Hunter Using Veterans as Pawns for Santa Rosa Island Legislation
I was disappointed last week when Chairman Hunter renewed his attempts to kick the public off of Santa Rosa Island (part of the Channel Islands National Park which is a part of my Congressional District) in order to continue indefinitely the trophy hunting of non-native deer and elk. This is a terrible idea that was thoroughly rejected twice last year. After the Chairman withdrew his proposal last year, I said I was willing to talk with him about how we might accomplish his rather unclear goals. Unfortunately, the Chairman did not contact me or my staff before putting the latest Santa Rosa language in the Department of Defense bill last week.
It is important to remember how this issue came about in the first place. It was a mere five months ago the Chairman proposed kicking the public off of Santa Rosa Island by giving it to the Pentagon so top military brass and their guests could use it as a private hunting reserve.
Now he’s at it again, this time claiming that he’s acting in the best interests of our veterans. Frankly, it is insulting that our heroic disabled veterans are now being used as pawns in this effort to limit public access to the Island. If the Chairman is sincerely concerned about helping our veterans, he should reject his party’s efforts to cut veterans funding by $8.6 billion over the next five years as the Republican budget proposes to do.
Later today I will be asking the Rules Committee to allow me to offer an amendment to the defense bill that strips the Chairman’s language from the legislation.
This provision should be rejected for several reasons:
• First, it has no place in the defense authorization legislation. There have been no hearings or opportunity for public input. The Pentagon has not even requested this provision, and the Park Service strongly opposes it.
• Second, it allows the hunting of non-native deer and elk on Santa Rosa to continue indefinitely. This operation currently closes off public access to 90 percent of the island for up to 5 months of the year while hunting is underway. Hunting on the island is scheduled to wind down over the next several years and cease completely in 2011. At that time, the Park Service will be able to guarantee year-round public access to the island. Removing the animals will also ensure the protection of the island’s critical natural resources, including several federally listed endangered species.
• Third, some have said they want to allow members of the armed services, including disabled veterans to engage in hunting activities on the island. To be perfectly clear – everyone has access to the island right now, including members of the armed services and veterans. Additionally, veterans currently enjoy a wide variety of other hunting opportunities on private and publicly held lands, as well as on military bases around the country.
• Finally, the latest rationale for this proposal is supposedly to stop “the extermination” of these privately owned, non-native deer and elk on Santa Rosa Island. However, the settlement agreement only calls for removal of the animals; it does not specify how the animals must be removed. If the private company who owns the animals, Vail & Vickers, wish to remove their animals to the mainland, they are not precluded by the agreement from doing so and I would support such an effort. It is important to remember that the animals are being removed because of the damage these large herds cause to Santa Rosa and federally listed species.
Ultimately the Chairman’s provision means something far different than more hunting opportunities for veterans or animal protection. It means the indefinite continuation of the trophy-hunting operation and keeping the public off the island for nearly half of the year while hunting is underway.
The public paid $30 million for this island 20 years ago. Last year, 5,000 people visited the island. These numbers will increase once the island is open year-round to the public.
Clearly, Congress involving itself in this issue, as proposed in this bill – with virtually no discussion and no public input – is simply wrong. I hope that this language is removed from the defense bill.