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No Reprieve for Doomed Santa Rosa Elk and Deer Herd

December 20, 2007.

California's Santa Rosa Island was purchased by the US Park Service in 1986 to become part of the Channel Islands National Park. Before then, back in the 1920s, herds of Roosevelt Elk and mule deer had been established on the island with transplanted animals.

The deer and elk thrived, and given their outstanding genetics (the mulies were from Arizona's Kaibab), Santa Rosa became a mecca for hunting trophy deer and elk. In 2003, for example, hunters on Santa Rosa killed 50 bucks that averaged 192 points (!), and 44 Roosevelt bulls scoring 315 points on the SCI scale.

The hunts are managed by the well-regarded Multiple Use Managers, or MUM.

Park Service policy, however, frowned on these non-native species, and a plan was put in to place to eradicate the deer and elk by 2011. The idea is to protect the steep, fragile terrain from non-native species. Additionally, the hunting operations cause much of the island to be closed to the general public for 4-5 months each year, essentially for the benefit of well-to-do hunters who have purchased the right to hunt here.

In 2006, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), currently running as a very conservative (and, at 2% in the polls, very distant) Republican candidate for president, slipped legislation protecting the island’s deer and elk in to the 2007 Defense Authorization bill.

Buried in the military appropriations bill, Hunter's legislation was unable to be effectively challenged by opponents. Hunter's legislation protected the deer and elk, originally based on the idea of setting them aside for hunting by disabled veterans, although it was never clear to anyone (including representatives of the 21,000-member Paralyzed Veterans of America who visited the island) how wheel-chair-bound individuals would navigate the extremely steep country of Santa Rosa.

Now, using tactics similar to those employed by Hunter, US Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-CA) added a measure to the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill to restore the 2011 eradication deadline.

So, we're back to where we started. Hunting will continue through 2011, at which point the deer and elk will be exterminated. Protecting the potentially fragile terrain of Santa Rosa is a great goal, but it seems tragic that the elk and deer herds that existed on the island for the past 80 years are to be slaughtered.

It's unfortunate that no middle ground seemed to exist — such as reducing the elk and deer herds to protect the island's ecosystem, opening the island to public limited-draw hunting, and ensuring broad public access to the entire island.

The LA Times provided coverage of the latest legislative maneuvering.

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