Rolf Peterson, research professor and professor emeritus for Michigan Tech’s College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, is the lead on the world’s longest-running wildlife study. He has been studying wolves and moose on Isle Royale for more than 50 years with additional predator-prey research projects completed in Alaska, Minnesota, Michigan, and Yellowstone National Park.
Peterson’s work has brought Michigan Tech great notoriety. The Wolf-Moose Project has received coverage in local, state, and national media, and Peterson has been cited as an expert in dozens if not hundreds of pieces on the topic. Peterson himself has authored more than 150 publications and two books: Wolf Ecology and Prey Relationships on Isle Royale in 1977 and The Wolves of Isle Royale—A Broken Balance in 2007.
“My research, which concentrates on the ecology of the wolf and its prey, helps provide the scientific foundation for political, social, and ecological responses to carnivore recovery,” he said. “This is a challenge because these species may compete directly with human interests and we have typically persecuted them for centuries.”
Peterson earned a bachelor’s in zoology from Minnesota Duluth in 1970. Having heard about the wolf-moose survey, he decided to enroll at Purdue to work with Durward Allen, who had begun the project in 1958.
After working on the study on Isle Royale for several years, Peterson earned a PhD in wildlife ecology from Purdue in 1974. That same year, Allen retired and handed over the project to Peterson. The work transferred to Michigan Tech when Peterson was hired as assistant professor of biological sciences at Tech in 1975.
To continue the research throughout the years, Peterson has been granted more than $6 million in funds from many sources including the National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society and the National Park Service. The Wolf-Moose Project on Isle Royale was inducted into the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame in 2014.
Individually, Peterson has earned numerous awards including Michigan Tech’s Research Award in 1991, the Gulf Oil Conservation Award in 1982, and the Wildlife Publication Award, Outstanding Monograph of the Year in 1980.
Peterson has been honored by all of his alma maters. He earned the Lifetime Achievement Award from Purdue’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources in 2021. Minnesota Duluth inducted him into their Academy of Science and Engineering in 2004. Roosevelt High School (Minneapolis) enshrined him into their Hall of Fame in 2014.
Michigan Tech, in recognition for his contributions to the University, selected Peterson for its 2023 Honorary Alumni Award.
Updated April 2023