The National Park Service’s decision to gun down the Channel Islands’ entire population of wild pigs has left some community members squealing in protest.
Approximately 60 people gathered at a Channel Islands Animal Protection Association (CHIAPA) meeting last night at the Santa Barbara Public Library to discuss the Nature Conservancy and park service restoration policy, which calls for the complete eradication of the island pig on Santa Cruz Island. A press release by the Channel Islands office of the park service stated that the presence of nearly 4,000 non-native pigs, brought to the island by farmers in the 1850s, has attracted golden eagles from the mainland that have become dependent on the native island fox as a food source — threatening the entire island fox population.
According to the press release, rooting by the feral pigs also increases erosion, endangers rare plant species and causes damage to Chumash archeological sites on the island. The Nature Conservancy, which owns one-third of the island, and the park service, which controls the other two-thirds, have developed a $7 million plan to rebuild the island’s natural ecosystem over the next six years.
The plan calls for the construction of a series of six electric fences to enclose the island’s pig population. After the pigs are contained, helicopters will be used to shoot the animals from the air. Fennel, a weed the pigs hide under, will also be eradicated using air-sprayed herbicides and brushfires.
Betty Jeppesen, a CHIAPA member who spoke at the meeting, said $3.9 million of the $7 million will be used to pay Prohunt New Zealand, a New Zealand-based hunting service, to kill the pigs, $2 million will be used for the electric fencing and $1.5 million for the fuel and transportation of the hunters.
CHIAPA member Scarlet Newton said the pigs are not to be blamed for the endangered state of the island fox.
“The island fox population was robust until the Nature Conservancy took over the island,” Newton said. “The finger goes right to the Nature Conservancy for causing the near extinction of the island fox.”
In the 1980s, she said, the Nature Conservancy chose to eradicate the non-native sheep population. Newton said the golden eagles were drawn to the island by the rotting sheep carcasses, not by the pigs.
Rob Puddicombe, the director of CHIAPA, said the pigs are not detrimental to the island’s ecosystem and are being unfairly targeted.
“The pigs have been demonized and accused of imaginary crimes,” Puddicombe said.
David Theodoropoulos, author of Invasion Biology: Critique of a Pseudoscience, who was not present at the meeting, had a meeting attendee read a prepared statement in which he said the situation did not warrant the park service’s plan to kill all of the pigs.
“No environmental problem exists which will require complete extermination,” Theodoropoulos’ statement said.
Newton said the pigs’ presence is not nearly as threatening as other factors on the island.
“The island pig has no malice,” Newton said. “It is just gently looking for food and is not causing a fraction of the damage humans have caused. The best solution is to leave the ecosystem alone. It is as stable as it can be and still be vital.”
She said the main argument of the Nature Conservancy is that the pigs were not among the island’s original inhabitants.
“Native and non-native have no scientific validity,” Newton said. “Someone has to arbitrarily pick a date.” Puddicombe said the notion of returning the island back to its native state is not feasible. He said that to determine which animals and plants are native, one could look at different time periods, including pre-white man, pre-cars or even pre-mammal, and get different results.
Newton said the Nature Conservancy’s plan is anything but restorative, and called the eradication of the island pigs a “massacre.”
“This is literal warfare,” Newton said. “They are defoliating the land so they can gun down the enemy.” Jolinda Hackett, another CHIAPA member who spoke at the meeting, said any congressional representative has the power to call the park service and the Nature Conservancy and tell them to stop. Rick Feldman, a Santa Barbara resident, said the community must take action if it is going to prevent the extermination of the island pig population.
“I say nothing in [the] history of men has ever gotten done until people have stood in front of bulldozers,” Feldman said. “We’re in the 11th-and-a-half hour. If it is left to just writing letters to politicians, we are going to lose.”
A follow-up meeting will be held next Tuesday at the Santa Barbara Public Library at 6:30 p.m.