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November/December – Lake Superior Woodland Caribou

Photo of MFN women outside the Hudson’s Bay post on the Michipicoten River, c. 1884. Woodland caribou antlers can be seen above the door in the background.

 

Since the end of the last ice age, woodland caribou have roamed the coast of Lake Superior. In fact, their range extended across the land and as far south as the French River. At the time of the opening of the Helen Mine in Wawa, there was a population living in the jackpine at what is now called Tremblay Flats. That population was hunted off by hungry miners during a cold winter. Similarly, miners and fishermen hunted the last of the Michipicoten Island population by 1880. In 1981, a single bull was spotted by the lighthouse keeper. The MNR transported additional animals to the island as part of their efforts to protect the by then greatly diminished coastal population.

The population on Michipicoten Island flourished, reaching an estimated 680 animals by 2011. In the winter of 2014/2015 an ice bridge formed and four wolves crossed to the island. The MNRF captured and collared the wolves, and then released them with the intention of studying the results. There was no calf recruitment in the year of 2015 and the wolves quickly began eating the adult population. There are now somewhere between 15-20 wolves on the island, and the most recent caribou estimate was 116.

Acting in accordance with Chief Tangie’s belief that “we have a duty and responsibility to protect [these caribou] as they protected us for generations,” we have been working on several fronts to get the MNRF to stop their study and do something to prevent the elimination of the caribou, which now represent almost the entire Lake Superior population. The Minister’s office is currently reviewing our proposal to move caribou to ensure their survival through the winter while longer term solutions are put in place. As well as protecting the ecological integrity of the area, survival of the caribou would provide MFN with potential cultural and eco-tourism opportunities.

Leo Lepiano, Lands and Resources Consultation Coordinator