For the first time in five years, helicopters and cowboys are rounding up cattle by the hundreds on Umnak and Unalaska islands. The Bering Pacific Ranches at Fort Glenn on Umnak Island are herding their tundra-roaming cattle to take them to market.
Alaska agriculture officials say the Bering Pacific is the state's biggest cattle operation. It's also the only one with cowboys herding by helicopter.
"Helicopters started working from Nikolski toward Ft. Glenn, pushing the cattle every moment they can that the weather would allow," Julianne Tucker with Bering Pacific Ranches said.
Tucker said, this time of year, the weather's "pretty sketchy" for herding by helicopter. But herding has to wait until calves are old enough to endure being separated from their mothers.
"With the wind and everything, sometimes helicopters can’t fly, but they are the most efficient for the terrain that we are working with," she said. "The steep hills and the swamps."
Tucker said the helicopters and the ranches' five cowboys have rounded up about 550 cattle so far, with another 1,400 or more to go. She estimated the total cattle population at about 6,000.
After the roundup, the bulls will get put on a landing craft and taken across Umnak Pass to Chernofski Harbor on Unalaska Island. There, they'll be transferred to the livestock carrier Falconia--a big white ship that's been anchored across from the Unalaska Safeway this week. The Falconia is managed by a Danish company and flagged in Panama.
Oregon Tilth certified Bering Pacific Ranches as organic on Sept. 22.