Major questions are looming for the Great Lakes’ only national park and its sportfishing industry. Their answers will determine how man supports wildlife in the 21st century.

Written by Kyle Magin

Great Lakes wildlife managers teeter on the brink of two major decisions regarding its most well-known species.

On Isle Royale National Park:

The Great Lakes’ only national park–894 square miles of rock, forest and water in northern Lake Superior–is down to its last two wild wolves. The island once held a vibrant wolf population of more than 50, which subsisted on its moose population. Once, wolves crossed the ice that nearly annually formed between the island and Ontario, but now, new bloodlines fail to reach Isle Royale as warming lakes have not supported the ice bridges in 13 of the last 15 winters. Without new blood, the packs failed under the weight of inbreeding and are now near total collapse.

The National Park Service is currently reviewing a potential plan to transport Canadian wolves to the island, but is settled on doing nothing in the near-term, making it seem likely the last of the native packs will die before any rescue can help them.

In Lake Michigan and Lake Huron:

Ecological disaster also threatens the Great Lakes’ multi-billion dollar sportfishing industry. A cascade of events has imperiled the lake’s Chinook salmon population. The salmon–which is a pure joy to pull out of the deep water off of hundreds of little lake towns–came to the Great Lakes originally in the 1960s from Oregon and Washington as part of a plan to prop up a sleepy fishery. The plan was a massive success, as fishermen from around the country and especially throughout the Great Lakes flocked to charter fishing boats to vie for the great silver treasures.

However, recently, wildlife managers have discovered they cannot stock the salmon with any sustainability as its food source–an invasive finger-thick fish species known as an alewife–has died off as invasive mussels have depleted their food sources. By month’s end, wildlife managers in Michigan are set to admit defeat and reduce salmon stocking by 50 percent. Commercial fishermen are pissed.

The situations bear a lot of resemblance. In both cases, man caused the problem.

Man-made global climate change has stranded and depleted the wolves. Introductions upon introductions upon introductions have built and now threaten the fishery.

There are solutions on the table. The wolves could receive their genetic rescue. The wildlife officials could throttle back native trout stocks in hopes that the salmon will magically find another food source they’re being out-competed on right now. Either will necessitate a massive intervention of the sort we haven’t undertaken with any intention before.

Mother Nature has been meddled with and two species are failing as a result. Should we rescue them, or let nature, in its modified form, take a course that could spell the end of an apex predator in the Great Lakes’ wildest place and some portion of its commercial fishing industry? The answers may be complex, but no less so than the questions in this new century.

What is man’s mandate to correct his mistakes?

Image: Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

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