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Mourning--and Praising--the Passing of a Channel Islands Ranch

November 15, 1998

As one who had a rare opportunity to work on Santa Rosa Island in 1991, I can testify that Andrew Rice got "The Last Roundup" (Oct. 11) exactly right. I'll never forget the magnificent herds of cattle, deer and elk or the cowboys leaving for their day's work in the predawn mist. The Vail brothers were true custodians of a living history of California's ranching past that is gone forever.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government acquired the land for a fraction of its value, then broke its agreement with the Vail brothers, just as surely as it went back on its treaties with Native Americans 100 years earlier. We rationalize that now, as others did then, but future generations will condemn us for the foolish action that destroyed this priceless legacy.

Roy D. Adler

Malibu

*

I grew up in Santa Barbara, and seeing that island across the channel but not being able to go there was one of my adolescent frustrations. But when the island was opened to camping, I was first in line, along with my 10-year-old son.

The ranch operators must have cringed as we carried our gear to the campground. It must have seemed silly to them; they, after all, were trying to make a living off that same patch of earth. I realize now that the Vail & Vickers Co. was part of the magic that made camping on the island so special.

My future visits will now include the spirit of those ranchers along with the spirits of the Chumash.

Axel T. Johnson

Santa Barbara

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Hidden beneath the mournful dirge for the cowboy paradise lost on Santa Rosa Island is a wonderful story of an island rebounding.

The island was a feedlot with an ocean view. Vail & Vickers sold it to the nation for a park, then, in an unholy cabal with federal officials, got their island back for a song. That game has now been checkmated. With the 6,000 cows gone, the island's watersheds are already healing, even if wannabe cowboys like Rice can't see it.

John Cloud

Geography Department

University of California

Santa Barbara

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The Vails sold their land on Santa Rosa Island to the Park Service for $30 million. The agreement to let them continue ranching on it was to be ended if their operations were found to conflict with preservation of the park. They were, and it was.

Rice seems to feel that the ranchers should be allowed to continue anyhow. After all, the superintendent says that in the absence of cows the exotic weeds will choke out the native species anyway. But wait: Since 99% of the exotic weeds came in with the white man and his animals, that's like saying: "Since we've already destroyed the ecosystem, we should be allowed to continue destroying it."

The superintendent's anguish about "preserving ranching history" and the end of his ability to go "walking back in time" seems misplaced. After all, he's only walking back about 100 years. How about the hundreds of years that the Chumash lived there in harmony with nature before the ranchers arrived? And the millions of years it took those plant and bird species to evolve?

Cowboys are romantic, but species diversity is necessary.

Ann Alper

Pacific Palisades

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