After more than 18 months of debate, a provision allowing trophy hunting on Santa Rosa Island to continue indefinitely passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday.
The provision, which is a part of the 2007 Defense Authorization bill, passed 398 to 23 on Sept. 29. Congresswoman Lois Capps said the provision calls for the Secretary of the Interior to cease the plan to exterminate non-native deer and elk that, according to the National Park Service, are polluting the island’s water supply and killing endangered species.
Capps said a 1997 court ruling ordered the current operators of the island’s yearly hunt to halt all hunting by 2011 and remove all the animals from the island because they were causing such damage.
“This is a sad day for those of us who love and treasure Santa Rosa Island and all of our national parks,” Capps said. “It is simply outrageous that this deeply misguided proposal has been inappropriately included in the 2007 Defense Authorization in an act of pure Congressional hubris.”
The provision, penned by the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Duncan Hunter, will permit the hunting of deer and elk on the island to continue indefinitely, and prohibits the Secretary from exterminating the elk.
Hunter was not available for comment Tuesday. However, he has previously said the provision was intended to give disabled veterans wider access to hunting on the island.
Environmentalists, the National Park Service and both California senators oppose the proposition, saying that it will harm the island’s delicate ecosystem. They also question Hunter’s motives for including the provision.
Cameron Benson, executive director for the Environmental Defense Center, said the 1997 ruling to phase hunting out passed because non-native elk and deer, which farmers left on the island, are slowly destroying endangered species of plants.
“Thirteen species of plants [living on Santa Rosa Island] are listed by the federal government as endangered almost solely because of browsing and grazing by deer and elk,” he said.
Benson said he does not believe any of the endangered species will survive if the elk and deer remain on the island.
Throughout the debate process of the provision, Hunter emphasized the right of disabled veterans to use Santa Rosa as a hunting range. However, the provision does not guarantee anything to veterans on the island, but simply says non-native deer and elk will not be removed.
In addition, Capps said the Paralyzed Veterans of America visited Santa Rosa Island and told her the land would not be a viable option for disabled veterans to hunt on.
The provision has received harsh criticism for other reasons as well. Capps said the hunt will close the island off to the public for four to five months each year.
“Kicking the public off a national park it paid more than $30 million for in order to continue indefinitely a lucrative private hunting operation is not a good use of public land and sets a terrible precedent for the use of our National Treasures,” Capps said.
She called the provision “ridiculous” and said the reasons behind it have constantly been changing. Hunter initially created a similar amendment to transfer control of the island from the National Park Service to the Dept. of Defense in May 2005. However, the House rejected this amendment.
Capps said that this time, it was Hunter’s intent to turn the island into a private hunting ground for the military.
“The proposal and the reasons behind it have evolved over time,” Capps said on the House Floor on Sept. 29. “At one point it was to establish a hunting preserve for the military’s top brass and guests. When that didn’t fly, it was quickly changed to making Santa Rosa a place for disabled vets to hunt.”
Although the Santa Barbara County Republican Party has publicly opposed Hunter’s proposal and even invited him to tour the island with them – an invitation the congressman never responded to – chairman Monte Ward said he does not believe that Hunter’s intentions are so malevolent.
“We applaud his sentiment – we want to support our veterans too – but Santa Rosa Island is a very unique place, and elk and deer are not native to Santa Rosa Island,” Ward said.
In its final line, the provision notes that it is supported by the Wounded Warrior Project, a veteran’s welfare organization that could not be reached by either the Daily Nexus or Capps’ office.
Russell Galipeau, the superintendent of the Channel Islands National Park, was not available for comment as of press time, but he has been on record with the Daily Nexus several times opposing the plans for continued hunting.
When asked to comment, Nikki Baker, assistant to the Public Affairs Officer for Veterans Affairs in the greater Los Angles area, which includes Santa Barbara, said she had not heard of the provision.