Thunder Bay

Long-running predator-prey study 'stopped dead in its tracks' due to U.S. government shutdown

For the first time in more than half a century, researchers conducting a long-running study of the moose and wolf populations on Michigan's Isle Royale may not be able to collect their winter data.

Shutdown could cause first such interruption in more than 50 years of research

This fall, several wolves were transferred to Michigan's Isle Royale National Park from the mainland, in an effort to restore balance between the wolf and moose populations. The researchers behind a long-running study on the predator-prey relationship are anxious to observe them this winter. (U.S. National Park Service)

For the first time in more than half a century, researchers conducting a long-running study of the moose and wolf populations on Michigan's Isle Royale may not be able to collect their winter data. 

It's due to the partial U.S. government shutdown, which is affecting federally-run parks. While Isle Royale National Park is closed, researchers, who were planning to arrive on the island next week, have their hands tied. 

"We're dead in the water in terms of getting any new research done. We're not allowed to go to the island which we would normally be doing next week, and so the program is stopped dead in its tracks," said Rolf Peterson, a research professor at Michigan Technological University who's been working on the study for decades.

"It's very significant," he said, "it essentially ruins the research record for this entire year."

Rolf Peterson has researched the interaction of moose and wolves on Isle Royale since 1971. (Michigan Tech Blogs - blogs.mtu.edu)

If the shutdown ends in time, Peterson said research will start immediately. However, they can't wait too long. They need seven weeks to conduct the work, he said, and it must be done during the winter. 

This winter should be the 61st for the program, he said, which is the world's longest running predator-prey study of its kind. 

If they are able to go, researchers plan to count the wolf and moose populations, determine kill rates of wolves, and work on a project to radio-collar moose, among other things. It would also be their first opportunity to observe a new cohort of wolves that were recently transferred to the isolated island, located not far from Thunder Bay, Ont.

Peterson said plans to move additional wolves to the island — this time from Ontario — will also be on hold during the shutdown. 

"I'm anxious to see this shutdown end," Peterson said.