By Carey Restino
The last time federal officials took action to move some 1,000 cattle off two remote islands in Alaska a decade ago, it didn’t go so well. The attempt to remove the cattle was fraught with calamity, from difficulty accessing the remote locations, to engine trouble that stranded a barge filled with 40 cows.
This time, the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge — which manages two islands on which the cattle currently roam freely — want to do things differently. To start with, they want ideas.
Steve Delahanty, the refuge superintendent who is spearheading the effort to figure out what to do with the cows, said upcoming meetings are set up simply to gather input from anyone with an opinion about what should be done.
“It’s time to figure out what to do,” Delahanty said. “We are asking people to help us come up with a solution.”
The cattle conundrum started long before Alaska became a state or the wildlife refuge was created, Delahanty said. Ranchers are believed to have brought cattle to the remote Chirikof Island south of Kodiak in the 1880s, and Wosnesenski Island further out on the Aleutian Chain 40 or 50 years later.
“In both cases, people brought them to the island,” Delahanty said. “When the people left the islands, they left the cattle behind; they remain there today.”
Cattle are obviously not native species to the islands, and are causing damage to the vegetation and wildlife habitat of the areas; including damaging salmon streams, federal officials note.
But getting them off the island — if that turns out to be the preferred means of dealing with the cow problem — may prove technically challenging. The cattle, left to their own devices for decades now, are wild and protective, those who have visited the islands note.
And access is often challenging, as was found when the last attempt was made to remove the cattle in 2003. One of the barges brought in to remove the cattle got stuck and had to be removed. The second barge then had engine trouble.
The cattle had to remain on the cramped barge for a week, while repairs were made in Unalaska, prompting concern that the cattle were being neglected. Two died when they fell during a storm and were trampled. The cows were eventually taken to Kodiak, but the effort was a financial loss, ending in lawsuits.
Federal managers would like things to go a little more smoothly this time, and Delahanty is especially interested to hear what Homer ranchers have to offer in the way of input.
“Nobody knows more about cattle than the people working with them, so we hope to engage with them on this,” he said.
A meeting in Homer is scheduled for Dec. 16, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. Another will take place on Jan. 7 in Kodiak at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center from 4 to 6 p.m.
People can also submit ideas in writing or by phone. The deadline to submit ideas on issues and alternatives to be considered is Jan. 31, 2014. Submission will be accepted by any of the following methods:
Letter: Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge; Attention: Cattle, 95 Sterling Hwy, Suite 1, Homer, AK 99603; Phone: 907-235-6546; Fax: 907-235-7783
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