OT: Great Lakes Ice Cover and Isle Royale Wolves

Submitted by Space Coyote on February 18th, 2014 at 11:06 AM

In my random ventures over to RCMB, occassionally I meander into an interesting OT post. Before getting completely derailed by Global Warming arguments and political stuff, they had some interesting discussions on the great lakes freezing over that I found pretty interesting. Here's a link to a random article talking about the current ice cover:


In my spare time, I randomly take some interest in the Great Lakes water levels, which the GLWLD has a pretty cool dashboard for, but they also have some interesting stuff regarding ice cover as we approach 89% of the entire Greak Lakes being covered with ice.


Of big interest to me from this ice coverage, is the potential for introducing, reintroducing, or bringing new blood to aging populations of some animal species that can cross the ice bridges from Canada to places like Isle Royale. These potential species include wolves, moose, elk, and perhaps most relevant, wolverines. Here's a link discussing the wolves of Isle Royale and the need for new blood I found interesting.



Space Coyote

February 18th, 2014 at 11:09 AM ^

I took a really weird interest in wolves a few years back, so for those interested on how it's even possible for wolves to travel the 15 miles across ice to Isle Royale or why they would, from my (albeit rusty) understanding: 

Wolves can typically hear howls about 8 miles away, depending on the wind. It is believable that across a frozen lake, sound would travel even farther and they could use that as a guide. There sense of smell is also about 100x better the humans, but that applies more to close surroundings for tracking and territory markings. There sense of smell ususally only works at a distance of 1-2 miles, again, depending on the wind. So unless they were tracking prey or other wolves (more unlikely), it was likely sound that led them there.

But why would they go to an isolated island? Wolves often wonder, travelling independently or in mini-packs 50+ miles within a day. Wolf packs typically number around 8, with one alpha male and beta female. No other wolves are supposed to mate (though they may try at their own risk away from the pack, they also may try simply for attention; also interesting is that the alpha male hunter may not be the same alpha male for things such as mating, wolves have their own roles in a pack and it may not be the same for all activities). Other wolves obviously aren't always happy with that circumstance, either with the total numbers or with not being able to mate, so they leave in search of other packs or to start their own as their pack gets too large. Some may even travel that far with no intention of leaving their pack and wind up on Isle Royale. Then the gradual acceptance/non-acceptance of a new pack member or even new alpha member occurs with the new pack, and that's nature's way of preventing the imbreeding that is currently happening on Isle Royale.

Wolverines, FWIW, are much more independent but just as territorial. They would cross an ice bridge in search of new territory and to get away from their bloodlines, much like Leopards in Africa.

So there's a little nature discussion for those interested. My dreams of hosting a Discovery Channel nature documentary were dashed at a young age when I realized I didn't have a cool voice, so this is the best I can do.


February 18th, 2014 at 11:15 AM ^

Question: If scientists are worried about too few wolves on Isle Royale, and too many in the UP (such that they opened up wolf hunting) why not just round up some wolves and ship 'em over and solve two problems at once?

I'm sure there are many reasons why they don't, which would cause biologists to just roll their eyes at the stupid simplistic layman question, but I don't know what those reasons are.

Space Coyote

February 18th, 2014 at 11:20 AM ^

There is talk about just that in there. Usually in the national parks they are against human action being taken, but there are some predominant people that want to do something that is along the lines of what you're saying.

The wolf/moose ecosystem they have on Isle Royale is a very interesting and important one to study, because of it's isolation. But putting human hands to play God and try to fix nature hasn't always worked the best, and I think there is some fear that doing so would cause similar and unnecessary moves in other areas where human's then feel they can play a larger role in nature surviving (among other worries I'm sure).

rob f

February 18th, 2014 at 3:08 PM ^

the equivalent of The Prime Directive.

A policy of non-interference with existing species, similar to this:

"The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous."


Space Coyote

February 18th, 2014 at 11:37 AM ^

Trapping/snaring is legal in Minnesota/Idaho up to certain numbers but isn't in Michigan (yet anyway, some are advocating for it as the numbers of wolves killed thsi past hunting season didn't approach what the DNR had anticipated or allowed for). I'll leave it at that so we don't make this political.


February 18th, 2014 at 12:18 PM ^

It's a small sample size right now and this brutal winter wasn't exactly hunter friendly. Most of the residents up here seem to be in favor of the hunt (I'm not sure on numbers but most of the unsupportive legislation seems to come from down state).


I think the DNR laid out a good plan with good research and I hope both sides let a few years go by before anything drastic is decided with regards to the hunt.


And as far as actually moving animals to Isle Royale - I say absolutely not. Nature has taken its course and will continue to do so. Even if we try to build what would essentially be the Isle Royale wild zoo, over the years nature will continue to do what it wants. I don't see why we would waste resources to relocate animals from a habitat where they are doing well to one where they're not, simply because we think they should remain there.


Hell the easiest argument, best one for a politician, is money. Relocating animals/rebuilding habitat = expense. Hunting/trapping = income. But those two are almost entirely independent situations that just happen to be used in the same argument because it involves the same animal in the "same" region.




February 22nd, 2014 at 4:02 PM ^

The proposal to hunt wolves in Michigan was based on three major lies that Governor Snyder purposely overlooked, and this was proven by the Detroit News.  Here is a small sample of the article published by the Detroit News back in mid Jan that contains four misled informations...

"• In language contained in Michigan House Resolution 48 of 2011 and Michigan Senate Resolution 39 of 2011, sent to Congress to support the removal of the Great Lakes population of wolves from the federal Endangered Species List, state lawmakers grossly distorted the details of a wolf sighting outside an Upper Peninsula daycare into an incident that never happened.

• The Department of Natural Resources' fur bearer specialist and Michigan United Conservation Clubs' "Conservationist of the Year" Adam Bump intentionally misled public radio listeners with comments about wolves showing up in people's backyards.

• The Natural Resources Commission solicited public feedback on the wolf hunt and then deleted or ignored more than 10,000 email comments from members of the public opposing the hunt.

• More than 60 percent of wolf-livestock incidents in the U.P. have occurred on one farm, whose owner has a history of poor animal care, baited wolves using deer carcasses on his property, left bones and carcasses of cattle in his fields in violation of state laws and that also acted as bait, and still got tens of thousands in reimbursements and equipment and services that he squandered in his obvious attempts to exaggerate the impact wolves had on his property.  The purported incidents of wolf depredation on his property were a central argument of lawmakers and others who demanded the hunt of a long-protected species."


While I do agree that the population of wolves in Michigan is stable, I do not disregard that they should be taken off of the protection list; however, I do not believe they should be hunted.  A stable population isone that is on the verge of either dropping right back to critical (with the next step being endangered), or rising to healthy, so, even the slightest affect on a population, like hunting, can drastically drop a population from stable to endangered.  

Governor Snyder's  accepted proposal to hunt wolves was not based on science and research, it was based on bringing in more money to the state, which is unfair to the wolf population, ecosystems and conservationists/biologists.  This is the guy that cut education budgets to pretty much all the schools across Michigan to save the state money.


February 18th, 2014 at 12:24 PM ^

But in this case, no human was involved in the complete isolation of Isle Royale. This is a case where we would be literally forcing nature to do something different than it already has.


If this was a problem caused by overhunting/polution/population, then I could see intervention being a possible solution. But Isle Royale's problems seem to mostly be caused by the isolation inate in the geography.

snarling wolverine

February 18th, 2014 at 1:34 PM ^

I'm not an expert on this matter, but looking at the map, I've got to imagine that most of the wolves on Isle Royale came from Canada, given its proximity.  Problem is, there is today a city of over 100,000 people (Thunder Bay) not far from where the narrowest crossing to the island would be.  I can only imagine that the development of Thunder Bay has greatly reduced the wolf population of its environs, and thus is making it less likely for any wolves to make the crossing.  Consequently, few wolves have made it over in recent years and we have a small, increasingly inbred wolf population on the island.  We can "let nature take its course" and cause them face near-certain extinction or we can ship a few over and account for the changes we've made to their ecosystem.





February 18th, 2014 at 2:37 PM ^

on getting 'rounded up'. 

i can just imagine one of those old mutual of omaha wildlife shows with marlin perkins.  he had some assistant who would do all the dangerous stuff.   i can hear his voice narrating something like, 'bill will go out with pork chops attached to his ear lobes to get the wolves to willingly come to the round up, while i watch from the safety of the cabin.  now might be a good time to talk about mutual of omaha's accidental death and dismemberment insurance!'


February 22nd, 2014 at 4:22 PM ^

Dr. Rolf Peterson, National Parks, and Michigan Tech University had a survey a couple months ago asking volunteers and workers of the Wolf and Moose Watch on their thoughts on what should be done with the wolf population on the island.  Here are the three questions that were asked on the survey;

1) Should wolves be reintroduced to Isle Royale and help the indigenous population?

2) Should nothing be done and hope that wolves repopulate themselves on thie island?

3) Should they let the wolves die off naturally, then introduce a new population of wolves to the island?  


I voted for #1 because I do not want the indigenous population to die off. 

snarling wolverine

February 18th, 2014 at 11:18 AM ^

Speaking of this, a great benefit of the massive ice cover is that it will limit evaporation, causing lake levels to go up quite a bit when the ice melts.  They had been near record lows in recent years.



February 18th, 2014 at 11:41 AM ^

Kind of.  Snow only helps when it's not lake-effect snow.  Fortunately, quite a bit of the snow this year isn't.  What you really want is a few really good Alberta clippers dropping snow into the Superior basin.  Lake Superior has a really long residence time, so extra snow there keeps all the other lakes charged up for a while.

I keep an eye on lake levels myself, since I sail on Lake St. Clair and low levels present anything from a hassle to a hazard.


February 18th, 2014 at 12:20 PM ^

if you are only paying attention to the east side of the state, but the UP and the west side of the state have been hit by multiple system storms and a few clippers...so Lake Michigan should increase it's water level, by how much remains to be seen...GR is going to see its 2nd snowiest winter when all is said and done and we are far enough away from the lake where we only get lake effect about once or twice a week


February 18th, 2014 at 12:27 PM ^

The east side of the state is a really good indicator of how much snow is lake effect because we never get any.  Any substantial snow we get (talking about, more than an inch or two) is a snowstorm from outside the area and in general, if you get it, we get it.


February 18th, 2014 at 4:02 PM ^

I remember reading somewhere that the Great Lakes freezing over has some kind of effect on the states to the West.  I don't recall the rationale since the weather patterns are west to east.  Anyone know anything about it?

They claimed that California will be hurting more than normal in terms of water levels.

Victor Hale II

February 18th, 2014 at 9:24 PM ^

Swamps full of water = swamps full of mosquitoes. I'm in for another long summer. I have to actually close my bedroom windows at night due to scores of mosquitoes whining just outside if it, trying to get at me. Keeps me awake. If there's one sound that causes me automatic insomnia, it's the whining of mosquito wings.


February 18th, 2014 at 11:19 AM ^

you are David Attenborough (sp?) in my book... Anyway... my guess is we're more likely to see moose or wolves make the crossing than wolverines.... Why?  1) them move faster giving them better odds of survival when their flyers onto the ice fail.  2) We already know wolves can/have make it in sufficient numbers to start/maintain a population.  To my knowledge there is no evidence of historical wolverine presence on the island.  All that said, it would be really cool to have some wolverines running around Michigan.  Is there a population along the N. shore of L. Superior?

Space Coyote

February 18th, 2014 at 11:27 AM ^

Great, great man, and a person who I learned a lot from growing up watching his documentaries.

As far as wolverines, I don't think they travel as fast but I believe their endurance is actually better than Wolves (which is amazing because Wolves has great endurance too). Their huge paws also help them in deeper snow, though that doesn't really help much on the ice. I think they believe the last wolverines and Michigan crossed Huron when it froze over, but unfortunately, that seems exceedingly rare.

Note, this is year round range, they will travel farther South in the Winter


February 18th, 2014 at 11:20 AM ^

still, it seems that a wolf making it across the Ice Bridge to the island seems like it needs A LOT of luck.  


It's still a 20-mile journey across shifting ice to make it to the island.  I'm pretty sure it's only happened three times in history.  Hopefully a few male wolves who are bored with life in Canada make it over during this short window.

Space Coyote

February 18th, 2014 at 11:33 AM ^

But nature seems full of that. While the Eastern Cougar has been declared extinct, some still claim sightings and they managed to find each other from great distances for a long time in order to survive as long as they did.

It was a while back, but I remember some talk of introducing Western Cougars in the east to try to restart a population to keep prey in check. Western Cougars have already made their way back into Michigan (even potentially the in the LP), so it's certainly not impossible for them to make their own way back to the east (important to note that they are two different species though). A lot of that is luck, but nature seems to find a way like that when given the chance.


February 18th, 2014 at 12:07 PM ^

I caught a pic of a Fisher on a trail cam up by Mackinac a few years back.  At that time, I don't think they weren't believed to be in the LP.  My brother works for the DNR in the UP, and unfortunately I hear alot of bad stories about wolve poaching.


February 18th, 2014 at 2:42 PM ^

and the DNR finally admitted it a couple of years ago.  before that they would pooh-pooh any suggestion like that.  my favorite line from those of us who knew better was from one of our local fishing guides who made the following observation:  "i'm not saying there are cougars, i'm not saying there aren't.  i'm just saying i saw a deer carcass  (spell check help me)  25 feet up in a tree...'