The Santa Barbara County Republican Party reached across the aisle last week, joining local Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps in opposing a measure that they fear could make Santa Rosa Island an exclusive military hunting ground.

The SBCRP resolved on May 17 to publicly oppose Congressman Duncan Hunter’s (R-52) proposed legislation. The proposal, which supports disabled veterans’ and active servicemen’s access to hunting non-native deer and elk on the island, recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives despite strong opposition from Capps (D-23).

The proposal is part of language Hunter added to the fiscal year 2007 Defense Reauthorization Act.

Capps said she and other critics are afraid that if Hunter’s proposed legislation passes both houses, it could completely close Santa Rosa Island to the public. Capps testified before the House Rules Committee on May 9, asserting that a national park should not be governed by defense legislation.

She also said at the committee meeting that the provision would allow hunting for non-native elk and deer to continue indefinitely, even though there currently is a clause to phase it out by 2011. In addition, she said everyone – including disabled veterans and active servicemen – already has access to the island during hunting season, and therefore Hunter’s added language is unnecessary.

Hunter said in a letter to Capps that he supports allowing veterans to hunt non-native animals on the island because of a settlement agreement that “mandates the extermination” of the herd, making their deaths eminent. He also said that the animals on the island could “provide wonderful outdoor activities for those American veterans who have protected our freedom.”

Hunter wrote in the letter that he does not think allowing veterans to use the island would hinder public access to the park.

Monte Ward, SBCRP chairman, said the party “supports the troops” and wants to provide them with benefits, but the island’s unique environment is important to preserve. Ward said Hunter’s legislation is well intentioned, but said the congressman is not aware of the possible impact hunting could have on the island.

“We thought before he did anything or made any recommendations, he ought to go visit the island,” Ward said.

According to SBRCP, Hunter, who represents part of San Diego County, has not responded to an offer from the group to tour the island. Hunter wrote in his letter to Capps that he has never visited Santa Rosa.

Chairman of the Senate’s National Parks Committee, Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) said the National Park Service and the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center both oppose the measure.

“While we need to do all we can for our troops’ morale, welfare and recreation, turning over park lands for the military doesn’t seem to me to be the way to go about it,” Thomas said.

Dr. Dan Secord, a Republican candidate for 2nd District Supervisor and member of the California Coastal Commission, said he also disapproves of Hunter’s legislation.

“Santa Rosa Island is a fairly precious place and it has endangered species and bunch of things on it that are fairly dear, and to allow a representative from San Diego to take over part of the island to make a hunting preserve just strikes me as number one: unnecessary and number two: illogical,” Secord said.

Capps, who has been campaigning against the measure since it was first introduced to Congress, said everyone she has spoken with about the proposal has been against it. She said she was thankful that the SBCRP joined the opposition against Hunter’s legislation.

“I appreciate the support of the Santa Barbara County Republicans in opposing Chairman Hunter’s proposal to kick the public off of a national park to allow a lucrative hunting operation to continue indefinitely,” Capps said.

Secord said the environmental issue was so important that it transcended party lines. He said he supports Capps’ opposition to the measure and her ongoing work to amend the proposition.

“I’m not sure what Congressman Hunter is doing, or why he’s doing it,” Secord said.

Hunter’s Press Secretary, Joe Kasper, said he would not further comment on the issue.