TRAVERSE CITY (WWJ/AP) - Several U.S. senators want the federal government to decide faster what to do about Isle Royale National Park's imperiled wolf population.
Scientists say only three gray wolves remain on the Lake Superior island chain. Their numbers have plummeted in recent years, probably because of illness and inbreeding complications. Wolves have long preyed on moose, helping keep their island population in check.
Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan sent a letter Friday to Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service. They said without wolves, the moose will degrade Isle Royale's vegetation and eventually suffer their own crash.
The park service is planning a review that could last two to three years. The senators urged the agency to move faster and consider emergency measures, including bringing in more wolves.
Scientists have held out hope that the wolves, whose numbers stood at nine a year ago, would rebound. But federal officials probably will have to choose between starting over with a new group or leaving the park without a top predator, biologist John Vucetich said. In that case, the moose population — already 1,250 and climbing — could get so high that trees will suffer as that much more foliage gets eaten, he said.
Inbreeding and illness appear to have caused a sharp drop-off in wolf numbers on the Lake Superior island wilderness, where visitors thrill at hearing their quavering howls. The count stood at 24 in 2009 but has fallen every year since, according to Michigan Technological University researchers who lead what they describe as the world's longest-running study of a predator-prey relationship in a closed ecosystem.
They have urged the National Park Service to bring more wolves to the island to reinvigorate the gene pool. But it may be too late to rescue the current population, which likely consists of one mating pair and a pup — all heavily inbred, Vucetich said.
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