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'Looks like they'll be gone': the race to save the Lake Superior caribou

Dec 05, 2017 09:44AM ● By Editor

Cottagers on Michipicoten Island in Lake Superior say the once plentiful caribou herd is being thinned out by wolves. (Christian Schroeder)

Activists say it is down to the wire to save the southernmost caribou herd in the country from extinction.

It's on Michipicoten Island in Lake Superior, where they were reintroduced in the early 1980s.

With just a few bulls and cows, the population grew to over 700 at one point, but has been cut down after wolves walked across the ice a few winters ago.

Retired Ministry of Natural Resources biologist Gord Eason, who was involved in reintroducing caribou to the island 30 years ago, is adding his voice to those calling for the ministry to take action to protect one of the last remaining herds on the Great Lakes.

He says estimates that there are under 100 caribou on the island and that one of them is eaten every few days by one of the dozen wolves. He says he estimatesĀ the entire herd could be wiped by mid-January.

"If there's going to be some action, it needs to happen pretty quickly, as soon as caribou can be moved. Otherwise it'll be too late. Looks like they'll be gone," says Eason.

Ministry still reviewing optionsĀ 

He says he's still hopeful the ministry will relocate some of the caribou to other islands and then plan to reintroduce them back to Michipicoten in the future.

But Eason's been frustrated by the government response to months of lobbying.

"It's been slow. I know the people. I don't think there's bad intentions and they seem to be talking about it internally," he says.

There are also concerns about the other Lake Superior herd on the Slate Islands, which the latest surveys suggest no longer has any females, meaning it will also vanish over time.

Jolanta Kowalski is a spokesperson with the Ministry of Natural Resources.

"Current research on Michipicoten Island and Slate Islands is examining caribou population dynamics and predator-prey interactions," she said in a statement to CBC News.

"The ministry takes an adaptive management approach and is actively assessing management actions including the potential need for and feasibility of wildlife community management methods."

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