Wolves and Top of the Country

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July 13th 2018
Published: July 13th 2018
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Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota
Ely, Minnesota and Arnold’s Fishing Camp, International Falls, Minnesota

We moved almost 200 miles northwest to an RV Campground just a mile or so from the Canadian border. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen ‘International Falls’ on weather maps, usually in winter reporting the coldest temperatures in the continental US. Well, here we are staying at a campground that apparently doubles as a fishing spot. When Joan called to make reservations, last January, she asked the guy if he was freezing his ‘nose’ off. The reply was a simple ‘yes’, as if the question was so obvious as to be insulting.

Anyway, it isn’t cold here now - temps last night when we came in were in the 70s, and it is forecast to get in the 80s today. This is a private campground, so its expensive, and crowded. But it will do fine for the six nights we are here. This will be our home base for exploring our last big park on this trip, Voyageurs National Park. This is another park where having a boat would be a definite advantage, but we will have to make do with what we do have. We’re looking forward to seeing places in this park that we’ve been reading about in our Voyageurs books, like Rainy Lake!

On the way up here we stopped at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota. The Center has as its mission trying to educate the public about the wolf population in this country. They have a somewhat difficult job since there is a lot of animosity towards wolf, especially from ranchers. It is unfortunate that we go in and mess up the ecology of a place which reduces the natural prey animals that wolves usually feed on. So, rather than go hungry, they choose to augment their food with a few cattle or sheep. Since the problem has never been a huge one in terms of numbers, I’m unclear why it isn’t just absorbed as a cost of doing the ranching business. But I guess its easier to blame a poor dumb animal, like a wolf, than it is to engage in reasonable stock management. (Yeah, I’m probably angering a few readers, but since I read that the Repugnicans want to sell off all federal lands in the west - including all national parks - I’m not reacting too favorably to the conservative idiots out there right now, so if I’ve offended you, that’s just fine. You offended me first!)

The Wolf Center has five adult wolves, and two in ‘retirement’, that are in their somewhat natural enclosure. Normally, one is lucky if you can see even one of them, but we got very lucky and saw four of the five, including the alpha male of the pack, a 143 pounder. They are truly beautiful animals. The Center has a series of exhibits that outline the nature of the wolf problem, across the world.

It was especially interesting that the center concentrated on the wolf issue at Isle Royale, since we were there just last month. The wolf population on the island has crashed to just two animals (and possibly just one). They are a father, daughter pair and are not expected to mate, which means the wolf population on the island is pretty much finished. Meanwhile, the moose are reproducing in leaps and bounds, with no natural predators. Their population is now over 1500 and there are signs that they are becoming unhealthy because there are just too many of them for the island to support.

The argument is that by reintroducing wolves onto the island, a natural balance in the moose population can be reestablished. After much debate, they are planning on bringing as many as 30 wolves back onto the island. The problem, as wolf experts can identify, is that Isle Royale is too small to support a diverse enough wolf gene pool. So what they expect will happen is that the wolves, after a few generations of interbreeding, will get themselves back into the same desperate situation they are now in - not enough diversity to support an ongoing population. They will die out again, the moose will overpopulate again, and the cycle repeats itself. It is really an difficult problem!

After touring the Wolf Center, we stopped for lunch at Rockwood’s, a burger and pizza place right on the main drag. I had the Rockwood burger with onion rings and it was good, but not terrific. And the prices were about right. One thing we noticed up here is that there are tons of liquor stores - I think we know how these northerners keep warm in the winter nights.

This isn’t our last stop on this trip, but it is our last big one. We will be here five more days and nights, so have plenty of time to explore Voyageurs. It will be a difficult park to see, though, without a boat. The reason we are staying here in International Falls is because none of the parks campgrounds are open to RVs and that’s because you can only reach them by boat or seaplane. There is just one small hiking trail that the girls can go on, so they will be spending a lot of time here in the trailer. We are headed out to the visitor center today to see what we might be able to do.

Additional photos below
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Right on the Main Drag in International Falls

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