The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale

Bushwhacking with Rolf Peterson in search of Isle Royale's famed moose!

Isle Royale National Park is home to the longest continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world. There, researchers have documented the lives of the wolves and moose that inhabit the island for more than five decades. From the study website: As predator and prey, their lives and deaths are linked in a drama that is timeless and historic

To learn more, we spent a day in the field with Rolf Peterson, the leading authority on wolves and moose. Not surprisingly, he knew the best place to spot moose and was able to fill us in on some of the details regarding their behaviors.

Rolf Peterson shows us around what is lovingly referred to as "The Boneyard."

This is what Mr. Peterson had to say to some of our burning questions:

Stefanie Payne and Jonathan Irish What kind of research are you conducting in Isle Royale and how has it evolved since you started working there? 

Rolf Peterson – the original objective of the research in 1958 has changed little – to understand the role of the wolf in the Isle Royale ecosystem. There are plenty of ways that it has gotten more detailed and emphasis has shifted from time to time, but the core objective is the same.


S.P. & J.I. What characteristics do wolves and moose have that continue to fascinate you?  

R.P.  Each species is wonderfully adapted to their particular niche, which for wolves means finding and killing vulnerable prey animals, and for moose, avoiding wolves and other predators. Discovering and learning from others about the nuanced ability of predator and prey to live and prosper provides for boundless fascination.

A moose savoring aquatic grasses.

S.P. & J.I. With only two wolves living on the island today, far fewer than what lived there many years ago, the topic of wolf reintroduction is an ongoing debate. As I understand it, you believe that predators of moose (wolves) must exist on the island. Others believe that nature should run its course. Could you share with us some of your thoughts that are more specific as to the benefits of an increased wolf population? 

R.P. Science stretching back decades reveals that wolf predation is essential to maintaining a healthy moose population that lives within the limits of its environment, with further influences on enhancing viability for many other species. It is no more complicated than that. For some wilderness purists, the only thing that seems to matter is that humans pretend to stay out of the picture.


S.P. & J.I. How is it that you came to live and word in the historic Bangsund Cabin and who does it belong to? 

R.P. Use of Bangsund Cabin is provided for in a formal cooperative agreement between the National Park Service (NPS) and Michigan Tech University, an arrangement which formalized the “hand-shake” agreement of the 1960s, 1970s, and much of the 1980s. The cabin is the property of the NPS. 


S.P. & J.I. It's clear that Candy plays an integral role in the wolf/moose research program. If you (or she) wouldn't mind sharing, what are some of the things she is working on?  

R.P. She has finished writing her second book, but she keeps fine-tuning that while figuring out how and where it will be published. Also, she is the “soul” of the research for many park visitors who treasure the time she spends with them. That means over 2,000 visitors this year.


S.P. & J.I. How can people learn more about the study and contribute to further research?

R.P.  They can follow the project on Facebook “Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale” and on our website


S.P. & J.I. As a professor and author, I'm sure you have some recommended reading about Isle Royale. Care to name a few resources? 

R.P. For those with an interest in wolf-moose research, there is “The Wolves of Isle Royale – A Broken Balance” by yours truly, and “A View from the Wolf’s Eye” by Carolyn Peterson.  Plenty of other titles at

Researchers collect and survey moose antler and skulls as part of the study.

You can meet Rolf and Candy every summer at the Bangsund Cabin near the Edisen Fishery. Ask anyone on the island where to find them and theyll be able to direct you there.