MNRF yet to determine cost, timeline for Lake Superior caribou airlift
World's southernmost caribou herd once 700 strong, now close to being wiped out
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is busy making plans on how to move caribou from one remote Lake Superior island to another.
Caribou are being moved from Michipicoten Island near Wawa to the Slate Islands, 130 kilometres to the north.
The goal is to keep some of the last remaining Lake Superior caribou from being wiped out by wolves, who crossed to the island on a rare ice bridge a few winters ago.
Natural Resources Minister Kathryn McGarry says the plan is to transport the caribou by helicopter, but the details, including when and how much it will cost haven't been worked out yet.
"We want to ensure that we're taking the healthy animals and make sure they get over to the island with as little stress as possible so they can continue to thrive," she says.
Activists have been calling on the ministry to intervene since this summer and warn that according to some estimates the Michipicoten Island herd could be wiped out by mid-January.
McGarry says there were several competing opinions and plans on what to do, including those who wanted nature to take its course.
But she says the wishes of the Michipicoten First Nation trumped all others, as is always the case when consulting Indigenous groups.
"We work very closely with them each step of the way. So whichever local first nation is on that landscape is comfortable with the decision moving forward," says McGarry.
Lands and resources consultation coordinator with the Michipicoten First Nation, Leo Lepiano, says the ministry's action came after extensive lobbying from the community.
"It is very unfortunate that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Foresty allowed the situation to get to the point where the translocation of caribou is required," he said.
"Michipicoten First Nation requested the non-lethal removal of the wolves as early as April 10, 2017. Unfortunately, that option was definitively ruled out in November."
Lepiano says that left only two options: cull the wolves or move the caribou.
"It was deemed that the cull of the 15-20 wolves could not be carried out by Michipicoten First Nation due to prohibitive costs and the difficulty of locating all of the wolves without access to their GPS collars, which have been regularly placed on wolves by the MNRF since 2015," he said.
"The Ministry was not supportive of a cull."
Lepiano says the First Nation looks forward to continue working with the ministry on the issue, but adds "it remains concerned by the MNRF's management of the land, including caribou and other species at risk."