The number of wolves at Isle Royale National Park has dipped to nine -- the lowest seen since Michigan Technological University's wolf-moose predator-prey study began 54 years ago. What should be done if this furry icon of wilderness culture dies out altogether?
Michigan Tech researchers John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson and Michigan State University environmental ethicist Michael Nelson are willing to tackle this controversial subject.
The issue is a prickly one because there is conflict among environmentalists and ethicists about how we should -- or should not -- relate to nature and the environment. Some say, "let nature take its course." Others believe humans should work to maintain ecosystem health, and that may on some occasions require intervention.
"The appropriate approach is to acknowledge and understand all the values at stake, and then develop a perspective or position that would least infringe upon that set of values," say Vucetich, Peterson and Nelson.
There are three possible kinds of intervention that could save the wolves of Isle Royale:
* Wolf reintroduction -- reintroducing wolves if the present wolf population were to go extinct.
* Female reintroduction -- reintroducing female wolves when all present females have gone extinct.
* Genetic rescue -- introducing new wolves on Isle Royale while some of the present population remains, to broaden and strengthen the gene pool.
If the wolves are allowed to go extinct, the moose population on the remote island will grow unimpeded, until the moose strip the island of its vegetation and eventually, starve.
"The bottom line is, as long as there are moose there, keep the wolves there," says Vucetich.
"All things considered, if the wolves go to extinction, reintroduce them," Peterson concludes.
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