I GREW up in Rossport, Ont., and have a unique perspective about the value of caribou for eco-tourism in our area.
Working at Superior Outfitters and Ecoventures for five summers, I watched many groups of kayakers arrive back at our dock from trips to the Slate Islands. The first thing people shared about their trips were almost always caribou stories — whether paddling along the shoreline and watching caribou feed, or stumbling upon them while setting up camp.
Caribou benefit other forms of tourism as well. For eight summers I spoke with hundreds of tourists who were enthusiastic to see caribou while working at my dad’s business in Rossport, Island Pottery. I encouraged caribou enthusiasts to take one of the many charter boats in Terrace Bay (including ‘Caribou Charters’ operator) to the Slate Islands. A quick look at the itinerary of these chartered trips confirms the role caribou play in drawing people to this area.
Our community was concerned about caribou decline when I was a student at Schreiber Public School in the early 2000s. Teachers Vivian Wood-Alexander and Maria Dicaire initiated a storybook called Hope For The Caribou (ontarionature.org/news-release/caribou-storybook/) where students created illustrations and wrote a mythical tale about the Slate Islands caribou. The book highlights threats faced by the islands’ caribou.
Caribou are a species at risk and I feel the province isn’t doing enough to protect them. The government is deciding whether or not to move forward with legislative changes which aim to undermine Ontario’s Endangered Species Act in ways that will allow housing developers and industry to destroy the habitat of species at risk, like woodland caribou.
I’m concerned about the state of caribou in our area.
In my lifetime, I’ve watched a population of hundreds of caribou on the Slate Islands be reduced to fewer than 10 individuals today. In the case of the island population, wolves and starvation explain why caribou have declined but these factors are not root cause of their decline.
We need a healthy mainland caribou population to help replenish island caribou — and that requires less human-caused fragmentation of habitat. There are ways that forestry and caribou can co-exist, but we need to live within environmental limits. Humans have a great capacity for ingenious, novel solutions, but these solutions are often limited by an “us-against-them” mindset.
More recently, working at The Wilderness Supply Company in Thunder Bay, I continued to talk with locals and tourists that chose paddling routes where they had a chance to see caribou.
The attitude that it’s too late to protect coastal caribou is a type of denial — if you had a friend in debt, would you tell them to keep spending recklessly because it’s too late? Absolutely not. Same for protecting coastal caribou.