Roughly a century since they were introduced as trophy hunt animals on Santa Rosa Island, the elk and deer that remain on this grassy slice of Channel Islands National Park will soon be hunted to extinction. Though a hard number is not known, there are expected to be a little more than 100 individual animals still alive, and Park Service officials believe that the upcoming August 28 to October 11 commercial hunt will rid the island of the mule deer and elk, which are a genetic mix of Roosevelt and tule elk. If that doesn’t do the trick, the Park Service and a hired hunting firm will complete the job. As such, the island will be off-limits to the public from October 11 to November 1, and then only open on weekends until the end of the year.
“We expect [the hunters] to remove a great majority of the animals,” said park spokesperson Yvonne Menard on Tuesday. “Following the commercial hunt, the Park Service is going to remove any remnant animals at that point with a co-operator.”
The complete removal of the nonnative species — which biologists say harm at least eight endangered plant species, foul the watersheds, destroy archaeological sites, and threaten the rare island fox by attracting golden eagles during the ungulates’ birthing months — was outlined in a 1997 court deal between the park and Vail & Vickers, the family cattle ranching company that brought the deer and elk to the island in the early 1900s. The family sold the island to the park in 1986 for $29.5 million and removed their cattle in 1998, but retained the right to run commercial elk and deer hunts as well as stay in the island’s buildings until the end of 2011. That era comes to an end this year, and the hunts have intensified since 2008 in order to gradually draw down the elk and deer populations, which Menard noted are the private property of the family.
“The former owners are working together with the National Park Service to meet requirements to eliminate the deer and elk by the end of December 31, 2011,” said Menard. “They are committed to removing as many of the remaining deer and elk as is feasible.”
Perhaps more significantly than the ecological impacts, however, is that the presence of deer and elk and the annual hunts effectively shut off 90 percent of Santa Rosa Island for visitors for five months out of the every year. And that’s a big reason as to why the park always wanted them removed. “Hunting is not authorized in national parks,” said Menard. “National parks are set aside to preserve the natural environment. The impacts of nonnative deer and elk are known to have impacts on visitors as well as on natural and cultural resources.”