Wolf populations are experiencing sharp declines in northern parts of the U.S., and experts are weighing in on the question of whether or not it's humans' job to intervene and save them. Recently, wildlife officials in Michigan determined not to increase conservation efforts for wolves in Isle Royale National Park, where inbreeding and climate change have driven numbers way down in the past few years.
But the state's decision not to expand protections for wolves has upset some researchers, who believe it is our duty to conserve other species -- regardless of who they are or what they eat. As Rolf Peterson, a wildlife ecologist, explained to National Geographic, the prevailing notion that we should "let nature take care of herself and not be meddling presumes that Mother Nature is intact"; in reality, "we started cutting off her fingers some time ago."
Still, Peterson believes there's a way to repair the decline:
Instead of taking a hands-off approach, Peterson believes that a few wolves from the mainland should be released on Isle Royale-a strategy called genetic rescue.
Wolves first showed up on Isle Royale in the 1940s, when a handful crossed the ice bridge from Ontario just a few decades after moose had made the same trek. The research study examining the relationship between predator and prey began in 1959.
The research found that when new wolves crossed the ice bridge and joined the existing population, their fresh DNA invigorated the packs, leading to a healthier ecosystem, Peterson said.
"There's a mythical belief that Isle Royale has been working well because we kept our hands off it," Peterson said. "In my opinion, it worked well because there were wolves there."