Caribou, Ice and Wolves – Death Spiral?
Posted on: November 30, 2017
Caribou travel accross the Lake Superior ice, 2014.
A caribou from Lake Superior’s Slate Islands travels over the ice to the mainland near Jackfish Bay, 2014. Ice cover in 2014 also allowed wolves from the mainland to travel to the Slate Islands and Michipicoten Island. This photo was received by Infosuperior on April 7th, 2014. Photo by Lisa Jacques.

Michipicoten First Nation is deeply concerned about the fate of Lake Superior’s woodland caribou. The First Nation is located near Wawa, Ontario and would like Superior watershed residents to know about a situation they describe as critical.  The situation is related to the presence of wolves in recent years on Lake Superior islands.

The band notes that wolves migrated to a couple of Lake Superior island locations over the ice in 2014 and that since then, caribou populations have declined dramatically. Some would argue that this is a natural course of events. Michipicoten First Nation has another point of view. They point out that, “for all intents and purposes,” there is no longer a coastal population of caribou, although at one time caribou lived throughout the Lake Superior watershed. Band representatives warn that since mainland populations have all but disappeared, island populations act as a “lifeline.” They are the last self-sustaining caribou populations on Lake Superior.

Concern centres on wolves, as these animals are predators for caribou on both the Slate Islands (near Terrace Bay, Ontario) and Michipicoten Island. The band says that island wolf populations are extremely close to causing the disappearance of caribou. Rather than years or months, band representatives contend that the timeline for caribou disappearance could be immediate.

Read more in the following article provided by Leo Lepiano, Lands and Resource Consulting Coordinator, Michipicoten First Nation.

Commercial links with excellent pictures of Michipicoten Island and the Slate Islands follows:

Leo Lepiano article:

The Lake Superior watershed has been home to the woodland caribou since the end of the last ice age, but they not be here for much longer. In 2014, wolves arrived on both the Slate Islands and Michipicoten Island by way of ice bridges. Previously these two islands supported the highest densities of woodland caribou in the world, and most of the Lake Superior herd. However, trapped on an island with wolves, caribou have no chance to survive by means of evasion, and recruitment and survival of calves is quick to reach zero. The caribou population on Michipicoten Island has declined from around 680 animals in 2011 to 180 at the end of last winter; the wolves are now estimated to number between 15 and 20.

Caribou crossing to the mainland from the Slates, 2014.
Caribou (background) cross the ice from the Slate Islands to the mainland, 2014. Photo: Paul and Allison Dennis.

While the populations on the islands have been falling rapidly, caribou have disappeared from Pukaskwa National Park on the east coast of the lake. A few animals may remain between Schreiber and Marathon, but it seems this population has been dependent on regular migrations from the Slates to be sustained. The Lake Superior herd now exists almost entirely, if not entirely, on these islands. The broader context is that woodland caribou are listed as a threatened species by both the federal and provincial governments.

In spite of the protected status offered to woodland caribou, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has decided to study the situation. Having captured the wolves when they first crossed, the decision was made to proceed with an experiment. The wolves were collared and allowed to remain on the islands. As the caribou dwindle to nothing, those of us who would like to see the province fulfill their fiduciary duty to prevent wildlife populations from being extirpated need to speak up.