Climate change claims caribou

On Lake Superior’s Slate Islands, about 650 caribou roamed during the ’90s. Wolves are on the island now, and there are only three or four left, the Duluth News Tribune reports. There are no cows or calves.

The story is the same all along Lake Superior. It’s no longer caribou country.

Caribou can no longer survive with the large number of wolves in the region.

“Moose will stand and fight when confronted by a wolf, and a fair number of them survive,” retired biologist Gord Eason said. “Caribou, which are much smaller, are easy for a wolf to take down. They have no choice but to run, to flee. But they really don’t have any place to go on an island.”

Scientists believe the areas were caribou exist is moving north about 20 miles every 10 years.

Let nature run its course? Or intervene?

In fact, the paper says, we already have intervened.

Back when we had had ice to the islands nearly every year, for most of the winter, the caribou and wolves could go back and forth. … They probably did that for hundreds of years. Now, they are isolated. And we’ve done that,” [Eason]said, citing climate change.

Brent Patterson, wildlife biologist for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and a professor at Trent University, is leading the government’s effort to respond to the caribou crisis.

“This issue has risen to the highest levels of the (ministry) and of the government” of Ontario, Patterson said. “These are about the last animals left in that Lake Superior Coastal population of caribou. … That we are running out of time is not lost on us. We fully understand the clock is ticking.”

Eason at one point had hoped that the U.S. National Park Service might take some or all of the Michipicoten wolves for Isle Royale where wolf numbers have crashed from near 30 to just one or two because of genetic deformities due to inbreeding. (Isle Royale lost its last native caribou in the 1920s.)

There’s no political will to cull the number of wolves; they’re too popular. Instead, caribou are going to be moved to safer territory.

Efforts to reintroduce caribou in sections of northern Minnesota died with the 1999 blowdown, which increased the number of moose and deer. Caribou can’t survive with so many deer around.

  • MrE85

    I recently saw a television program on the wildlife of the Great Lakes that noted these island populations of caribou helped protect the species from over-hunting and other pressures from the mainland. Alas, not even an island is safe for a caribou any longer.

  • MikeB
    • Bryce

      Turns out that video was shot during July (summer) when there is no ice in that area according to the natives of the Baffin Island First Nations. They also said the other bears in the same area were all healthy and well fed and this one was likely too old, sick or injured to catch food for itself. Unfortunately heart wrenching stories like that tend to hurt climate change mitigation efforts more than they help because when they are proven to be fake or deceptive they cause people to believe everything they hear about climate change is fake.

  • KTFoley

    My friends and I kayaked there in July 2016. One paddler has photos of two different caribou, the result of drifting quietly & attentively in his boat for several late afternoons in a row.

    A group from one of the local colleges’ natural resource management groups was working from their research base camp, measuring the growth of trees in fenced-off subplots compared to those left open to caribou grazing. They had seen caribou come down to the water to drink, but no great numbers.

  • Jeff

    Could be climate change got California too. Sad.

  • Bryce

    So climate change (warming) is now causing unusually cold winters where wolves can reach these islands? This makes no sense.
    There is no documentation of wolves having ever colonized Isle Royale until the 1950s, Michipicoten and the Slate islands islands until the late 20th and early 21st century.
    The FACT is ice bridges to these islands have always been considered a rare occurrence dating back to historical records in the 1800s. In recent history many wolves left Isle Royale (emigration) during ice bridges and colonized the Slate Islands and Michipicoten island (immigration) during the same time. This WAS NOT due to a lack of ice, it was due to abundant ice which facilitated the wolf emigration and immigration.
    Therefore climate change would have nothing to do with the plight of the caribou.
    Wolves eat Caribou. Caribou on a small island
    have no room to hide in space and the dense canopy due to previous human activities such as mining and logging make it difficult for Caribou to escape wolves using their speed to run. Additionally the lack of adequate escape cover nearby reduces their chances to escape into water and swim away from predators. Basically the wolves are shooting fish in a barrel. Even if ice bridges were a common occurrence the wolves would have no reason to leave the islands as long as there is enough prey to eat and any caribou that left the islands would be met with even more dire circumstances when they reached the mainland (just like the recently extirpated population at Pukaskea Park on the mainland adjacent to Michipicoten)
    That is not to say man caused changes to the environment are not causing the problem only that the problems are not climate related. The unnaturally high predator populations in the area are due to man caused disturbance on the mainland which leads to an unnaturally high population of alternate prey species in turn bolstering predator populations.
    Articles like this do nothing to help the caribou or climate change mitigation. In fact jumping to blame anything and everything on climate change only strengthens the arguments of those who deny it’s very existence and damages the credibility of legitimate climate change research.