GREATER VOYAGEURS ECOSYSTEM
About the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem
The Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem (GVE) is a ~1800 km southern boreal forest area that includes Voyageurs National Park and the area southerly adjacent to the park. The northern border of the GVE is the United States-Canada border. The GVE contains numerous small and medium-sized idyllic Northwoods lakes that are commonly associated with the Canadian Shield region. The forest habitats are predominantly a mix of
deciduous and coniferous forests, interspersed with rocky, pine-covered ridges and wetlands, such as beaver ponds and black spruce bogs. The GVE has harsh, cold winters with temperatures routinely dropping below -20 F to -30 F (-29 to -34 C) (the town of International Falls, MN, on the westernedge of the GVE, is commonly referred to as the "Icebox of the Nation") and the summers are often hot, buggy, and humid.
The GVE has a variety of wildlife including wolves, lynx, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, fishers, moose, deer, and snowshoe hare. However, no animal has had as dramatic of an impact on the GVE as beavers.
Beavers are incredibly abundant throughout the GVE with densities surpassing 2–3 colonies/km in some areas. In parts of the GVE, beavers have created enough wetlands over time to cover 15% of the landscape! Deer are the most common ungulate in the GVE with moose occurring at relatively low densities across the area. The GVE has maintained high wolf densities (35–45 wolves/1000 km ) for many years and was one of the only places in the contiguous United States that never had its wolf population extirpated.
Each fall, we conduct aerial surveys to identify all of the active beaver lodges (colonies) within the GVE. In 2018, we counted >1,000 active beaver lodges!
Why study wolves in the GVE?
The GVE was not delineated for any geologic or hydrologic reason, but rather so we could bound our study area and research efforts. Given the unique shape of Voyageurs National Park, very few wolf packs exist solely within the boundaries of the park, and even individuals in these 'park' packs generally wander outside of the boundaries of the park throughout the year.
Known wolf pack territories in the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem in 2018-2019
Though we are primarily interested in studying wolves that use parts of Voyageurs National Park, it became increasingly apparent as we started studying wolves in the area that we needed to understand the factors that affect wolves once they leave park boundaries if we wanted to understand the wolves of Voyageurs National Park, and more generally, wolves in the boreal forest.
The land south of Voyageurs is primarily owned by logging companies, the state of Minnesota, and the United States Forest Service. There are a few large differences between how land in Voyageurs National Park and the area south of the park are managed. The first large difference is that there is no logging or timber harvest allowed in the park, whereas much of the land south of the park is actively logged. Because of logging activity, forest habitats south of the park are a mosaic of clear cuts, young and
regenerating aspen stands, mature deciduous-conifer stands, and wetlands. In contrast, the park is dominated by mature forests as there have been few large-scale forest disturbances since the park was created in 1975. The second large difference is that recreational hunting or trapping of any wildlife in Voyageurs National Park is not allowed, but these activities are legal and popular just outside park boundaries. The most popular activities include bear, grouse, and deer hunting.
This map depicts just how territorial wolves are and how we derive territory boundaries. We created this map from 68,000+ GPS locations from 7 wolves in different packs during summer 2018.
Because of these differences, we try to study packs that have territories: 1) entirely within Voyageurs National Park, 2) territories that include Voyageurs National Park and area outside of the park, and 3) territories that are entirely outside of the park. By taking this approach, we are able to compare and contrast how the different management approaches of these landscapes impact wolves not only in the GVE, but across similar habitats throughout the southern boreal ecosystem.