1. The summary is 250-300 words. 2. The summary is completely objective. 3. The summary is in your own words (no quoting). 4. Each sentence includes a signal phrase that refers to the article.
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todd_theislandwolves.pdf

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Summary Assignments
Description & rationale
For each summary:
Write a 250-300 word objective overview of the article.
Write it entirely in your own words (no quoting).
Use a signal phrase that refers to the article in each sentence.
Writing summaries will help you practice (1) identifying main ideas in articles, (2)
without judgment, and (3) writing concisely and clearly.
Using a signal phrase in each sentence will help you develop or hone a habit of always
attributing information or ideas to the source they come from.
The summaries also help us (the teaching team) identify who needs help with the readings,
and make sure that you get credit for doing the readings.
Evaluation criteria & credit
Summary evaluation criteria:
1. The summary is 250-300 words.
2. The summary is completely objective.
3. The summary is in your own words (no quoting).
4. Each sentence includes a signal phrase that refers to the article.
Summary credit:
Full credit = Meets all 4 criteria
Half credit = Meets 3 criteria
No credit = Not submitted, or meets only 1 or 2 criteria
The Island Wolves
By Kim Todd

The Island Wolves

IN THE BONE GARDEN, moose antlers sprout like pale stalks of mutant corn. Skulls, lined
up one behind the other, bear tags that sketch moose lives: “2 yrs. old starved, winter ’96”
and “Died 1989. Wolves dug through 2 ft. of snow to feed on it in 1990.” The curious
visitor to this small plot on Lake Superior’s Moskey Basin in Isle Royale National Park can
also marvel at thematic displays: worn skulls by a sign declaring “The Odd Fellows corner—
old bulls no longer reproducing, antlers in decline” and shelves of the skulls and antlers of
dead young males labeled “Darwin Award Winners.”
No wolf bones lie here—they have been sent to a lab at Michigan Technological University
with thousands of moose metatarsals—but the Bone Garden’s skulls and antlers are a
library of wolf sagas written in gnawed jawbone. Isle Royale, an isolated wilderness of
boreal forest and sheltered swamp surrounded by a rocky shoreline and dotted with
plentiful loons, is the site of the longest-running study of predator-prey dynamics in
history, spanning almost six decades. To ecologists, these bones tell some of the most
famous animal stories in the world, framing ideas about what it means to eat and be eaten,
and how the battle to survive shapes the land.
But now, it appears the stories have been misinterpreted.
“I was dead wrong,” says Rolf Peterson, who has been studying wolves and moose on Isle
Royale since 1970. Peterson, dressed in a plaid shirt and down jacket patched with duct
tape, gray beard still streaked with a hint of red, gives me the garden tour, pointing out
two skulls locked together in what must have been a battle to the death. His speech is slow
and thoughtful, marked by a rueful chuckle.
For years, Isle Royale National Park has been considered the perfect natural lab: a closed
system with one dominant predator, the wolf, relying heavily on one kind of prey, the
moose. A forty-five-mile-long island in one of the world’s largest lakes, Isle Royale is
defined by solitude. Miles from the mainland, in the summer, the park can only be reached
by seaplane, private boat, or a half-day ferry ride from either Michigan or Minnesota; in
winter, the park is closed, abandoned to deep snows and wildlife. Though few in numbers,
the wolves marooned in the park thrived for years, seemingly free of the deformities and
stillbirths that plague populations where close relatives breed. Recording wolf and moose
numbers and documenting hunting and fleeing, biologists charted two species intimately
intertwined. But recent revelations resulting from DNA tests took everyone by surprise.
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“You think if you watch a place for a long time, you’ll have a deeper understanding,” says
John Vucetich, lead scientist of the wolf-moose study. But the new information upended
expectations. “It’s not as though it was an accumulation of knowledge; it was a full-scale
reversal of what we know.”
***
FOR CENTURIES on Isle Royale, there were no wolves, just caribou sheltering in the
balsam fir and lynx chasing snowshoe hares over the stone outcroppings, until hunters and
trappers cleared them out. Moose arrived on the island by the early 1900s, probably by
swimming, and lived there for about fifty years without any predators. Then the wolf
rumors started, spurred by possible signs: an outsized paw print on a beaver dam. Scat
laced with moose hair.
In the early 1950s, Lee Smits, a newspaper man and conservationist, saw Isle Royale as
the perfect spot for a wolf refuge, a place the predator could be safe from the poison,
guns, and traps that killed off most of its kind in the Lower 48. There were no ranchers to
anger or sheep to harass. Maybe wolves would find their way to the island themselves.
Maybe they already had, Smits thought. But he wanted to be sure. He asked trappers on
Michigan’s mainland to keep an eye out for pups that could be introduced to Isle Royale to
start a pack. When they didn’t find any, he turned to the Detroit Zoo.
Lady, Queenie, Adolph—the chosen wolves had names. The fourth was Big Jim, a bulky
male descended from Saskatchewan stock and bottle raised by Smits and his wife. Big Jim
learned to retrieve ducks by playing with their water spaniel. Not surprisingly, when
brought to the island in August 1952, the zoo wolves didn’t know how to behave. Instead
of chasing down moose, they chewed up fishing nets, raided laundry lines, and hung out
near the Rock Harbor Lodge. As a New York Times headline summed it up, “The Wild Calls
in Vain to Four Urbane Wolves.”
Rangers hauled them to a more desolate spot, but they came back to the lodge, startling
tourists. By then, the rangers had had enough. They shot Adolph. And then Queenie. They
captured Lady and took her back to the zoo. Big Jim escaped. He turned up here and there
over the years. In 1957, a park service biologist reported a wolf trailing him like a wary
dog. But no one much cared, because before long there was solid evidence of other
wolves, too, wild ones. A year later, Durward Allen, a professor at Purdue University, and
his graduate student L. David Mech launched a study of these wolves, the moose, and their
entanglement.
The scientists’ conclusions quickly found their way into textbooks about predators and
prey. Pick one up, even today, and you will likely find pictures from Isle Royale: wolves like
black bullets tearing through snow, biting at the heels of a calf stumbling in the deep
drifts. The spray of blood and exposed spine on a creek bank. A whole pack, photographed
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from above, spreading out over the frozen lake, scribbles of tracks and shadow, like
graphs on white paper.
In these textbooks you will also find actual graphs—all this behavior abstracted,
slobbering tongues and flicking whiskers and clumps of hair smoothed away—because they
illustrate the lesson so neatly. Allen and Mech’s research fit perfectly into the LotkaVolterra predator-prey model. Developed in the 1920s, the model is a set of differential
equations that show the predictable way the fates of species are tied together. As the
prey population grows, the predators, finding more food, also flourish. As young are eaten
and adults harried, the prey population falls. The predator population then also falls, as
their food grows scarce. The equations produce graceful waves, one trailing the other—a
field mouse leaping, a fox leaping after.
In his book Sociobiology, Edward O. Wilson described Isle Royale and these early studies
as “a simple and instructive example of the balance between predator and prey.” He
highlighted the benefits of this balance for the prey, often pitied as victims:
The moose, by unwillingly supplying the wolves with one of their members
about every three days, have stabilized their own population. . . . As a
curious side effect, the moose herd is kept in good physical condition, since
the wolves catch mostly the very young, the old, and the sickly individuals.
And, finally, because the moose population is not permitted to increase to
excessive levels, the vegetation on which they feed remains in healthy
condition.
In Wilson’s description, the orderly cycles gestured at an irresistible, uplifting tale. The
Isle Royale study has the same appeal as a Jack London novel—harsh beauty, high drama,
and, importantly, an explanation for the violence of the natural world.
***
AS A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT in Minneapolis, Rolf Peterson read about Durward Allen’s
work in the Star Tribune and plastered newspaper photos of Isle Royale foxes on his wall.
A 1963 National Geographic article, “Wolves Versus Moose on Isle Royale,” further whet
his appetite. It showed a golden-eyed wolf staring down the research plane used for
winter counts and a pack swarming at a faltering cow moose. It described wolves howling,
a sound few in the continental United States had ever heard. As a college senior in 1969,
Peterson wrote to Allen at Purdue and asked to be part of the study. Allen said yes.
Peterson tells me this story at the kitchen table of the weathered Bangsund log cabin
that, for decades, has served as the base of operations for the Isle Royale study. The
cabin has bright red trim and a sign on the door that reads, This is old glass. Please do not
let the door SLAM in the wind. Inside is a small wood stove. Island maps cover the wall,
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the table, and the low, sloping ceiling. The decor consists of a howling wolf in stained
glass, a hanging moose skull, and beaver skulls on the windowsill. The overall aesthetic is
that of a field-research station crossed with Little House in the Big Woods. At night the
cabin glows with the light of solar-powered paper lanterns.
Peterson traces wolf-pack movements on the map on the table, takes out the 1963
National Geographic, and reads lines near the end of the article about the island: “Our
studies thus far indicate that the moose and wolf populations on Isle Royale have struck a
reasonably good balance.” The wolf numbers had remained stable, at around twenty or so,
and the moose numbers, as best as they could count them, seemed to be holding steady,
too. “The notion of balance was firmly ingrained in everything,” Peterson says. When
Peterson joined the study, it had already been running for twelve years, and the chief
ranger said to him, “You’re in the twelfth year of a ten-year study. What are you going to
do?”
But Allen told Peterson, “Just watch, something will happen.” And it did.
During Peterson’s first summer season, everything began to break loose. After a series of
harsh winters, wolf numbers soared, going up to fifty in five packs at one point. Behavior
changed, with wolves chasing moose off cliffs and eating just the organ meat before killing
again. Moose numbers plummeted, then wolf numbers plummeted. Then wolf numbers rose
again. What was causing such dramatic shifts?
As the scientists plotted the data, tidy Lotka-Volterra waves vanished, replaced by
something else. “It’s like a big historical novel. Every five-year period looks completely
unlike any of the previous five-year periods, and the dynamics are driven by external
events that we cannot imagine, let alone predict,” Peterson says.
***
THOUGH THE BIOLOGISTS flew over in helicopters, recording all they could see, unseen
forces governed the island. In 1997, one of the coldest winters of the century, the lake
froze. Blizzards battered the Lake Superior shore, and a hulking wolf, who would grow
silver as he aged, struck out from Ontario in the direction of Isle Royale.
He found an island reeling. In 1981, an infected dog from Chicago, brought in illegally on a
private boat, had carried canine parvovirus to the island. No pups survived that year and
the wolves had not entirely bounced back. Two years before the lone wolf’s arrival, the
moose, up to almost twenty-five hundred head, had chewed balsam fir to nubs and starved,
crashing down to about five hundred individuals. Wolves suffered as a result: old ones
died, pups died, and those who scraped through did so on empty stomachs. Hungry
survivors gnawed the hide of a moose that had been dead for a full year.
4
Unconcerned by the bleak conditions, the newcomer took over. With him at the head, the
Middle Pack, one of three packs on the island at the time, aggressively expanded beyond
its moose-poor territory, claiming richer areas such as Chippewa Harbor. The new wolf
raised six pups in 1998 and three the next year. The island’s wolf population surged.
Noting a clear new pack leader with increasingly pale fur, and not knowing he came from
the mainland—not knowing any wolves still came over from the mainland—the biologists
dubbed him Old Gray Guy.
***
THE IDEA of a balance in nature is at least as old as Herodotus, the Greek historian, who
tried to understand why prey animals weren’t entirely consumed. Investigating, he
gathered reports from the Middle East: “Of a truth, Divine Providence does appear to be,
as indeed one might expect beforehand, a wise contriver. For timid animals which are a
prey to others are all made to produce young abundantly, that so the species may not be
entirely eaten up and lost; while savage and noxious creatures are made very unfruitful.”
For many years, this sense of balance was the hinge between religion and biology. William
Derham wrote in his 1713 book Physicotheology, or, a Demonstration of the Being and
Attributes of God, from His Works of Creation that divine management can be seen in the
“Adjustment of the Quantity of Food to the Number of Devourers, so that there is not too
much, so as to rot, and annoy the World.” Though underneath the cheerful accounting lay
the niggling question: Why was this violent, unending cycle part of the divine plan?
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some writers came up with an answer:
it wasn’t. Plains were empty of bison, woods had only a few deer. Conservationists
predicted that predators would do what Herodotus thought they couldn’t: eat prey into
extinction. Teddy Roosevelt, in his 1893 book The Wilderness Hunter, wrote, “The wolf is
the arch type of ravin, the beast of waste and desolation.” Ravin connotes robbery, greed,
and plunder. William T. Hornaday, in Our Vanishing Wildlife, constantly referred to wolves
as cruel, and said insatiable human hunters have “the gray-wolf quality of mercy”—by
which he meant none. This language fed the vicious predator-extermination campaigns.
Against this wave of righteousness, author Ernest Thompson Seton built a seawall of
romance. In his most famous story, “Lobo, the King of Currumpaw,” the noble outlaw Lobo,
who is the leader of a wolf pack, is done in by his love for the beautiful but ditzy Blanca.
The narrator, a wolf hunter, who traps Lobo at last, finds himself moved to mercy: “Yet
before the light had died from his fierce eyes, I cried, ‘Stay, we will not kill him; let us
take him alive to the camp.’” Lobo dies anyway.
Seton’s books are the definition of charm. Ink sketches adorn the margins: a nest at the
top of a tree that runs the whole length of the page, musical notes showing the various
caws of the crow, a fox tugging a chain to release her son, a jotting of poison sumac,
5
partridge tracks wandering over the paper field. The title type is like something burned
into wood over a cabin door.
Seton’s prose is as idiosyncratic as his books’ design. In Wild Animals I Have Known,
Seton lays out his methodology for what might be a book of natural history or a collection
of short stories or a series of animal fables for children: “I believe that natural history
has lost much by the vague general treatment that is so common. What satisfaction would
be derived from a ten-page sketch of the habits and customs of Man? How much more
profitable it would be to devote that space to the life of some one great man. This is the
principle I have endeavored to apply to my animals.”
Seton’s weird notions about how to write about grizzlies and rabbits faded from
popularity. But Lobo lived on in what is probably the most significant story of the
American conservation movement, 1949’s “Thinking Like a Mountain” by Aldo Leopold. The
dying wolf at the end of Leopold’s essay is an echo of Lobo: “We reached the old wolf in
time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever
since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and
to the mountain.” What she and the mountain know is that wolves keep the deer in check,
deer that would otherwise destroy the mountain. The 1963 National Geographic Isle
Royale article used Seton’s character as a stand in for all of his kind: “The truth is that
Lobo is gone from nearly all his old haunts.” For a long time, when someone said wolf, Lobo
came to mind.
That is until the Isle Royale wolves replaced him in the American imagination, swapping
out one wolf tale for another. Lobo is the story of an individual, heroic and tragically
flawed. The Isle Royale wolves have long been interpreted as characters in a narrative
about how a good system works. No less noble than Lobo in their way, they restore the
balance of nature. In this update of the ancient idea, though, balance results from natural
selection rather than a divine manager.
If Isle Royale is the textbook example of the predator-prey relationship, Yellowstone is
the Imax movie. Only a few years after wolves were reintroduced there in 1995, they
were credited with the park’s transformation. They ate elk. This reduced elk browsing,
allowing aspen and willow to shoot to heights they hadn’t reached in decades. Healthy
groves of aspen and willow, in turn, sheltered beavers and birds. This chain of effects is
called a *trophic cascade*, where a predator sends ripples throughout the food web. It is
a similar idea to that of a *keystone species*, where, for example, a sea star on the
Washington coast, once removed, causes mussels to flourish and limpets to decline.
According to this view, some species have an outsized effect on the entire landscape,
shaping the ecosystem. But brush the soil off these notions and “balance of nature”
appears as their bedrock: “Wolves keep Yellowstone in balance” declares a blogger on the
website Canis Lupus 101.
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Yet as Peterson and his colleagues counted wolves, counted moose, and tracked Old Gray
Guy and his offspring through meadows and bogs, balance on Isle Royale proved
increasingly elusive.
***
IN FEBRUARY 2000, Rolf Peterson and his pilot saw a wolf cowering on a rock offshore
as their plane skirted the coast. The Middle Pack waited on the bank to finish her off.
Lead by Old Gray Guy, the pack had become a powerhouse, taking over 75 percent of the
island and killing a stray male from the East Pack two days before.
As Peterson watched, the wolves surged into the water, snarling and biting at the wolf on
the rock, then retreated. After weathering a dozen attacks, the lone wolf jumped into the
icy lake and swam to another rock, then another. The pack followed on land, rushing
through the waves to tear at her whenever she paused. A photo from above shows the
pack on a submerged stone, arrayed like a sea star around a point—the wolf in the center,
downed and invisible.
Peterson, talking into his tape recorder, said three times, “I think she’s dead now.” But she
kept getting back up. Finally, after making it to shore only to be attacked again, she
seemed definitively gone.
The men eventually flew to Windigo for a body bag and to refuel. When they got back, a
male who had been far behind his pack mates approached the carcass. And then, as
Peterson later wrote excitedly in his report, “the lone female raised her head!” (See The
Ecological …
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