One of the Channel Islands could become a permanent hunting resort for military personnel, as legislation to turn Santa Rosa Island into a hunting preserve moves through Congress this month.

The proposed 2007 defense authorization legislation would allow disabled veterans and members of the U.S. Armed Services to hunt deer and elk – which are not native to the island – out on Santa Rosa. Congresswoman Lois Capps, who serves Santa Barbara County, spoke before the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Rules yesterday in an effort to amend the legislation and prevent the hunting provision. Capps joins California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as well as the National Parks Service – overseer of the Channel Islands park – to oppose limiting public access to the island.

On May 5, Feinstein and Boxer announced their introduction of a Senate resolution that would ensure public access to Santa Rosa Island and give NPS continued control over the island. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks will host a hearing on the issue on Tuesday, May 16.

“It’s critical that the NPS is allowed to do its job and protect this integral part of California’s historical and natural heritage,” Feinstein said in a press release. “Senator Boxer and I will do everything we can to oppose any effort to turn Santa Rosa Island into a private hunting reserve.”

On May 3, the House Armed Services Committee passed the legislation allowing elk and deer to remain on Santa Rosa Island indefinitely so retired, wounded and current members of the Armed Services could hunt them for sport. This decision would negate a 1997 Federal Court settlement to remove all elk and deer from the island by 2011.

Yvonne Menard, public information officer for the Channel Islands National Park, said the elk and the deer should be removed because they are hurting populations of the endangered island fox and other native animals. She said she thinks removing the animals, as the 1997 settlement requires, is a vital step towards maintaining the island’s natural animal population.

“The continued presence of the elk and deer would be a threat to the overall health of the island,” Menard said.

Capps recently sent a letter to San Diego County Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter – the author of the legislation and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. In the letter, she said the proposal to allow hunters to remove the elk and deer would endanger Santa Rosa’s ecosystem and would severely restrict the public’s access to the national park as well.

“The American people paid $30 million [to purchase] Santa Rosa Island 20 years ago,” Capps said. “Last year, some 5,000 people visited Santa Rosa Island and that access must continue.”

Menard said the island is currently closed to the public for up to five months each year, while private hunters use it as a wild game preserve.

Capps’ Press Secretary Emily Kryder said the Congresswoman is worried the proposed legislation will close the island off for even longer.

“Basically, the public is the one that suffers in this deal,” Krdyer said.

In yesterday’s testimony, Capps said the legislation would prohibit the NPS from enforcing the 1997 ruling requiring it to remove the elk and deer from the island. She also said she thinks the proposed legislation would keep Santa Rosa Island from becoming a destination spot for tourists.

“Clearly, Congress involving itself in these issues, as proposed in this bill – with virtually no discussion and no public input – is simply wrong.” Capps said.

Five months ago, Congressman Hunter tried to pass legislation to transfer ownership of Santa Rosa Island to the Department of Defense, Capps said. She said the proposal failed because members of Congress felt it was “an attempt to create a private hunting reserve for top military brass and their official guests.”

“Quite frankly, I am baffled as to why the Chairman would continue to push for an idea that has been so thoroughly rejected by the public in the past,” Capps said in a press release.

Hunter could not be reached for comment.