Eradicating feral foxes from Aleutian island leaves auklets to the rats
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2003:
ANCHORAGE–Perhaps the most catastrophic consequence for
conservation yet of the U.S. federal effort to eradicate “invasive
species” from sensitive wildlife habitat is evident on Kiska Island
in the Aleutians, touted earlier as scene of a major victory.
“In 1986, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eradicated
foxes from Kiska as part of a campaign to save Aleutian Canada geese
from extinction,” Doug O’Harra of the Anchorage Daily News recounted
on July 14. “About 49,000 beef tallow baits laced with Compound 1080
poison were dropped on the island, killing an estimated 700 foxes”
who were introduced decades earlier by fur farmers.
“Biologists visiting the island in spring 1987 found that
Norway rats had exploded in number with the foxes gone, the
Associated Press reported that spring. A federal report noted the
apparent surge in rats as evidence that the foxes had been
eliminated,” wrote O’Harra.
Now, seabird ecologist Ian Jones told O’Harra, “The rats go
from one nest to the next,” killing and eating least and crested
auklets and their eggs. When no longer hungry, the rats cache more
auklets for later, after the birds leave the island. Jones said he
had found as many as 148 decomposing auklets stuffed into just one
From three to six million seabirds lay their eggs on Kiska
Island. About 80% are least auklets. In 2002 fledglings survived
from only 10% of the least auklet eggs laid, Jones said. At that
rate the species could soon be at local risk.
Now Jones, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
supervising biologist Vernon Byrd, and alien species extermination
specialist Peter Dunlevy would like to try poisoning the rats, at
estimated cost of as much as $3 million.
Seventy-six islands worldwide have eradicated rats, Channel
Islands National Park chief of resource management Kate Faulkner
recently told Los Angeles Times staff writer Jenifer Ragland.
Faulker claimed Norway rats are responsible for up to 60% of all bird
and reptile extinctions worldwide, and credited the poisoning of all
rats on Anacapa Island, a part of the park, with resurgences of
unique native deer mice, lizards, and salamanders. Seventeen
Xantes murrelets nested on the island in spring 2003, after a
The Anacapa rats were poisoned despite a lawsuit brought
against the project by the Fund for Animals and an alleged attempt by
Channel Islands Protection Association founder Rob Puddicombe, 52,
to distribute Vitamin K to the rats as an antidote. Puddicombe on
July 10 was acquitted of related charges by U.S. Magistrate Willard
McEwen Jr. Alleged accomplice Robert Craw-ford, 40, earlier
Anacapa is tiny compared to Kiska Island. Kiska is more than
twice the size of Campbell Island, south of New Zealand, which is
to date the largest island from which rats have been eradicated.
Byrd and Dunlevy denied to O’Harra that the Kiska foxes
directly controlled the rats, though rats are a staple of fox diets
wherever both–of any species–are found.
Geese & swans
Saving Aleutian Canada geese or any Canada geese is no
longer a prominent Fish & Wildlife Service concern. Banning live
decoys in 1936 to protect the then-steeply declining migratory Canada
goose population, the Fish & Wildlife Service seized giant
non-migratory “Canadas” bred for decoys by hybridizing wild-caught
Canada geese with domestic geese, propagated them, and for more
than 50 years worked with state agencies to stock them wherever the
habitat seemed favorable, in hopes of rebuilding huntable numbers.
But suburban sprawl overtook most of the stocked sites. Some states
are still moving program descendants to new habitat, but most long
since classed non-migratory “Canadas” as an invasive nuisance. The
Fish & Wildlife Service removed them from the protection of the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1994.
USDA Wildlife Services now culls geese in cities throughout
the stocked range. Activist groups defending the geese have emerged
in the Washington D.C. area, the Hudson River Valley,
Massachusetts, Wisconsin, around Dallas/ Fort Worth, and in
The goose issue overlaps controversy over a Fish & Wildlife
Service plan published in the July 2 edition of the Federal Register
to kill 11,000 of the estimated 14,000 mute swans inhabiting the
17-state Atlantic Flyway, and 4,500 of the 7,100 believed to inhabit
the rest of the country. The Fish & Wildlife Service contends that
mute swans were introduced to the U.S. from Europe as an ornamental
species, and blames them for allegedly depleting sea grass in
Chesapeake Bay, for which nutria, a large South American rodent
introduced by the fur trade, are also targeted.
Contending that fossil evidence shows that mute swans are a
native species, and should therefore be protected under the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and alleging that the Fish and Wildlife
Service has improperly granted swan culling permits, Kathleen Burton
of Save Our Swans USA filed suit on May 22 against culls proposed in
nine states. Maryland on May 16 surrendered a federal permit to cull
swans in settlement of a suit brought by the Fund for Animals.
Friends of Animals meanwhile renewed a longstanding offer of
$1,000 to anyone who videotapes a wildlife agent in the act of
killing a mute swan.