Public asked to comment on cattle in wildlife refuge

Lacking a mechanism to allow grazing on the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge’s 2,500 islands comprising 3.5 million acres, the refuge is asking for public input on how to end cattle grazing on two of those islands, Chirikof and Wosnesenski.

Two open-house meetings are scheduled to gather public comments and answer questions:

• Dec. 16: Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, Homer, 4-6 p.m.

• Jan. 7: National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, Kodiak, 4-6 p.m.

In a letter inviting participation in U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s search for alternatives to address unauthorized grazing by cattle on these two islands, Refuge Manager Steve Delehanty said information gathered at the meetings would be used in creating either the environmental assessments or environmental impact statements required by NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. 

“Cattle ownership and compatibility with purposes of the refuge also will be addressed,” said Delehanty.

The two uninhabited islands are south of the Alaska Peninsula, according to Steve Ebber, refuge spokesperson. Chirikof is southwest of Kodiak and Wosnesenski is west of Sand Point.

Cattle were brought to Chirikof in the late 1880s by a rancher that leased the island for a large fox ranch. Approximately 800 cattle remain on the island.

On Wosnesenski, cattle were introduced in 1938 for personal use by a family that lived there. Today, there are an estimated 200 cattle on the island. 

The refuge was established in 1980 to conserve marine mammals, seabirds and other migratory birds, as well as the marine resources upon which they rely. However, that habitat has been destroyed by the cattle, according to Delehanty who has visited both islands.

“The vegetation is short, some areas have been turned into bare sand dunes, there are cattle carcasses scattered around and cattle are trampling wildlife habitat, archaeological sites and sensitive wetlands,” said Delehanty.

Especially hard hit have been the islands’ salmon streams, lakes and wetlands.

These aren’t the only refuge islands with cattle, according to Ebber, who listed Unalaska, Umnak and others.

“But those are mixed ownership, unfenced. That’s a different kind of problem to deal with a little later,” he said, adding that Chirikof and Wosnesenski are “essentially all refuge lands.” There are no leases, nor are there current permits on either of the two islands.

An attempt was made to remove cattle from Chirikof about 10 years ago, when an individual bought the cattle from the last lease holder and “and it was very controversial,” said Ebber. 

Now the refuge is addressing the matter and asking the public for input.

“We want to hear from people who have constructive ideas and a willingness to help us solve this problem,” said Delehanty. “It’s time to restore these islands and finally help them fulfill their congressionally mandated destiny as a wildlife refuge.”

In addition to the meetings, there is a Jan. 31 deadline for submitting comments by:


Letter: Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, 95 Sterling Highway,
Suite 1, Homer, AK 996034

Phone: 235-7835

Fax: 235-7783 

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at