Cattle roundup planned on island near Kodiak

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2001

KODIAK (AP) -- Despite protests from area ranchers, federal wildlife managers are forging ahead with plans to remove all cattle from a tiny island 175 miles southwest of Kodiak where the livestock have roamed for decades. Introduced foxes may also be eliminated in order to return Chirikof Island, part of the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge, to its native species.

The remote, windswept island has been home to cattle since at least the early 1900s, though some believe Russians introduced them a century earlier.

But the cattle are not compatible with the federal government's mandate to manage the island for native species, said Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge manager Greg Siekaniec.

''One of our goals is to restore the extent of the native wildlife that should be there,'' Siekaniec said. ''That certainly means removing the cattle and it might mean removing the foxes as well.''

Blue foxes were stocked by fur traders in the late 19th century and have propagated widely.

The problem with both the cattle and the foxes is their impact on sea birds, Siekaniec said. The foxes feast on bird eggs, while the cattle ruin nesting grounds.

''What livestock tend to do on these islands is change the composition of the habitat,'' Siekaniec said. ''They discourage any ground-nesting type birds by removing vegetation.''

The Bureau of Land Management had issued a grazing lease for the island, but that lease expired last year.

Rancher Wayne McCrary, who owns the cattle on the island, has been granted a two-year permit to be on the island so he can come up with a plan to remove the livestock, now wild. McCrary left the remote island several years ago after his son developed cancer and needed medical treatment in the Lower 48.

Local ranchers on Kodiak Island don't want to see the cattle go. Many believe the cattle have developed an invaluable resistance to the harsh climate and diseases such as hoof rot. And Alaska grazing lands are disappearing too quickly, they say.

''These cattle are protected and pure from all the diseases in the world,'' said ranch advocate Deedie Pearson. ''They're a strong, hearty, self-sustaining strain.

Longtime rancher Wanda Fields said Kodiak has already lost too much grazing land.

''One by one, the ranches are being taken away,'' Fields said. ''We had eight or 10 ranches here for some time, now we're down to three or four.''

Originally, the island was selected for state acquisition under the Alaska Statehood Act.

''This is a little bit awkward for us because we operated for 20 years with the assumption that the state had all intents of taking this piece of property (when the grazing lease expired).'' said Siekaniec of the refuge. ''The state relinquished their selection as of two years ago.''

Rancher McCrary isn't sure yet how he will get his cattle off the island, or where they will go. The first step is bringing the wild animals into a herd that can be handled by humans again, he said.

Since McCrary left the island five years ago, fishermen have taken the liberty of stopping there for free beef. After being hunted, and in some cases, wounded and left to die, the cattle have developed a distinct distaste for humans.

''Any animal that's harassed like that will be a little on the wild side,'' McCrary said.

Fishermen are no longer allowed on the island. The Coast Guard patrols the area due, in part, to a nearby sea lion rookery.



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