Last week marked a new chapter in the long battle over the future of Santa Rosa Island, as Congresswoman Lois Capps introduced a bill that would once again put the island’s non-native elk and deer populations on the path to extermination, and its endangered species on the path to survival.

Last year, then-House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) successfully placed language into the annual defense funding bill that allowed deer and elk hunting on Santa Rosa Island to continue indefinitely, especially for use by disabled veterans and other members of the armed services. This effectively overturned a court settlement stipulating that non-native deer and elk populations should be entirely removed from the island by 2011 in order to protect its natural ecosystem, which the grazing animals have harmed over the years.

However, Capps’ legislation proposes to uphold the 1998 court settlement, and continue with the previously proposed extermination plan on the nearby Channel Island.

“Santa Rosa Island is a national treasure and efforts to restrict the public’s access to a national park that it paid $30 million dollars for in order to continue a lucrative trophy hunting operation are misguided,” Capps said. “I have every confidence that this matter will soon be corrected.”

Capps, acting with the support of groups such as the Humane Society and the National Park Service, has long opposed Hunter’s language. She is also supported by California Sens. Barbara Boxer (D) and Dianne Feinstein (D), who together also introduced legislation matching Capps’ in the Senate last week.

The congresswoman and others’ argument for ridding the island of elk and deer is twofold. First, they argue that the two non-native species threaten the survival of the island’s endangered species, which include the bald eagle and the native fox. Second, they say that hunting season – which lasts five months in the fall – restricts the general public from enjoying the island during popular visiting months.

“The hunting season closes off 90 percent of the island during the most ideal time to visit it,” Emily Kryder, press secretary for Capps.

Capps has questioned the motives of those who seek to protect the continued use of the island as a hunting ground for retired U.S. military personnel.

“Hunter has gone through several versions of this proposal. Originally, he wanted to transfer control of the island to the Pentagon, and make it a paradise island for the military brass and their guests to go on hunting trips,” Kryder said.

When Congress vetoed the original proposal, Kryder said, Hunter then supported revising the court order on the basis that the island serves as a resource for the disabled veterans who hunt there. Hunter’s office did not respond to calls from the Daily Nexus.

Although she has fought this issue for several years now, Capps said she hopes a new Democratic House and growing support for their cause will mean a changing tide on the issue of the future of Santa Rosa Island.

The island, which is part of Channel Islands National Park, is located some 26 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara. Its unique native wildlife populations, which include 13 endangered species of plants and animals, as well as its rich history and geography, have long made it the focus of debates between environmental, ecological and political groups.