The National Park Service has opted against an emergency genetic rescue of wolves on Isle Royale, and will instead conduct a long-term environmental review on the park’s diminished wolf population.

Isle Royale Superintendent Phyllis Green announced Wednesday that she won’t allow the introduction of transplanted wolves onto the island at this time - an effort some wolf researchers have suggested to revitalize wolf genetics and bolster the population.

“Right now, we don’t feel that’s appropriate,” Green told the News Tribune.

Instead, Green said, she has begun the formal Environmental Impact Statement process, an action that could take up to three years to reach a conclusion.

The environmental review will look at why wolf numbers have declined in recent years and whether their inbreeding has doomed the small population.

But it also will include a review of the island’s entire ecosystem, most importantly, Green said, how wolves relate to moose on the island, how moose relate to vegetation, and how the entire system is being affected by climate change.

 “We still have a breeding population on the island” that mitigates the need for any urgent action, Green said.

The Park Service will begin public “scoping” for the environmental review this fall, seeking public input on the specific parameters to be included in the review. The Park Service also will develop a formal wolf management plan that also involves other species on Lake Superior’s largest island.

Green conducted a mini public input process last fall when she held open meetings in Michigan and Minnesota on the wolf status. About 900 people submitted informal comments on the situation. Green said it is clear people care deeply about the island’s big mammals and their future.

“We’re going to look at a much broader list of options” than simply adding new wolves, Green said.

“There are bigger issues at hand than just wolf genetics,” she added. “We don’t want to bring new wolves in only to set them up to fail because the island is changing and won’t be able to support them.”

At issue, Green said, is how much humans should be “tinkering” with a natural system, especially an island system that for millennia has evolved differently than the mainland just 20 miles away. It’s not clear, for example, why Isle Royale moose are thriving while nearby Minnesota moose are rapidly declining.

Some have suggested a genetic rescue similar to the Florida panther situation in which Texas cougars were released in parts of that state to bolster genetic diversity among the inbred Florida cats. The effort seems to have worked, with the number of deformed cats now diminishing, even as the overall population slowly grows.

The Park Service announcement comes just as the 2014 Isle Royale moose and wolf population survey results are set to be released - the 56th annual survey in what has become the world’s longest-running predator-prey study. Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich, the Michigan Technological University researchers who lead the study, have been among the most ardent supporters of a genetic rescue for the island’s wolves, saying a failure to act soon threatens the population and the fragile predator-prey balance on the island.

Peterson and Vucetich declined to comment Wednesday. Vucetich told the News Tribune they would comment on the Park Service decision sometime next week.

Green said no major surprises are expected when this year’s survey results are released in coming days. The island’s wolf population is stagnant, while moose are increasing. Wolves are the only predators of moose on the island.

One year ago, researchers reported only eight adult wolves remained on the island, down from 24 in 2009 and the lowest level since 1958. There was some good news last summer with two new pups born. But at least one wolf walked off the island this winter, crossing ice into Ontario, where it was shot and killed with a pellet rifle.

That’s left the island with about nine wolves, in just one pack, and a population that some researchers say is terribly inbred, reducing pup production and causing physical deformities that affect their ability to survive.

The moose population is expected to be higher than last year’s 975 estimate; continued growth from fewer than 500 moose a decade ago.

On Isle Royale, about 18 miles off Minnesota’s North Shore at the Canadian border, moose numbers hit a high of 2,422 in 1995 and bottomed out at 500 in 1997 and again in 2005. It’s believed that moose first swam to the island in the early 1900s and thrived for decades with no predators. Wolves are relatively new to the 45-mile-long, 143,000-acre island complex, having crossed Lake Superior ice to get there in 1949. Their numbers have ranged from a previous low of 11 in 1993 to a high of 50 in 1980.

Green noted that there were no wolves on the island when it became a National Park in 1940.