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Board Urged to Oppose Santa Rosa Island Grab

January 19, 2006|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

A Ventura County supervisor Wednesday asked his board colleagues to join him in opposing any future efforts to give the military special hunting grounds on Santa Rosa Island.

Supervisor Steve Bennett said U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) likely would renew his attempts to turn the island into a hunting and recreation haven for military personnel. He said the Ventura County Board of Supervisors should go on record against such legislation.

The board will consider Bennett's request Tuesday when it votes on a legislative agenda for the coming year.

"This will allow our friends in Congress to have one more thing to point to as evidence of public opposition to this," Bennett said. "The public paid for this island with the idea that it be made available to everyone. That includes the military. We don't want the public to lose access to it so that a select few can use it."

Hunter in December withdrew an amendment to a defense bill that would have transferred Santa Rosa Island from the National Park Service to the Department of Defense. He had sought the transfer to allow disabled veterans and other military personnel and their guests to hunt elk and deer and engage in other recreational activities on the island. But he backed off the amendment after an outcry from environmentalists, Democrats and National Park officials.

He promised to reintroduce a different version of the bill in 2006, with language that would make the island available for the military's use without transferring its operation from the National Park Service.

But Hunter's revised language would allow deer and elk populations to remain on the island -- a provision that is in conflict with the National Park Service's plan to eradicate the herds by 2011 in an effort to restore native plants and grasses.

The National Park Service bought Santa Rosa Island in 1986 for $30 million from Vail & Vickers Ltd., a ranching company. Vail & Vickers retained a 25-year right to occupy 7 1/2 acres of the island and to run cattle and operate a commercial hunting operation there.

In 1997, to settle an environmental lawsuit, the company agreed to halt its cattle operations and to begin removing elk and deer populations in 2008.

Channels Islands National Park Supt. Russell Galipeau said he opposes any legislation that would extend the hunting operations beyond 2011. The National Park Service intends to convert to public use the ranch buildings currently used by Vail & Vickers, and to open the entire 52,000-acre island to the public year-round.

Hunting from August to December keeps much of the island off-limits to the public now, Galipeau said.

"We restrict the use of the island for just basically the hunting," he said. "We don't want any visitors running into any complications."

Calling the island a unique resource rich with native vegetation, fossils and Native American artifacts, Bennett said efforts to restore it to its natural state are being "undermined by maneuvers designed to continue a hunting operation that currently benefits few."

"When taxpayers bought the island it was with the idea to return it to a natural ecosystem," Bennett said. Vail & Vickers "made an agreement and now that this agreement is ready to run out, they want to change it."

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