Alaska court rules bison can roam freely on Kodiak

  • Monday, December 29, 2014 12:29am
  • News

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The buffalo can roam freely again on Kodiak Island.

The state Board of Game had previously decided that free-ranging bison were considered “feral” when the animals strayed from state or federal lands.

Then in 2007 the board authorized a hunt of escaped bison on Kodiak.

But the late rancher Charles Dorman, who raised bison that were prone to roam on Kodiak Island, sued to stop the hunt. Dorman originally lost, but the state Supreme Court overturned a lower-court ruling against him Friday.

The court said the board was wrong when it deemed the bison feral.

Bison ranching on Kodiak is a relatively recent development in the centuries-long history of livestock rearing on the island. Russians brought the first cattle to Kodiak in the late 1700s, but ranchers lost dozens each year to the island’s hungry, gargantuan bears.

Then in the 1990s, the ranchers turned to bison as an alternative, according to Larry Van Daele, a regional supervisor for the state Department of Fish and Game.

There was one problem: “Bison are not just bear-resistant, they’re fence-resistant,” Van Daele said.

Dorman’s state grazing leases included tidal flats, which couldn’t be fenced. Sometimes as many as 150 of the bison would roam off the lease — allegedly destroying wetlands, and stoking fears that they could wander onto a nearby wildlife refuge or infect deer with communicable diseases.

Then the proposal came along to allow the public to hunt the “feral, free ranging bison.”

After “lengthy deliberations,” according to the Supreme Court decision, the board changed a state rule so that any bison wandering off a state or federal grazing lease was deemed feral. It gave the two Kodiak bison ranchers a two-year grace period to retrieve their animals.

When the Department of Fish and Game prepared to authorize the hunt in early 2010, Dorman filed suit.

But the lower court hadn’t properly considered that it was clear the bison to be hunted belonged to ranchers, the Supreme Court said.

The rancher Charles Dorman died five months ago at age 78.

“It’s sort of bittersweet,” said Tom Meacham, Dorman’s attorney. “He is not around to savor the victory.”

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