- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — Brush-covered and wind-swept, accessible only by boat or plane, Santa Rosa Island seems worlds removed from the crowded Southern California coastline — let alone Washington.

Yet the 53,000-acre public island 40 miles from Santa Barbara is in the middle of a political tugging match among a powerful House committee chairman, the National Park Service and congressional Democrats.

Under a federal court settlement in place almost a decade, private deer and elk hunts staged on the island must end by 2011 and the nonnative game must be removed.

But San Diego-area Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter wants to keep the trophy animals on the island and allow military veterans to hunt them.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for paralyzed veterans and severely disabled veterans to have an opportunity for a high-quality outdoor experience,” said Mr. Hunter, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

The plan has drawn protests from the Park Service and Democratic lawmakers, who said hunting blocks public access and interferes with indigenous plants and animals.

“What we need to be focusing on are the purposes for which national parks were set aside, and hunting is not one of those purposes,” said Russell Galipeau, superintendent of Channel Islands National Park.

Mr. Hunter’s plan, which would mandate that the deer and elk stay on the island indefinitely, was approved by the House last month as part of a major defense programs bill. A version of the bill in the Senate does not contain the provision, and California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer hope they can keep it out.

A 30-minute plane ride over the blue-green Pacific Ocean from the mainland, Santa Rosa Island is a breathtaking vision of unspoiled sandy beaches and low-lying beach cliffs dotted with cormorants and pelicans.

During the August-December hunting season, more than three-quarters of the island is off-limits to the public for safety reasons.

Mr. Hunter has never been to the island and said he’ll never go because he wants to avoid conflict-of-interest accusations. He argued that hunting isn’t much of a nuisance because the island has so few visitors — about 5,000 a year.

Compared with the herds of cattle that once occupied the island, the deer and elk are hardly invasive, he added.

Mr. Hunter’s legislation doesn’t say how the herds would be managed after the 2011 deadline, or how the hunts, which cost $1,800 to $17,000, would be made affordable for veterans. Mr. Hunter said it would not be difficult to run free hunts at no cost to taxpayers, which his opponents dispute.

Doug Warren, an official with Paralyzed Veterans of America, said Santa Rosa would provide a uniquely contained environment for disabled vets, and he questioned the need to remove the animals.

“It adds so much to have them here,” Mr. Warren said. “Otherwise what are you going to look at?”

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