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Military Wants Santa Rosa Island

California congressman seeks to convert the public park into a recreation and training area for the armed forces. Critics cry foul.

December 10, 2005|Tim Reiterman and Richard Simon | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — A California congressman confirmed Friday that he wants to convert Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park into a Department of Defense installation for military recreation and special forces training -- a move critics say would severely limit public access.

The proposal by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is being circulated as an amendment to a defense authorization bill that both houses of Congress began hashing out this week.

Hunter put forward a similar measure in May, but withdrew it after objections from environmentalists and Democrats and after consulting with Republicans.

In a statement e-mailed Friday night by his spokesman, Hunter said the proposed amendment "would broaden the recreational use of Santa Rosa Island to the benefit of wounded and disabled members of the armed services who have sacrificed for our country."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 11, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
Santa Rosa Island -- A headline in Saturday's California section said: "Military Wants Santa Rosa Island." In fact, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wants to convert the island in Channel Islands National Park into a Defense Department installation for military recreation and special forces training. When contacted by The Times, a Defense Department spokesman declined to comment on the proposed amendment to a defense authorization bill.

Through the spokesman, Hunter declined to discuss the amendment, citing ongoing negotiations with his Senate counterpart, John Warner (R-Va.). Warner's office did not return calls seeking comment.

Hunter's proposal calls for the Department of Defense to transform the 53,000-acre island into a military operation, effective Jan. 1, 2009. The goal, the proposal said, was to provide "morale, welfare and recreation activities to members of the armed forces and their dependents, veterans, official guests and such other persons as the [Defense] secretary determines to be appropriate, including paralyzed and disabled persons."

The island, according to the proposal, also could provide training areas for special operations forces and would continue to allow deer and elk hunting that is currently permitted.

Critics of the proposal said military personnel already can visit the park, just like the general public.

Rep. Lois Capps, a Democrat whose Santa Barbara district encompasses Santa Rosa Island, said the proposal is a bad idea "that is being pushed in secret negotiations."

"All Americans should have access to the Channel Islands National Park, not just top military brass, members of Congress and folks who can pay thousands of dollars to go on private hunting trips," Capps said.

Santa Rosa is the second-largest of the five Channel Islands that make up the park.

The proposal did not state that the island would be removed from the national park, but said the Defense Department would run the island.

Environmentalists adamantly oppose the proposal, saying it would deny the general public access to a significant portion of a park created two decades ago.

"The public would be completely frozen out," said Ron Sundergill, regional director of the National Parks Conservation Assn. "For all intents and purposes ... it would no longer be a national park. It would be a military recreational compound."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Defense declined to comment, saying that it was premature to discuss any proposal that was not formally incorporated into the bill.

National Park Service spokeswoman Holly Bundock said the agency has heard about the proposal and is concerned that shifting control to the military would substantially cut public access to a scenic island with rare wildlife and plants, including the Santa Rosa Island manzanita, the Santa Rosa Island soft-leaved paintbrush and the Island fox.

"Santa Rosa is a public island," she said. "Taxpayers bought the island ... and we operate it as a national park."

Beginning in the mid-1800s, Santa Rosa Island was a cattle ranch -- and later sheep were introduced. When it was sold to Vail & Vickers Co. in 1902, the island was devoted exclusively to cattle raising.

The federal government purchased Santa Rosa Island for $30 million. In 1986, it became part of Channel Islands National Park along with four other islands in the chain -- Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Cruz and San Miguel.

Officials say the park had more than 500,000 visitors last year.

The public can visit by boat and there is an airstrip. Visitors can camp and hike the island, which is 15 miles long and 10 miles wide.

The former owners of the island are permitted to continue operating a deer and elk hunting concession on the island through 2011.

The congressional proposal would allow that operation to continue until then.

*

Reiterman reported from San Francisco and Simon from Washington.

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