Real wildlife takes island back after rats poisoned. Island renamed Hawadax Island

The brown rats showed up on this 9 by 3 mile Aleutian Island in 1780 on the wreck of a Japanese ship. It is one of 16 islands close by and also part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The national wildlife refuge contains 2,400 islands, headlands, rocks, islets, spires and reefs. The area including ocean is 4.9 million acres.

The rats directly or indirectly killed all of the original wildlife on Rat Island.

Beginning in 2007 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began to  implement a plan to reclaim the island by first poisoning the rats with a long acting chemical cousin to the the classic rat poison warfarin — brodifacoum. It causes animals to bleed to death.

After it was thought all the rats were dead, the island was monitored for them for a couple years and wildlife began to recolonize; mostly sea birds. It was not a smooth recovery, however, because the long acting poison killed a fairly large number of the new birds. Now, however, the project looks quite successful and Science News Daily has just published an article describing the happy situation. There is a great deal of work left to do, however, because the other 15  islands have rats too. Poisoning the rats in the way they were on Rat Island would, of course, poison the remaining wildlife.

Rat infestations are a huge problem on islands all around the globe. The rodents are the cause of endangerment of many species of animals and the actual extinction of still more. A worrisome case is the famed Galapagos Islands.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

21 Responses to Rat Island, Alaska is rat free for the first time since the 18th century

  1. avatar Chris Harbin says:

    Nice to read some positive wildlife news. It does illustrate though the time and expense that invasive species cause.

  2. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    The invasive species didn’t get here by themselves. I think it shows that we have to be more careful about our impact on the land and our activities.

    I question the use of indiscriminate poisons; there must be a better way, especially since things are too far gone to return them to the way they were pre-invasives, what amounts to an impossible, utopian vision. The best we can do is to keep the invasives controlled, and be careful about what we do in the future – a little foresight would work wonders.

    • avatar JB says:

      “The best we can do is to keep the invasives controlled…”

      Yet the poison did work to eliminate (not control) rats and, given enough time, wildlife appear to be recolonizing. I would hope that over the long term we find ‘a better way’ than reliance on anticoagulants (it’s a horrific death). However, while you might quibble with the method, you can’t argue with the result.

      “…a little foresight would work wonders.”

      Indeed. I’m sure the Japanese sailors on board would have appreciated that foresight were someone able to predict that their ship would be wrecked. However, given the absence of meteorological omniscience in the 18th century, it is unfair to blame the island’s condition on poor planning.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        Yes, but in more modern times, we are still doing things that a little foresight could prevent, is what I mean. And won’t the rats come back? I don’t like the idea of continual return-and-poison cycles.

        I just don’t like killing, period.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        Yes, I know the result was favorable….but like you, I think the method is distasteful.

      • avatar WM says:

        JB,

        Nearly EVERY port city or incidental destination for a ship over the last two hundred years or more has undesirable introduced populations of rats. Mild climate, lots of food and water have allowed some populations to grow rampant. In Seattle, for example, most neighborhoods where folks grow fruit and veggies in the yard, or along the tourist infested waterfront (popcorn and French fries), Norwegian brown rats are in ample supply.

        As for control, in the residential areas individual homeowners are responsible on their property – traps, or rat poison, and the occasional professional exterminator. The problem is if some yahoo uses rat poison, the rat just goes off to its nest to die, often in a roof or wall of a hundred year old home. The stench is deplorable; the costs to remedy are very expensive. The exterminator business appears to be profitable with ample backlog of clients, and no shortage of rats – they breed a couple times a year, and have no predators. The city and the county health departments do nothing, except say its your problem.

        • avatar Immer Treue says:

          WM,

          rats – they breed a couple times a year, and have no predators. The city and the county health departments do nothing, except say its your problem.

          Appears the city could use some coyotes.

          • avatar SaveBears says:

            Immer,

            Coyotes are not effective against Norwegian rats, completely different types of environment that they live in and their paths rarely cross.

            • avatar Immer Treue says:

              SaveBears,

              This is where I got the idea, as I have heard Coyotes were being used in Chicago.
              http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/chicago-set-coyotes-loose-streets-hunt-rats.html

              • avatar Ida Lupine says:

                Yes, I wonder if the rats do have natural predators such as coyotes, wolves, raptors?

              • avatar WM says:

                Immer,

                Coyotes – I suppose it would be worth it to try most anything. Now coyotes like cats and mice for sure, and maybe rats and squirrels (just mostly rats with bushy tails). But how about raccoons, too. It is the abundant food sources available to these critters that is partly to blame for abundance, and administrators/elected officials don’t want to take on a solution in many places. Pea patch plots for communal gardens are often not cleaned up by their plot renters, so everything from beans, onions, carrots and squash make up the buffet.

                I suppose cities could call Wildlife Services in some instances – wait, they sometimes do, while others have standing co-op contracts.

              • avatar ma'iingan says:

                “This is where I got the idea, as I have heard Coyotes were being used in Chicago.”

                That’s some really poor research by the writer. Chicago is not turning coyotes out to catch rats.

                The project is radio-collaring coyotes and using the telemetry data to study their dynamics on the urban landscape, including their impacts on urban prey.

        • avatar JB says:

          WM:

          Yes, I’m aware of the problem. The tone of your response suggests you found something I wrote objectable, but for the life of me, I can’t tell what it is? I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written.

          • avatar WM says:

            JB,

            No negative tone intended toward your comment. Sorry if it came across that way. If anything, I hope my frustration about government not doing basic health and safety tasks; which can be easily accomplished at reasonable cost came thru.

  3. avatar CodyCoyote says:

    Somewhat related, the State of Utah hired a professional hunter to shoot all the feral Hogs on an island in the Great Salt Lake. The porkers were making their way to the mainland over the causeway , or at “low tide”.

    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57038093-78/island-pigs-fremont-sheep.html.csp

    • avatar jdubya says:

      When I read that this morning I was sleepy and thought they were talking about our Utah legislators. Then I woke up.

  4. avatar ds says:

    I’ve been volunteering pulling invasive weeds in Yellowstone the last few years. It’s scary how many weeds and how widespread they are, once you know what you’re looking at. The weeds are still spreading, even though the park is using herbicides. To me using herbicides in a National Park is very distasteful as well, but absolutely necessary if there is any hope of keeping these ecosystem altering weeds under control. It’s the reality of the world we live in, lots of trade offs everywhere.

  5. avatar Wolfy says:

    Animal control is always a touchy issue (even when dealing with rats). Most efforts fail before they leave the planning table due to public perceptions. Humane or “no-kill” solutions often fail because they are very expensive with low success rates or they lack sufficient buy-in by the public or landowners. There are also numerous examples of good intentions gone horribly wrong as well as some examples of outright inhumane debauchery. It’s often difficult to demonstrate the “need” to kill one species to save others. I’m not advocating animal control, but when it is “needed”, it should be more like a surgical strike than a sledgehammer blow and include an institutional commitment for the long haul.

  6. avatar Kathleen says:

    Good article about Bainbridge Island’s experience with Norway rats; coyotes are the rats’ top predator. Sadly, humans are the coyotes’ top predator. Now, with fewer coyotes, the rat population is growing.

    http://www.insidebainbridge.com/tag/coyotes-natural-rat-predators/

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey