On Friday I had the opportunity to return to Santa Rosa Island for a day long tour of the island with representatives from the National Park Service.

Santa Rosa has been in the news a lot lately because it is threatened by a controversial proposal by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) to continue indefinitely a lucrative private trophy hunting operation set to shut down in 2011. This hunting operation currently closes off public access to 90% of the island for up to 5 months a year. Once hunting permanently ends the Park Service can complete its plans to restore the island, improve visitor facilities and promote year-round access to the park.

Santa Rosa Island, purchased by taxpayers for $30 million in 1986, is part of a unique National Park that is fairly close to large populations but is still very remote and rustic, with only a few buildings and rough dirt roads. The isolated nature of Santa Rosa is part of its appeal and once I set foot on the island I felt I had been transported to another world far away from the complicated trappings of modern life.

As I met with other visitors that day they echoed those sentiments, marveling at the rare beauty of the island. It is a real shame that the hunting operation keep people, from the Central Coast and beyond, from visiting the island and experiencing its unique characteristics.

The non-native deer and elk that are hunted on the island present another challenge to managing the island Santa Rosa Island. When I last visited the island several years ago the non-native cattle that used to roam the island had just been removed as part of the same court settlement that also dictates the removal of all deer and elk by 2011. The removal of the cattle resulted in a dramatic restoration of areas where native vegetation had been devastated by the grazing cattle. Unfortunately, these gains were limited to a few areas where the non-native deer and the elk have been prevented from grazing; the rest of the island bears the scars of overgrazing from the deer and elk herds.

Ultimately, my trip Friday reaffirmed my strong belief that we should join together to restore the island to its natural state as much as possible and ensure year round access to the island. That means ending the lucrative private hunting operation in 2011 as scheduled, if not earlier. Any effort to prolong hunting on the island should be rejected.