Intrepid Biologists Brought Natural Balance Back to Aleutian Islands

"To save birds such as the cackling goose, first the foxes had to go."

"Steve Ebbert was at least a mile off Little Sitkin Island in the Bering Sea when the boat’s engine failed. Faced with the impossible task of paddling a 750-pound inflatable loaded with engines and gear in 15-knot winds, he grabbed the anchor and hurled it shoreward, aiming for a giant kelp bed. Usually he would have fought like hell to avoid propeller-clogging kelp, but in this case he was praying the anchor would get stuck in it so he could pull the boat toward shore. Luckily, the anchor snagged. He tugged the boat to that point, then frantically hoisted the anchor and chucked it again. And again. And again. Finally, he reached the beach. “In the Aleutians, if your outboard stops and you’re offshore and the wind is blowing, your next stop could be Australia or the Arctic ice cap,” Ebbert says, remembering how happy he was to reach land. “It’s not a good feeling when you pull that cord and the engine doesn’t start.”

That was one of Ebbert’s early near-disasters after he arrived at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in spring 1995 as a young, sharpshooting biologist on a grisly, seemingly impossible mission: to kill every last fox on more than 40 islands. He would be carrying on a decades-long endeavor to restore some kind of natural balance to this otherworldly archipelago marred by more than 200 years of human meddling. Ebbert and a cadre of intrepid biologists braved high seas, gale-force winds, and even erupting volcanoes at the edge of the world to write one of the greatest conservation success stories in U.S. history."

Rene Ebersole reports for Atlas Obscura August 6, 2019.

Source: Atlas Obscura, 08/07/2019