There was a flurry of excitement over the last week regarding the future status of Santa Rosa Island. Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) had attempted to add language to a defense spending bill that would have removed the island from the national park system, making it instead a military reserve where active-duty military personnel and veterans could conduct training exercises and engage in recreational hunting and camping.
Now, in the face of loud criticism from Congressional Democrats, environmentalists, and others, Hunter has agreed to withdraw the plan — for now. His stated intention is to try to re-introduce the plan — which he had previously floated back in May, also — next year, as part of a separate piece of legislation.
The LA Times had an interesting article on the issue back on December 9th: Military wants Santa Rosa Island. (The Times subsequently ran a correction, acknowledging that it was Rep. Hunter, not the military, that was pushing for the change.) From that article:
Hunter put forward a similar measure in May, but withdrew it after objections from environmentalists and Democrats and after consulting with Republicans.
In a statement e-mailed Friday night by his spokesman, Hunter said the proposed amendment “would broaden the recreational use of Santa Rosa Island to the benefit of wounded and disabled members of the armed services who have sacrificed for our country.”
Hunter’s proposal calls for the Department of Defense to transform the 53,000-acre island into a military operation, effective Jan. 1, 2009. The goal, the proposal said, was to provide “morale, welfare and recreation activities to members of the armed forces and their dependents, veterans, official guests and such other persons as the [Defense] secretary determines to be appropriate, including paralyzed and disabled persons.”
The island, according to the proposal, also could provide training areas for special operations forces and would continue to allow deer and elk hunting that is currently permitted.
Critics of the proposal said military personnel already can visit the park, just like the general public.
Rep. Lois Capps, a Democrat whose Santa Barbara district encompasses Santa Rosa Island, said the proposal is a bad idea “that is being pushed in secret negotiations.”
“All Americans should have access to the Channel Islands National Park, not just top military brass, members of Congress and folks who can pay thousands of dollars to go on private hunting trips,” Capps said.
Santa Rosa is the second-largest of the five Channel Islands that make up the park.
Among those who criticized Hunter’s proposal was Ron Sundergill, Pacific regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association. In a December 10 press release, Sunderhill wrote:
Why would Representative Hunter, why would anybody for that matter, want to suddenly restrict a large portion of this beautiful place to a small portion of Americans? It makes no sense!
We can only guess that the reason this is being proposed is to protect the commercial interest that operates the elk and deer hunting venture on the island. The owners of the venture, whose family sold the island to the federal government in 1986 for nearly $30 million, will be required to end their commercial activities in 2011. The timeline for ending the elk and deer hunting results from a legally binding agreement between the National Park Service and the National Parks Conservation Association, but the owners of the hunting venture strongly objected to the agreement.
If Santa Rosa Island is turned over to the Department of Defense for military recreation and other purposes, the permit for the commercial hunting operation is then likely to be renewed. This is especially evident since the proposed amendment requires that the current contract with the commercial hunting operation be honored, and contains no restriction on the renewal of the contract.
Anyway, Hunter has now pulled back on the plan, at least for the time being. From the LA Times: Lawmaker retracts plan for military use of island.
The measure, proposed during House-Senate conferences over the military appropriations bill, initially called for shifting management of the island to the Defense Department from the National Park Service. Although Hunter removed that provision Friday, critics said the proposal was still in conflict with a 1997 court settlement requiring the former owners of Santa Rosa Island to start phasing out elk and deer in 2008 and to eliminate them by the end of 2011.
“I am ecstatic it has been withdrawn,” Park Supt. Russell Galipeau said in a phone interview from the island. “This great piece of real estate that is now owned by the public will remain a great place for them to recreate and learn about this resource and endangered species … for generations to come.”
I don’t know if Hunter is trying to pull a fast one on behalf of a well-connected constituent, as Ron Sundergill has speculated, but if so, then it’s pretty lame for him to try to dress it up as some kind of noble action on behalf of disabled veterans. Santa Rosa Island, like all the Channel Islands, is a very special, very beautiful place, and a national park is the perfect way to preserve it.
Photo: I found that lovely shot of Santa Rosa Island on the web site of the Bruns Lab, which is part of the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley. Apparently they do some sort of ongoing scientific research on the island. I used the image without their permission; I hope they don’t mind.