LETTER FROM WASHINGTON | DANA WILKIE
Hunting with Hunter

May 22, 2006

Now Duncan Hunter has never been on Santa Rosa Island, that part of the Channel Islands National Park system where Roosevelt elk and mule deer make for some great trophy hunting.

Yet for the third time in less than a year, the Alpine Republican is trying to void a court settlement that would end hunting on the island by 2011.

His most recent effort appears to have been pretty successful. This month, Hunter convinced the House Armed Services Committee – his Armed Services Committee – to pass a plan that would allow the hunting to continue indefinitely for disabled vets and other military types.

Why not let the elk and deer “provide wonderful outdoor activities for those American veterans who have protected our freedom?” Hunter asks, maintaining that hikers, bikers and others could still enjoy the island if hunting continues.

Hunter tucked his plan into a larger Defense Department authorization bill. When you're the committee chairman in charge of the bill, you can slip in pretty much whatever you'd like without much in the way of public hearings. OK, without anything in the way of public hearings.

REP. CAPPS IN THE DARK

Well, this didn't go over well with California Democratic Rep. Lois Capps, whose district includes the island and who bristles that the chairman did not first contact her.

It didn't go over well with the National Park Service, either, which wants to eventually rid the island of the non-native creatures that tend to destroy species that are native to the island, including some endangered plants.

And it didn't go over well with California's two Democratic senators, who weighed in recently with a resolution recognizing the “importance” of Santa Rosa Island.

The National Park Service owns the 53,000-acre island, a former cattle ranch that is the second largest of the Channel Islands and where some 400 deer and 700 elk now roam. Eight years ago, a court-ordered settlement between the Park Service and environmentalists allowed limited hunting to continue until 2011, after which the deer and elk would be removed.

AND REMOVAL MEANS . . .

In addition to allowing hunting beyond 2011, Hunter's plan requires that the number of deer and elk remain at the numbers there today, which would effectively void the court order to eventually “remove” the animals.

Just what constitutes “removal” under this court order is a matter of some debate. Hunter claims in a May 2 letter to Capps that it would amount to a “final slaughter,” presumably by sharpshooters from helicopters.

Capps insists the animals won't be exterminated, but merely relocated.

“What the court settlement says is . . . to remove them from the island,” says Capps spokeswoman Emily Kryder. “It does not say they have to exterminate them.”

Since it appears the Park Service would have the final say on how this removal transpires, one has to ask if relocating hundreds of large creatures, presumably by barge, would really prove as cost effective as simply shooting them.

Capps fumes that “virtually the entire island is closed for five months a year when hunting is under way” and that Hunter's plan would amount to “kicking the public off the land by giving it to the Pentagon so top military brass and their guests could use it as a private hunting reserve.” The nation's disabled veterans, she said, are but “pawns” in the matter.

Are the vets mere pawns in this dust-up? They don't think so. The Paralyzed Veterans of America say in a letter that the Hunter plan would “broaden available (hunting) opportunities” just for them.

But we have to ask: How will most disabled vets afford the rather steep price for a four-day trophy hunting trip on the island – which now stands at some $16,500?

Capps tried to get Hunter's language removed from the bill by appealing to the House Rules Committee, which incidentally is led by another senior southern California Republican – David Dreier. The committee rejected her plea. Big surprise.

Dana Wilkie is a Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and a longtime observer of California politics and social issues.

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