Case study: St. Matthew Island The story of St. Matthew Island’s reindeer population is a metaphor for our society. For generations, St. Matthew Island, Alaska, had been a poster child for an ecosystem in balance with nature. Then the U.S. Coast Guard decided to build a small station on the 32-mile-long unoccupied island. While trying to stock a remote island with an emergency food source, the U.S. Coast Guard unwittingly set into motion a classic experiment involving an uncontrolled increase in population versus sustainability. In the summer of 1944, a total of 24 female and 5 male reindeer were released by the U.S. Coast Guard. Lichen mats 4 inches thick carpeted areas of the island.