Anchorage April 12, 2016 – Because of the biological isolation of islands, their ecology offers science a kind of laboratory. The 2011 book “Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World’s Greatest Wildlife Rescue,” by William Stoltzenberg, describes several efforts to restore or preserve bird habitat by killing predators. Some of these have been controversial, and some have failed. But these efforts have warded off extinction and by and large their successes have been remarkable achievements. Much of the book is set in New Zealand, where evolution placed flightless birds in ecological niches that elsewhere are occupied by mammals. New Zealand has a number of islands and some rugged topography that maintains sometimes isolated biomes.
Some of the book is set in the Aleutians, and who should show up there but Vernon Byrd, of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, one of the wise old heads of the Alaska science world, a man I’ve been calling up for years when I was looking for advice, insights and sources. Vernon used to tell me with enthusiasm about the interesting plant species that came back to the islands when foxes and rats were eliminated – giant grasses and generally far more lavish vegetation. He was an advocate for fox and rat removal. He probably still is, though this book prominently features a confession by him involving unnecessary mortalities.
The saga will go on. The basic tool that is used for rat removal is poison. Scale is critical. There remains the challenge of maybe trying the technique on Kiska Island, so far thought too large and remote. And expensive.