The Long View
Isle Royale National Park draws visitors who like nature rugged and remote. It's also the site of the longest-running study ever of a predator and its primary prey--even as global warming shows signs of upsetting the natural balance.
One example: Ten years ago Rolf told me that hikers seldom encountered wolves. "They're terrified of us," he said. Today that's no longer true. While wolves have never touched a visitor, they occasionally saunter along asphalt paths at Rock Harbor or poke into unoccupied tents. And in late September, Rolf wrote me that the Park Service had closed the Daisy Farm campground. "Wolves were eating green apples falling from trees dating back to copper mining days in the 1850s," he said. "There have been too many wolf-human contacts, and people are likely to do foolish things to get a photo." One of the wolves, captured by Rolf's remote camera, "was starving so badly that its pelvis was clearly outlined through its skin." And he added, "While it's mating season, moose are so rare that we haven't seen a single bull with polished antlers looking for a brawl."
In mid-January Peterson and Vucetich, along with bush pilot Don Glaser, returned to Isle Royale for another winter survey. History suggests they'll be surprised by what they find. Today, though, I have one last question for Rolf: Will there be moose and wolves on Isle Royale in another half-century?
"Warming temperatures mean long-term trouble for the moose," he replies after some thought. "I think they'll tough it out. But sooner or later their numbers could drop even lower than they are now. If that happens, there's a good chance the wolves won't make it."