the stories we produce on our series page Lessons from Isle Royale's Wolves and Moose.

Isle Royale is the least visited National Park, but as Captain Kilpela pointed out, it's the most re-visited one.

Many of you have had your own personal experiences with the island. We invite you to share your experiences about Isle Royale in the comment section below. In six words or less - tell us - what's so special about Isle Royale?

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Environment
1:47 pm
Wed March 28, 2012

Michigan researchers turn to public to help fund wolf research

The wolves of Isle Royale
Photo from petridish.org

Two Northern Michigan scientists are turning to the public for funding help.

Michigan Tech researcher Rolf Peterson studies the wolf population on Isle Royale National Park. Peterson says the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, has helped fund the bulk of the research on the island for the past several decades.

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