Despite claims of unnecessary swine slaughter from the Channel Islands Animal Protection Association (CHIAPA), park employees and certain UCSB professors are saying the eradication of feral pigs on Santa Cruz Island is entirely necessary.
Julie Benson, spokeswoman for The Nature Conservancy, which owns about three-fourths of Santa Cruz Island, said the park officials plan to have the entire pig population exterminated by the end of March. She said the project is part of the Santa Cruz Island Restoration Plan, a $7 million strategy for removing all non-native species from the island to protect the area’s natural inhabitants, including indigenous fox and plant species. The plan also includes provisions for the capture and relocation of the island’s golden eagle population to the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Although the Island Restoration Plan originally included conducting aerial spraying and controlled burning of fennel, Benson said those plans have been suspended so the Nature Conservancy can focus on removing the pigs.
Although about 60 CHIAPA members met March 1 to protest what they called the “wholesale slaughter of innocent animals,” Benson said the conservancy feels that protecting the island’s natural resources — especially the fox population — is more important than protecting the feral pig population.
“I know [CHIAPA has] made claims,” Benson said. “They call this the “Santa Cruz Island pig.” Feral pigs exist all over. The Santa Cruz Island Fox and Santa Cruz Island plants exist nowhere else. If we don’t remove the pigs, those will go extinct.”
Kate Faulkner, chief of natural resources for the Channel Islands National Park said the pigs, which were introduced to the island 150 years ago as a food source, immediately became a threat to the area’s ecosystem.
“Santa Cruz Island contains unique resources that occur nowhere else in the world, unique species and numerous archeological sites,” Faulkner said. “Most of these species, if they didn’t have the Channel Islands, would have nowhere else to go.”
Supporters of the Restoration Plan, Faulkner said, did extensive research before deciding that the pig population needed to be exterminated. She said CHIAPA members have offered little evidence to substantiate their claims.
“The Parks Service and The Nature Conservancy worked with numerous scientists, biologists, and archeologists,” Faulkner said. “CHIAPA and others cannot point to anything to support their claims. I wouldn’t even begin to try to understand why they are making these claims. They have no support.”
Professor Josh Schimel, chair of UCSB’s Environmental Studies Dept., said he disagrees with CHIAPA’s allegations and he thinks the feral pigs are a definite threat to the island’s indigenous foxes because they attract and sustain non-native golden eagles. The eagles, Schimel said, have been coming to the islands since the early 1990s, and eat both feral pigs and indigenous foxes.
“If there were no pigs then the situation would be a simple predator-prey situation and the eagles would eat the foxes until they started dying out and then leave,” Schimel said. “The problem is the pigs support the population of eagles, which also take foxes. So long as pigs stay on that island, foxes are doomed.”
Schimel said exterminating the pigs will allow the fox species to continue.
“These pigs are the same species we slaughter for bacon,” Schimel said. “A lot of people get upset at the idea of killing any animal, but by choosing not to kill the pigs you are making the choice to allow [the Santa Cruz Island] foxes to go extinct forever.”
Professor Michael Glassow, chair of the UCSB Anthropology Dept., said the pigs also endanger nine species of native plants by rooting and digging in the soil — particularly for fennel — often destroying archeological sites in the process.
“It’s my feeling that the pigs are doing a substantial amount of environmental damage out there,” Glassow said. “I’ve walked along [the island’s] ridgetops for my research, and rooting spots are scattered about every 15 feet. They can dig some pretty deep holes. Santa Cruz Island has some of the best archeological sites in all of California; to see these destroyed is sad.”