WASHINGTON – Privately hunted deer and elk would be allowed to remain on a national park island off the coast of California under legislation approved late Wednesday by a congressional panel.
The House Armed Services Committee passed the measure despite objections from the National Park Service that trophy game hunts on Santa Rosa Island restrict public access and interfere with native species. The 53,000-acre island 40 miles off Santa Barbara is part of the Channel Islands National Park.
The legislation, sponsored by committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., would void a court-ordered settlement that requires the deer and elk to be removed from the island by 2011.
Hunter said he wanted to make Santa Rosa a hunting destination for disabled veterans and other members of the military. His amendment, part of a sweeping annual defense bill authorizing military programs, passed by a mostly party-line vote of 33 to 23.
"This could be a wonderful, wonderful experience for a paralyzed veteran and their family," Hunter said. "It is dumb of us as a nation to exterminate this protected herd."
Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., countered that Hunter's measure interfered with a court-ordered settlement. He also complained that the committee had held no hearings the fate of the approximately 400 deer and 700 elk on Santa Rosa Island.
"It is an incredibly unique environment that has species only known on that island," Snyder said, citing the endangered island fox. "The deer and the elk are not compatible."
The federal government bought Santa Rosa Island for $30 million in 1986 from a local ranching family. Litigation among the family, an environmental group and the National Park Service resulted in a court deal to end the family's hunting concession by 2011.
The Santa Rosa Island measure is likely to pass the full House but could face a fight in the Senate, where California Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are opposed.