Relocation of caribou 'needs to happen as fast as possible' : Michipicoten First Nation

Residents in Michipicoten First Nation are concerned that the promised relocation of caribou is not happening fast enough. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry plans to move the animals from nearby Michipicoten Island to Slate Island, but not until mid January. The caribou population is being wiped out by wolves.

Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is planning to move animals to Slate Island mid-January

Two caribou on Michipicoten Island in Lake Superior. The Ministry of Natural Resources plans to airlift caribou off the island before the entire herd is eaten by wolves. (Christian Schroeder)

Residents of Michipicoten First Nation are concerned the promised relocation of caribou from a nearby island is not happening fast enough.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry announced it would move the animals from Michipicoten Island to Slate Island, 130 kilometres north.

The population of caribou on Michipicoten Island is being wiped out by wolves.

Leo Lepiano is the lands and resources consultation coordinator for the First Nation. He says the MNRF has scheduled the relocation of the animals for mid January, once a protocol is written and reviewed for the moving of caribou.

"The job for writing the protocol has been given to one of the research scientists, who, as of last week, seemed to suggest that there were still 100 caribou left on Michipicoten Island. When the best data — which comes from the MNRF — suggests that there are now under 30 caribou," Lepiano says.

Lepiano estimates that every two weeks 21 per cent of the caribou population is dying. He expect just 16 caribou to be left on the island by mid January, when the relocation is expected to happen.

The community has been trying to get action on the problem since April, when Michipicoten First Nation Chief Patricia Tangie first sent a letter to the ministry.

"This is extremely frustrating given that we've been alerting them for months that a crisis is underway on the island," Lepiano says.

He adds the First Nation is in touch with the ministry almost on a daily basis about the concern for the caribou.

"All we can continue to do is to point out to [the MNRF] that their data suggests this needs to happen as fast as possible, and then we offer suggestions on how that might work."

Lepiano estimates there are about 18 wolves on the island and moving them to the mainland is not an option. He says a cull of the wolves would be a practical solution, but killing that many wolves is an answer that would not be taken lightly.

Complicating factors at play ministry says

In an email statement to CBC News, the Ministry says it been working closely with the First Nation community and appreciates its concerns.

The statement goes on to say there are a number of complicating factors at play, including the weather, and the stress of the move on the caribou.

The ministry says a vet is required onsite for the move, as well as the right contractor, in order to move the caribou safely.

Lepiano says the concern for the caribou by the people of Michipicoten First Nation is connected with an Ojibwe teaching. 

"We've arrived at a time when the rest of the animals on the planet need our help to survive. These are animals that have helped the Ojibwe people survive in the past," Lepiano says.

"We may have to sit here and know that the last of the caribou are getting wiped off of the island and off of Lake Superior, in spite of all [the First Nation's efforts]. It's pretty hard to take."

With files from Angela Gemmill and Erik White