July 12, 2012 | Vol. 39, No. 28

Ravens devouring fairways at Muskeg Meadows

WRANGELL — For patrons of Muskeg Meadows golf course, at least three fairways are interfering in their game – courtesy of the ubiquitous ravens seen throughout Wrangell Island.

Greg Knight
Wrangell Golf Club vice president George Woodbury chips off on the No. 4 hole at Muskeg Meadows, where raven damage has affected the way the course is being played.

According to course co-manager Shannon Booker, flocks of up to 50 ravens at one time have been digging into the fairway looking for grubs and other insects on which to feed. The result has been a tremendous upheaval of grass leading to No. 3, 4 and 5 holes, as well as minor damage to every other hole except Nos. 1 and 9.

It’s in those areas of the course, which is certified as par-36 by the United States Golf Association, that Booker and fellow co-manager Grover Mathis have had to adjust the playing conditions for club members and patrons.

“The ravens have been attacking the course since about May,” Booker said. “They have been feeding on grubs and other sorts of larva in the soil of our grassy areas. They started off in the mossy areas, but have graduated to our wet, grassy fairways now.”

The ravens, which are considered to be one of the most intelligent and playful of all birds, have been seen digging into the fairways during daylight hours, though not at night.

“We’ve seen as many 50 or more of them at a given time during daylight hours,” Booker said. “We catch them on the fairways eating into the grass.”

Booker added that the course had considered insecticides to kill the pests and other insects being sought out by the birds, but that the proximity of Blake Channel to the course would make that impossible under EPA rules and regulations.

“Pesticides are not an option under the EPA’s heavy requirements,” she added.

According to Rich Lowell, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the increase in number of birds may be related to a rise in food sources available at the course.

“It’s probably because they picked up on a food source,” Lowell said. “It could be related to an increase in what kind of food they’re finding at the course. They key in off each other and are pretty smart. A few birds might have caught on to the food in the ground and now they’re flocking.”

Wrangell Golf Club vice president George Woodbury played the course last week and discovered just how difficult it is to hit from areas near the uprooted turf.

“I’ve been playing here ever since the course opened and this is the worst it has ever been,” Woodbury said. “You have to adjust the way you play the hole, and that makes it far more difficult to work the course.”

The difficulty, Woodbury said, arises in the way golfers have had to approach their play on some of the holes.

“The unfortunate thing about all this is the change in pars on some of our holes because of the ravens. It has changed our layout,” Woodbury added.

That layout change has affected pars on two of the holes at the course.

“Because of the free-drop areas we have had to institute in the chewed-up areas, we have to keep the yardage at par-36, which means we modified Nos. 3 and 6,” Booker said. “No. 3 is now a par-3, while No. 6 is a par-4.”

Those holes had previously been par-4 and par-5, respectively.

Booker also said she has discussed the issue with other courses in Southeast who have had similar problems.

“I spoke with the course on Prince Rupert Island and they’ve told us there is not a lot we can do about it,” she said.

Ravens are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which restricts firearms as a method for depredation of the bird. Additionally, the raven is considered sacred to the many Native people of the region.

“It’s one of the family crests of our people here in Alaska,” said Tlingit Elder Marge Byrd. “The animal has done great things for us, and brought us the sun, moon and stars. It is part of our culture for all our people.”

With no solution on the horizon just yet, the proposition of fixing the problem presented by the ravens will be expensive – regardless of the method the course uses to rid themselves of the birds.

“As a rough estimate, we’re talking about close to $20,000 no matter what we decide to do,” Booker said.

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