By David Ferry
Staff Writer

The provision to allow hunting on Santa Rosa Island to continue indefinitely may not go through as planned, as the U.S. Senate passed a counter-amendment on Tuesday.

In response to a bill passed by the House of Representatives last month, both California senators pushed for the passage of an amendment that would end the hunting of non-native elk and deer on the island after 2011, a proposal supported by local Congresswoman Lois Capps and environmental groups. Previously, Congressman Duncan Hunter of San Diego had placed a provision in the House’s 2007 Defense Authorization bill, which would allow disabled veterans to hunt on the island and therefore would stop plans to rid the park of the animals.

Despite Capps’ protests at the time, the bill passed in the House. If the both houses of Congress agree to the Senate’s amendment, Santa Rosa Island caretakers will continue through with the original plan of removing the non-native deer and elk that Duncan wanted to keep on the land for hunting purposes.

Both Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are opposed to the House bill, which Feinstein said restricts the public from visiting more than 90 percent of the island for four to five months each year. Additionally, environmental activists are calling for the non-native animals to be removed from the island because they claim the animals adversely affect the national park’s delicate ecosystem.

“This amendment corrects a terrible mistake that should never have been made in the first place,” Feinstein said. “With today’s victory in the Senate, we are one step closer to protecting Santa Rosa Island and keeping this natural treasure open for Californians and all Americans.”

After Thanksgiving, both committees from both houses of Congress will attempt to compromise and decide which plan to follow. Emily Kryder, Rep. Lois Capps’ press secretary, said if the two sides do not reach an agreement, Capps will introduce legislation in the House – after the Democrats have a majority – to block the provision once and for all.

“If we cannot enact the Feinstein-Boxer language protection of Santa Rosa during the lame duck session, I will be introducing legislation to address the issue when the Democrats take control in January,” Capps said.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, originally proposed the controversial provision in order to allow disabled veterans to visit the island and hunt the animals, his press secretary Joe Kasper said.

“Representative Hunter’s ultimate vision is to allow wounded and disabled veterans to enjoy the island for a limited amount of time each year,” Kasper said.

To allow the veterans an unlimited supply of deer and elk to hunt, the provision called for an end to the court-ordered extermination of the animals. Opponents of the provision argue that leaving the animals and allowing hunting to continue will restrict public access to the land. Kasper said Hunter, who plans to run for president in 2008, does not want to close the island off to the public.

Russell Galipeau, the superintendent of the Channel Islands National Parks, said he finds the situation ironic. He said Hunter’s provision calls to prevent the extermination of the elk and deer, yet allows people to hunt the animals indefinitely.

Cameron Benson, the executive director of the Environmental Defense Center, a non-profit environmental law firm for the south coast, said the amendment’s passage is a victory for the environment.

“We are strongly in support of the senators’ amendment; we hope that when the bill goes to the conference committee that the members will see it fit to protect our country’s national parks,” Benson said.