The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is reviving a controversial proposal to allow members of the military to hunt deer and elk on a national park island off the Ventura County coast.
Opponents fear that the plan could limit public access to Channel Islands National Park and threaten native species.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) had backed off his plan to allow military hunting on 53,000-acre Santa Rosa Island after objections from senators last year. But a defense bill his committee will take up Wednesday may revive the proposal, according to bill language circulated Monday.
Hunter's spokesman, Josh Holly, declined to comment, saying that the bill was incomplete and that the language might not end up in the final version.
Hunter's proposal would allow the hunting of nonnative elk and deer on Santa Rosa Island, about 40 miles west of Ventura County, to continue indefinitely although a court-ordered settlement calls for it to end in 2011.
Hunter has argued that this will create a recreational opportunity for veterans and others and also prevent the "extermination" of the game. But the National Park Service says that hunting restricts public access and makes it harder to promote native species like the endangered island fox.
"Saying it is more important to have an opportunity to hunt a trophy animal that doesn't even belong on the island than to protect the other species in the park, to me that's what's fairly disturbing about this," said Russell Galipeau, the park superintendent.
Santa Rosa Island is one of five islands in Channel Islands National Park. The National Park Service bought it from a ranching family for $30 million in 1986, and a lease agreement allowed the family's company, Vail & Vickers, to continue a hunting concession until 2011. The number of deer and elk are supposed to be gradually reduced starting in 2008.
Hunter's provision requires that the secretaries of Interior and Defense "permit disabled veterans, persons assisting disabled veterans and members of the Armed Forces to hunt and participate in other recreational activities" on Santa Rosa Island. It also says that the number of deer and elk on the island should remain stable.
Hunter's proposal angered Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), whose district includes Santa Rosa Island. Capps' aides distributed the bill language to reporters Monday.
"This is Chairman Hunter's third attempt in less than a year to exclude the public from accessing the national park that they paid $30 million for. The issue of Santa Rosa Island has no place in the defense authorization bill," Capps said.
"I am firmly opposed to this unilateral effort and will join hands with Republicans, Democrats and environmentalists to ensure the island is not turned into a private reserve," Feinstein said.
Hunter dropped his Santa Rosa proposal last year after Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Alamo), an Armed Services Committee member, agreed to work with him if he introduced it as stand-alone legislation. Hunter and Capps disagree over whether Capps also made that commitment. But Hunter has not introduced the measure as a stand-alone bill, and Tauscher has yet to take a position on it, her spokesman said.