Caribou Control and Cattle Planning

Chirikof Island Damaged by Cattle photo by Steve Ebbert

Due to specific language in the Senate Appropriations Committee Report for the 2016 fiscal year federal budget bill, the refuge will not complete and release a draft environmental impact statement or conduct any other activities related the effort to address the unauthorized cattle on Chirikof and Wosnesenski islands.

  • Update

    The federal budget act, which provides fiscal year 2016 funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, includes language prohibiting the USFWS Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge from spending any funds to remove non-native caribou from Kagalaska Island and conduct any work to address unauthorized cattle grazing on Chirikof and Wosnesenski islands.

    For this reason, the refuge has 1) cancelled the planned 2016 caribou control operations on Kagalaska Island and 2) will not complete and release a draft environmental impact statement or conduct any other activities related to the effort to address the unauthorized cattle on Chirikof and Wosnesenski islands. The specific language in the Senate Appropriations Committee Report is as follows:

    The Committee directs that no funds are provided for the Service to conduct a caribou hunt on Kagalaska Island in the State of Alaska. Additionally, the Committee directs that no funds are provided to the Service for efforts to remove cattle on Chirikof and Wosnesenski Islands in the State of Alaska.

    If authorized in the future, we hope to continue efforts begun in 2015 to prevent non-native caribou from becoming established on Kagalaska Island and impacting habitat. Read more about our past work on Kagalaska Island HERE.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appreciates the public’s participation in the environmental impact statement scoping process to determine how to address the cattle on Chirikof and Wosnesenski islands. We received hundreds of comments covering a wide range of issues—from determining cattle ownership and genetics to impacts on cultural and natural resources. If authorized in the future, we hope to provide a draft EIS for public review and comment and address these issues.

    Due to the budget act restrictions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not allowed to issue permits that would result in removal of any cattle from these two islands. Also, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not allowed to work on clarifying ownership of the cattle.

    To learn more about our previous work on Chirikof and Wosnesenski Islands, see the links below:


  • Photos & Summary of Studies

    Research Vessel Tiglax photo by Carla Stanley

    In 2014, 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).

  • 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. Median 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.

  • Vegetation Overview

    Boots on the Ground photo by Steve Ebbert

    An ecologist from Kenai National Wildlife Refuge conducted invasive plant surveys during the July 2014 visit. The report notes eleven non-native plant species on Chirikof and seven on Wosnesenski and observes that large expanses of sandy soils combined with cattle use over time have caused extensive areas of advanced erosion. The report goes on to describe Chirikof: Low and slope wetlands were impacted by grazing on sedge and trampling. Streams and waterways show degradation by excessive cattle use, including increased turbidity, channel widening, erosion, and vegetation displacement.

  • 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. The report stated that: Close to half of Chirikof Island is in a degraded condition that includes the loss of soil. ... The island’s population of cattle is currently at about 2,000, and the bull to cow ratio is out of balance. Read the full reports in the links above by clicking on each island's name.

     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.