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With Shutdown Over, Scientists Rush To Salvage U.P. Wolf Study

grey wolf
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Sept. 26, 2018 photo provided by the National Park Service shows a 4-year-old female gray wolf emerging from her cage at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan.

A 60-year-old study of wolves and moose at Isle Royale National Park is back on track after being derailed by the partial government shutdown, and enough private funding has been raised to ensure the work will go on even if federal agencies are idled again, officials said Monday.

Scientists and support personnel were rushing to salvage what usually is a seven-week winter sojourn on the Lake Superior island, where biologists use a series of low-altitude flights to count both species and observe their interactions. They hope to get to the park this week, said Rolf Peterson of Michigan Technological University.

Although this year's study period will be several weeks shorter than usual, there should be enough time to handle the most vital tasks, he said. Those include monitoring wolves being brought to the park from the mainland to replenish a population that was dying out, as well as fitting 20 moose with radio tracking collars.

"I think we'll be able to catch up if we get out there without too much more delay," Peterson said.

The government's reopening also clears the way to continue rebuilding Isle Royale's wolf numbers, which had fallen to two. That project began last fall when four newcomers were relocated from Minnesota, one of which later died.

Plans called for moving up to six wolves from Michipicoten Island, also in Lake Superior but in Canadian territory, to Isle Royale early this month. The operation was postponed because of the shutdown but will resume shortly, said Jolanta Kowalski, spokeswoman for Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Isle Royale Superintendent Phyllis Green said she and two maintenance workers flew to the snowbound island in a helicopter over the weekend and were prepared to receive more wolves when the weather is suitable to move them. Time is short because they need to be adjusted to their new home before spring mating season.

The Isle Royale wolf-moose project is considered the world's longest continuous study of a predator and prey relationship in a single location. The park was off-limits to researchers during the shutdown, prompting fears of a crippling loss of a winter's worth of data at a time when new wolves are roaming the landscape and staking out territory.

That led the nonprofit National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation to negotiate an agreement with the U.S. National Park Service to resume the winter study and the relocation project with private funding.

The foundation is pledging at least $25,000 for the wolf relocation effort, some of which has been spent, board chair Sona Mehring said. It also could provide nearly $55,000 to cover the final few weeks of the winter study's costs if the government shuts down again after the budget agreement between President Donald Trump and Congress expires Feb. 15.

"We wanted to step up and make sure both of these projects happened — and happened in a timely manner because the timing of both is so critical," Mehring said.

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