IMAGE: SANTA ROSA ISLAND
National Park Service
Santa Rosa Island, 40 miles off Santa Barbara, Calif., is part of the National Park Service system and the site for a proposal to allow U.S. military personnel to hunt for elk and deer.
updated 10/5/2006 10:42:18 AM ET 2006-10-05T14:42:18

A newly approved bill mandates that trophy game remain on a Southern California public island in defiance of a court settlement and the position of the National Park Service.

But what exactly will happen with the animals and the private hunts now run on 53,000-acre Santa Rosa Island is unclear.

Russell Galipeau, superintendent of Channel Islands National Park, said the park service does not want the animals and does not believe the legislation allows hunting to continue indefinitely.

But that is the intent of the measure's author, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. He wants wounded veterans to be able to hunt at no cost and said Tuesday the next step is for federal officials to meet with a nonprofit group called Wounded Warrior Project to come up with a plan.

Wounded Warrior Project was enlisted by Hunter after another group, Paralyzed Veterans of America, decided Santa Rosa was too inaccessible and dropped its backing of the idea.

Wounded Warrior Project's national policy director Jeremy Chwat said that apart from providing a letter of support, he wasn't aware of any further involvement by his group.

Meanwhile, legal action was being considered by an environmental group that agreed to a federal court settlement mandating that the animals be removed in 2011 and the hunting end.

The ranch family that owns the animals and the private hunting concession hasn't decided how to proceed.

And congressional Democrats, anticipating they could retake control of the House or the Senate next month, are making plans to try to overturn Hunter's legislation, which was approved last week by the House and Senate as part of an annual defense policy bill. It still must be signed into law by President Bush.

'Serious interpretation' expected
"There's going to be some serious interpretation that has to go on here," said Jim Youngson, a spokesman for the Vail & Vickers family that sold Santa Rosa Island to the federal government for $30 million in 1986. "They simply don't have answers yet."

IMAGE: ISLAND FOX
National Park Service
This fox is among the wildlife that the National Park Service fears could be impacted by hunting on Santa Rosa Island.
Santa Rosa Island is the second-largest island in Channel Islands National Park 40 miles off the coast of Ventura. Litigation over terms of the sale resulted in a 1998 settlement among Vail & Vickers, the National Park Service and the National Parks and Conservation Association, mandating the family end cattle ranching operations and start removing the deer and elk in 2008 and finish by 2011.

There are now about 400 mule deer and 700 Roosevelt elk on the island, and hunters pay from $1,800 to $17,000 to hunt them. The National Park Service opposes the hunts and the presence of the animals, arguing they interfere with indigenous species like the endangered island fox and restrict public access.

Vail & Vickers family members would like the animals to stay but said they had nothing to do with Hunter's plan. Hunter said he hatched the idea while driving down the Pacific Coast Highway with a group of Marines, one of whom bemoaned the planned elimination of the herds.

Bill language is vague
Hunter initially offered legislation to give the Pentagon control of the island for recreation and training. Amid controversy, he scaled back the language, so that what passed last week was just a few sentences that made no mention of hunting.

The language says: "The Secretary of the Interior shall immediately cease the plan, approved in the settlement agreement ... to exterminate the deer and elk on Santa Rosa Island, Channel Islands, California, by helicopter and shall not exterminate or nearly exterminate the deer and elk."

Hunter's spokesman, Joe Kasper, said he expects the deer and elk would become government property after 2011, although that's not spelled out.

The legislation also makes no mention of funding for transporting veterans or paying for herd management. Galipeau said that since hunting isn't specified, his position is it can't happen.

"Even if they (the animals) did become public property there's no way for us to manage the hunt," Galipeau said. "There's no authority for it."

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