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.