Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
AK MARITIME: Friends Nip Horse Problem in the Bud
Alaska Region, June 16, 2008
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Friends and veterinarian geld horse on remote Unalaska Island.  Sharon Baur photographer
Friends and veterinarian geld horse on remote Unalaska Island. Sharon Baur photographer - Photo Credit: n/a

Gelding abandoned ranch horses on a remote Aleutian Island is probably one of the most unusual Friends projects imaginable.  “Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges” won an invasive species grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to bring a veterinarian wielding an “emasculator” to Unalaska Island, 800 miles west of Anchorage.  Their goal was to prevent further habitat damage to Alaska Maritime Refuge lands by stopping the growth of a herd of 17 feral horses. 

The Friends, led by Project Manager and chief horse whisperer Jeff Hancock, planned the project, recruited the volunteer veterinarian, partnered with the landowners, the Native Corporation and the Refuge, and participated in the operation including darting horses, assisting in the procedure, handling the press and providing post operation care.   All five stallions in the herd were gelded over four tough days of hiking tundra, wading streams, and luring horses with feed.  Since the project’s conclusion in May, the Friends have kept watch over the new geldings and report all are doing well.  Follow up work will be necessary in 2009 to geld any colts born this year.

The horses were introduced to the site on Native corporation and Refuge land about 10 years ago without either landowners’ permission.  Original owners of the horses soon lost interest in their livestock and left them to fend for themselves.  In spite of the loss of some horses to winter kill, the herd thrived, nearly doubling in size over the 10 years.

The gelding project was the brain child of an Unalaska Friends member who saw the expanding habitat damage from the growing herd.  The horses clearly impacted riparian areas of salmon streams and undoubtedly there were other impacts on native vegetation.  There are no native grazing animals larger than a ground squirrel on Unalaska Island so plant communities are not adapted to grazing pressure. 

The principle landowner, the Ounalaska Corporation, Unalaska’s Native corporation, was an enthusiastic supporter from the start of the project, handling public notice and land use permits for the project.  As for the Refuge, wild horses couldn’t drag us away from our wonderful, problem solving Friends.

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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