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Llamas Low Environmental Impact Make Them the Logical Choice for ANWR

As a recreational user of pack llamas on public lands in Alaska for almost 40 years, I have some very serious concerns with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed regulatory addition to 50 CFR § 36.39 (k) Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) stating that all domestic camelids (pack llamas) are prohibited.

I appreciate that ANWR is located in a pristine, tundra environment and understand that USFWS is mandated to protect the fragile environment, including the wildlife, in this unique refuge with a world class reputation. However, I must question USFWS’s logic (and motive) in banning the use of pack llamas within ANWR for a plethora of reasons which I will explain in my objection to this proposed rule. 

For many years it has been widely recognized that llamas have far less impact on the environment than traditional pack stock such as mules and horses. Low environmental impact has long been recognized as the pack llama’s advantage over traditional pack animals. An International Llama Association publication (The Impacts of Llamas as Hiking Companions) explains why llamas have such a low environmental impact. “A llama’s foot is split into two toes, with a toenail on top and a leathery pad on the bottom. The print left in the soil is quite similar in appearance to that of an elk or deer. The design of a llama’s foot allows it to spread on soft ground, thereby distributing weight over a slightly larger area. They are much smaller than most equine pack stock with the average pack llama weighing between 300-400 pounds.” The Impacts of Llamas as Hiking Companions

The fact that llamas have such a low environmental impact makes them the logical choice as a pack animal in a sensitive environment such as ANWR. Pack llamas leave less impact than a human and far less than traditional pack stock, yet USFWS advocates banning them in ANWR and continues to allow traditional pack stock such as horses and mules without restriction.

USFWS arbitrarily (no scientific basis) decided that camelids (pack llamas) are a disease threat to wildlife, specifically to wild sheep which brings me back to horses. Horses not only cause significant impact to the fragile ANWR physical environment but also pose more of a disease threat than llamas. That’s because horses have several identified endemic diseases. Horses can potentially transmit disease to wild sheep with catastrophic consequences. (Refer to Stan Ebel’s comments for an extensive list of horse diseases.) In contrast camelids (pack llamas) have no identified endemic diseases and no one has ever documented the transmission of disease from a camelid to another species of animal (wild or domestic). Go here for entire comment on - Linda N's Comment