Blocking the EPA & Extinction for Isle Royale Wolves?

  • Wolves on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior (Photo courtesy of

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled four years ago that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate planet-warming greenhouse gasses… if the agency found those gasses are a threat to human health and safety. In 2009, the EPA found greenhouse gasses are a threat… and the agency started taking steps to regulate emissions from industries such as coal-burning power plants and automobiles.

For months now, many members of Congress have been trying to block the EPA from doing that. The latest people to climb on board are from Michigan: Republican Representative Fred Upton and Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Fred Upton chairs the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. He not only wants to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses… he wants to repeal the EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gasses are harmful.

Ryan Werder is the political director for the nonpartisan group Michigan League of Conservation Voters. He says since he was appointed Chair, Congressman Upton has shifted to the right politically.

“He was always a good, moderate, reliable voice. Before, when he said climate change was a reality and something we had to consider. He suddenly removed that from this website and acts as if climate change is non-existent.”

A Bloomberg story about the legislation in Congress

The Isle Royale Wolf Research Team’s website

A related Audubon Magazine story


Werder says Senator Debbie Stabenow is also under pressure. Stabenow wants to delay the EPA’s regulations for two years… to protect Michigan’s agriculture and auto industries.

“She’s worried about her re-election and she’s trying to do her best to make sure that utilities and industries and autos and everybody are happy.”

Bottom line: Michigan’s members of Congress are trying to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses anytime soon… if ever.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

For 53 years, researchers from Michigan Tech have been studying the island’s wolf and moose populations.

This year… they found there are fewer wolves – just 16. And only a couple of females that can still have babies. Rolf Peterson has been studying the wolves for more than four decades and he joins me now to talk about this.

What’s happening to the female wolves?

Peterson: In late 2009, six of the ten females we had in the population died. That was just an unusual, presumably a fluke. Only one of the females was radio collared and she died in a very unusual way, she died giving birth.

RW: So what’s the outlook for the existence of wolves on Isle Royale?

Peterson: Well, it could be just a little hurdle they have to jump through. It also could mean the beginning of the end if those one or two females should die without giving birth to a female. And if neither of the two pups we thought we saw this year are female, then that’s it. The population would go extinct because there are no females.

RW: Do you think people should intervene?

Peterson: Oh not yet, no. As long as there’s a chance the existing population can pull it off, it’d be worthwhile to let them go.

RW: So the wolves keep the island’s moose in check, and you’ve found the moose population is currently around 500 animals. If the wolves go extinct, what would happen to the moose?

Peterson: Oh, they’d increase. They’d increase to the point where they’d starve to death catastrophically.

RW: You’ve spent so much of your life living on Isle Royale studying the wolves and the moose on the island. What, if anything, surprises you?

Peterson: (laughs) Almost everything that happens there surprises me. We’re almost unable to predict the short term future. I guess the resiliency of wolves in general does usually surprise me. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they pulled out of this one. But exactly how they’re going to do it is what’s fascinating.

RW: Well, thank you so much for your time!

Peterson: You bet, thank you now.

RW: Rolf Peterson is a research professor at Michigan Tech University.
That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.