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Plan to allow continued hunting on Santa Rosa Island derailed

December 19, 2007|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

A proposal that would allow continued big-game hunting in Channel Islands National Park appears doomed, to the delight of park supporters and the dismay of its chief backer.

The controversial plan by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) was scuttled by a measure tucked into the half-trillion-dollar spending bill approved this week by the House of Representatives. The massive bill has yet to clear the Senate, but its approval there is expected.

Hunter, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, wanted to allow herds of deer and elk to remain indefinitely on remote Santa Rosa Island, possibly so that disabled veterans could hunt them.

The National Park Service wants the nonnative species off the island by 2011. That date was set in a 1997 court settlement between the federal government and Santa Rosa's former owners, a family that ranched cattle there and still closes off about 85% of the island for private hunting parties five months a year.

"This is disappointing news, when considering this proposal was solely intended to benefit our nation's wounded and disabled service personnel," Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said Tuesday.

Support for the idea was sparse. Last year, representatives of the 21,000-member Paralyzed Veterans of America visited the island and were skeptical, saying rugged terrain and difficult access made it impractical for hunters in wheelchairs.

In the House last year, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) whose district includes the national park, said the plan had "nothing to do with helping our troops and everything to do with congressional hubris."

Ultimately, Hunter trimmed mention of veterans and hunting from his proposal, simply forbidding the extermination of elk and deer on Santa Rosa Island. The current measure restores the terms of the court settlement requiring the animals' removal.

Capps hailed the move.

"As someone who's visited Santa Rosa Island and witnessed its beauty and rare archaeological and natural resources, I know that we have to do all that we can to protect this unique national treasure for future generations," she said.

Roughly 1,100 deer and elk, descended from animals shipped to the island for trophy hunts nearly a century ago, now live on the island. Park officials say the nonnatives degrade the steep hillsides and canyons that are home to rare native plants and animals.

Channel Islands National Park spokeswoman Yvonne Menard said the agency would welcome giving greater access to the 83-square-mile island, roughly 40 miles off the Ventura County coast.

How the herds' owners, the family-run Vail & Vickers Co., will remove the animals is an open question. The court settlement calls for an annual population reduction of 25% starting next year.

"That's a lot of animals to just needlessly kill, but that seems to be the only option left," said company spokesman Jim Youngson. Shipping them to coastal preserves would be enormously expensive and logistically difficult, and about half the deer would die in the process, he said.

In a statement, the Vail family contended that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her congressional colleagues had "acted in the dark of night" by including the issue in the current budget bill. The family said its chief concern was the fate of the deer and elk.

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steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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