Caribou, The Sequel: – “Skylift 2”, Features Superior’s Most Remote Island
Posted on: February 16, 2018
Caribou Island, Lake Superior
Caribou Island, situated 72 km./44 mi north of the Michigan mainland and 6o km./37 mi. south of the Canadian mainland, will be the destination for a second caribou relocation.

Insurance Policy

Indications are that the January caribou relocation from Michipicoten Island to the Slate Islands, near Terrace Bay, was successful but Michipicoten First Nation wants an insurance policy.  For the second time, Michipicoten Island caribou will be relocated; this time, the destination will be the most remote island on Lake Superior, Caribou Island.

Lake Superior ice comes and goes and there are no guarantees about wolf movement. Caribou Island, with its remote location roughly midway across the lake, was the best guarantee Michipicoten First Nation could get. Aptly named given the circumstances, the Caribou Island relocation destination is due south of Michipicoten Island, 60 km (37 mi) south of  the Canadian mainland and 71 km (44 mi) north of the US mainland. The lighthouse on Caribou Island is the most remote in North America. The island is located in Canada but just barely north of the international boundary. Band representatives only recently received permission from the American island owners to relocate caribou there.[Editor’s Note: Another Caribou Island, not related, is situated, in Thunder Bay, near Amethyst Harbour.]

Related: Join a February 21st online Caribou presentation from anywhere around Lake Superior.

Evolving Cooperation

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) officials visited Caribou Island to assess conditions before transfer efforts began. According to band representatives, Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Nathalie Des Rosiers has been very cooperative, prioritizing action to sustain Lake Superior’s caribou population. The band says their relationship with MNRF has become a cooperative one but one where the importance of continued effort to sustain this most southerly population of woodland caribou in the world needs to be maintained. Caribou have been designated as a “threatened” species in Ontario.

Difficult Action

On February 13th, representatives of Michipicoten First Nation, with cooperation from MNRF, took action. Their transfer operation involved assistance from an expert rushed in from Quebec. Caribou were to be located by helicopter, netted (not darted with a tranquilizer as in the January relocation to the Slate Islands), and transferred south to Caribou Island. The 36 km (22 mi) between Michipicoten Island and Caribou Island is approximately 12 minutes by helicopter. In the event, the effort had to be suspended due to poor weather.  The intention was to try again but Infosuperior has not learned whether transfer has been completed successfully.

Leo Lepiano, who was on Michipicoten Island to assist with the move, reported that the February 13th situation was extremely difficult. He reported that there were probably only about 10 caribou left on Michipicoten, at most. This, from a population that exceeded 600 animals, in 2014, before wolves crossed over frozen Lake Superior to Michipicoten Island. Lepiano said that, on February 13th, a couple of these caribou were seen from the helicopter on Davieaux Island, just south of Michipicoten Island’s Quebec Harbour. He said it would likely not be possible to remove caribou from Davieaux by helicopter.  That left only 8 animals to find on an island over 50 km (32 mi) long and 20 km (12 mi) wide.

Caribou Island Map
A map of eastern Lake Superior showing Caribou Island.

 

Why Not Just Hunt the Wolves?

Lepiano said that many people have asked him why they didn’t just hunt the wolves, instead of going through the difficult exercise of moving caribou. He explained that odds were steeply stacked against hunting success and that it would be next to impossible to find all of the wolves on such a large island. He stressed that, without a guarantee that every last wolf could be eliminated, Michipicoten’s caribou population was doomed.

“If no Action was Taken, Caribou Would Have Been Eliminated from Lake Superior in a Few Weeks”

In December, prior to any of the relocation efforts taking place, Lepiano contended that the Lake Superior caribou population would be eliminated, not just in a year or two, or even a few months, but in a few weeks. He explained that wolves which had crossed over the ice in 2014, to both Michipicoten Island and the Slate Islands, had decimated caribou populations. According to Lepiano, for the wolves, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. He backed up this assertion by citing figures showing a population plummet from several hundred in 2014, down to less than twenty, on both Michipicoten and the Slates. As for the Slate Islands specifically, Leo reported that female caribou were no longer present, making the population unsustainable. He said there was a glimmer of hope, however, as there was no longer evidence of wolves on the Slates. This situation provided potential, in that female caribou could be moved to the Slates, thereby preserving the Lake Superior population. Since this December conversation, a cooperative situation has developed between MNRF and Michipicoten First Nation and relocation action has resulted.

February 21st Caribou Presentation in Terrace Bay Accessible In-Person or Online

Leo Lepiano will provide a presentation about the Lake Superior caribou population and efforts to sustain it at 7 p.m. on February 21st at the Terrace Bay Recreation Centre in Terrace Bay, Ontario, Canada. The presentation is available in-person or online and is free of charge. More information and directions to join the audio livestream, including presentation slides, is accessible here.

Information about the Lake Superior Environmental Action and Management Plan will also be presented at the February 21st event.

Links:

Lake Superior Action and Management Plan 2015 – 2019

A Bio-Diversity Conservation Strategy for Lake Superior – 2015

Lisa Jacques Photo of Caribou Crossing the Ice from the Slate Isands – 2o14

More caribou photos by various photographers.

 

 

 

 

 

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