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Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
September 2007

Editorial: Fighting Rats in Alaska

By Tim Barry
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Tim Barry

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) and the Alaska Board of Game (Board) are getting serious about what might be our most worrisome invasive species problem: Rats.

The spread of nonnative rats and mice could have devastating effects on wildlife, particularly birds, in Alaska. According to Island Conservation, a California-based non-profit specializing in eradications, it’s estimated that introduced rats are responsible for 40–60% of all recorded bird and reptile extinctions worldwide since 1600. In Alaska, rats are responsible for significant losses of ground-nesting seabirds. For example, hundreds of dead auklets have been found in rat dens on formerly rat-free Kiska Island in the western Aleutians. Alaska was rat-free until the first rats arrived via a shipwreck on another island in the Chain, now known as “Rat Island.”

Constant gnawing and chewing by rats can cause significant property damage. When chewing occurs on gas lines, cables or electrical wires, explosions, fire or fatal accidents can occur. Rats also pose public health risks by carrying infectious diseases.

More than 100 species of ground-nesting birds used for subsistence in Alaska may be vulnerable to rats, if rats colonize their areas. Norway rats have been found on 21 large islands in Alaska and over a dozen communities in the state are believed to have breeding colonies: Ketchikan, Craig, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka, Juneau, Kodiak, Akutan, Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, Atka, Adak, Nome, and Fairbanks. Without actions to prevent it, rats in these areas can be easily spread to other parts of the state.

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A least auklet killed by rats on one of the islands in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Art Sowls/USFWS photo

To eliminate this scourge, three key overall actions are needed: 1. Stop invasive rodents from entering Alaska, and from spreading between areas in Alaska 2. Clean up “rat spills.” -- eradicate rats that have been detected, or, where that is not possible, control rat populations, and 3. Restore and protect Alaska’s native species and habitats. Taking these steps will require significant multi-agency coordination, and help from both Alaskans and those traveling to Alaska, particularly vessel operators, fishermen, and cargo shippers.

The Alaska Board of Game passed new regulations that become effective September 13th that will require boaters, shippers, and others moving containers that may contain rats to be vigilant in checking for rats and in taking action to control or eradicate rats when they are found. The Board’s goal is to help stop rats before they get to Alaska, and to eliminate them when they do. In conjunction with the new regulations, ADF&G this fall will issue our rat control plan, and convene a new interagency group, the Alaska Rodent Action Team (AKRAT) that will assist in necessary cross-agency efforts to address rat prevention and control in Alaska. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USWFS) and other organizations will hold training for ‘rat spill responders.’ In addition, USFWS is making plans to eradicate rats on some Aleutian Islands. For instance, plans call for eradicating rats on Rat Island, beginning in 2008. Information and rat eradication kits are available to the public at www.stoprats.com.

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Norway rat catch in St. Paul harbor prevention station. USFWS photo.

This website is sponsored by an informal multi-partner cooperative group, the Rat Outreach Group. Individual Alaskans can help to keep Alaska rat-free by watching for signs of rats, taking action to kill rats that they find, and by reporting rat sightings to their local health department or the nearest Alaska Department of Fish and Game office. More information about the effort can be found at www.stoprats.com, and on the ADF&G invasive species website, at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=invasiveprofiles.norwayrat_characteristics

Tim Barry is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Director of Communications. You may contact Tim at 907-465-6137.


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