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Addressing Cattle Damage to Islands

Chirikof Island Damaged by Cattle photo by Steve Ebbert

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing draft environmental impact statements regarding the unauthorized cattle on Chirikof and Wosnesenski Islands. Once these draft documents are written, we will make them public and again ask for comments before making any final decisions.

  • 2014 Studies

    Research Vessel Tiglax photo by Carla Stanley

    Last summer, a team of biologists, botanists, and range specialists traveled to Chirikof and Wosnesenski Islands onboard the R/V Tiglax to collect data on current vegetation and habitat conditions. Aerial surveys were also conducted in 2014 by experienced USFWS pilots/biologists to obtain cow counts on both islands. In addition to the work outlined below and links to those reports, other botanists and biologists established photo points to document current conditions, conducted bird surveys, and recorded plant communities to ground truth plant communities observed on the ground for assigning vegetation classifications to recently obtained satellite imagery (this is one method to detect island-wide vegetation changes over time). For more photos of the island check out our multimedia page.

  • Cattle Counts

    Aerial Photo of Cattle on Chirikof by McCrea Cobb, USFWS

    In July 2014, staff from Izembek National Wildlife Refuge conducted an aerial survey of Wosnesenski Island. A total of 129 cattle were counted on the island. Five large groups of cattle were observed as well as multiple groups of two, and several single bulls. There were calves present in every large group. In October 2014, staff from Kodiak National Wildlife refuge conducted an aerial survey of Chirikof Island. A total of 2024 cattle were counted in 112 groups, or 16 cattle per square km. Medium group size was 9 cattle per group and group sizes ranged from 1 to 260. Weather conditions were ideal for surveying at both islands and the aerial survey teams were confident that they observed all cattle and did not double count individuals. We now have good current cattle numbers on both islands, which is important information for the environmental documents. For more photos of the islands check out our multimedia page.

  • Vegetation Overview

    Boots on the Ground photo by Steve Ebbert

    An ecologist from Kenai National Wildlife Refuge conducted invasive plant surveys on Chirikof and Wosnesenski during the July 2014 visit. A trip report highlights non-native plant species observed during the trip and summarized from previous studies, describes cattle use of vegetation, and provides a summary of the vegetation community types found on these islands.

  • NRCS Range Surveys

    Range Survey photo by Karen Sonnen, NRCS

     Two representatives from the Natural Resources Conservation Service conducted basic range surveys on Chirikof and Wosnesenski islands during the July 2014 visit. Their assessments included developing several range condition maps, using standard range measurements used throughout the United States by federal agencies including USDA – NRCS, USDA-Forest Service, and USDI-Bureau of land Management.

     An agronomist from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Plant Materials Center (Division of Agriculture) also participated to collect plant samples for a statewide forage study and to assess rangeland conditions. A rangeland assessment report was completed for Chirikof Island.

  • 2013 Archaeological Survey

    Catherine West

    In July 2013, Dr. Catherine West (Research Assistant Professor of Archaeology, Boston University) and her team of archaeologists and an ornithologist visited Chirikof Island to study Chirikof’s archaeological record to create a record of the historical use and availability of resources on the island by Alutiiq people. Like other islands in the Gulf of Alaska, people, climate change, and introduced species have altered Chirikof’s landscape. Catherine is seeking to understand how these forces have affected bird populations over the last 4,000 years. On Chirikof they collected animal bones from archaeological sites and performed bird surveys. This information will help address whether the island’s ecology and its bird populations have changed through time, and provide a better understanding of Chirikof’s role in Alutiiq history.

  • Chirikof Island Birds

    Tundra Swan in Flight photo by USFWS

    Notes on the birds of Chirikof Island by Jack J. Withrow, University of Alaska Museum. Annotated status and abundance for 89 species recorded during eight visits 2008–2014. A paucity of breeding bird species is thought to be a result of the long history of the presence of introduced cattle and introduced foxes (Vulpes lagopus), both of which persist to this day.

  • Draft EIS

    Both Wosnesenski and Chirikof islands, located in remote Southwest Alaska, are uninhabited and part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge was established in 1980 to conserve marine mammals, seabirds and other migratory birds, and the marine resources upon which they rely. Wosnesenski and Chirikof islands have sustained severe impacts to wildlife habitat, native vegetation, and archaeological sites from grazing by unauthorized cattle left behind when ranchers left the islands years ago. To see a gallery of photos from the islands please visit our multimedia page.

    You will have an opportunity to comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement documents after they have been prepared. All comments received, including those from individuals, become part of the public record, and are available to the public upon request in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, NEPA, and Departmental policies and procedures. Before you include your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information on your comment, be aware that your entire comment, including this information, may be made available to the public upon request. You can ask us to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, but we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. If you would like to receive future correspondence regarding the unauthorized cattle issue, please contact us:

    Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
    Attention: Cattle
    95 Sterling Hwy, Suite 1
    Homer, AK 99603

    Phone: 907-235-6546, or Fax: 907-235-7783

Last Updated: Jun 02, 2015
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