Santa Rosa Island Hunting Scuttled in Budget Bill

One of the more obscure items included in the half-trillion-dollar Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed Monday by the U.S. House of Representatives provides for the removal of all deer and elk from California’s Santa Rosa Island, effectively dashing all prospects of future hunting opportunities there.

The measure repeals a law passed last year that permitted the estimated 1,100 Kaibab mule deer and Roosevelt elk to remain on the island indefinitely. Sponsored by U.S. Representative and GOP presidential hopeful Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the bill was a rewrite of legislation that originally sought to allow exclusive hunting opportunities on Santa Rosa for disabled veterans.

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Lawmakers have been battling over the future of Santa Rosa Island for more than two years. Environmental groups want the non-native species eliminated and have called for the island to be more accessible to the general public.

Santa Rosa Island is part of the Channel Islands National Park. Under terms of a 1986 compensation agreement between the island’s former owners and the National Park Service, the ranching company was allowed to maintain its hunting operation there, but all non-native animals were to be gone by 2011. Cattle were removed from the island in 1998.

Rep. Hunter’s 2006 legislation effectively negated the terms of the 1986 court settlement pertaining to the deer and elk herd.

“This marks the end to a long battle over Santa Rosa Island,” declared Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.), who inserted the language into the massive spending bill during negotiations between the House and Senate. By all indications, the bill is expected to pass the Senate later this week.

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Vail & Vickers Co., the former island owners who continue to manage the hunting operation, contend they were blindsided by the provision’s inclusion in the budget bill and that logistics prevent them from relocating the wild animals safely and humanely. Instead, they say, in order to comply with the terms of the original settlement, they will likely have to kill the entire elk and deer population.

“That’s a lot of animals to just needlessly kill, but that seems to be the only option left,” company spokesman Jim Youngson told the Los Angeles Times. He cited the enormous costs of transporting wildlife, the bureaucratic roadblocks to relocating the animals to public land in others states, and an exceedingly high mortality rate from trapping and moving wildlife.

“Despite their intentions, Democrats cannot exterminate the Island’s elk herd until 2011,” Joe Kasper, a spokesman for Rep. Hunter’s office said today. “This leaves enough time to save the herd and provide our disabled veterans, many of whom have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Comments made to the Newshound blog by Darren LaSorte, lobbyist and manager of Hunting Policy for the National Rifle Association, while not as partisan as those from Hunter’s office, were decidedly blistering in condemning so-called animal protectionist groups.

“This is all more evidence that HSUS and PETA really aren’t trying to save animals,” LaSorte said “Neither group uttered a single word of opposition to the government-mandated slaughter of the elk and deer that have coexisted with other plant and animal species on the island for 75 years.”

LaSorte also maintained that the isolated Santa Rosa deer and elk are invaluable to science because they are totally free of chronic wasting disease and other maladies that can threaten mainland herds.

“The NRA has been working this issue for years now and we believed the Duncan Hunter provision passed in 2006 was what would allow the elk and mule deer to thrive on Santa Rosa for generations to come,” he said.

Have any of our Newshound readers hunted on Santa Rosa? What do you think about the latest chapter in the political chess game being played with the wildlife there?