Senator Feinstein Urges Committee Support for Measure to Restore Full Public Access to Santa Rosa Island
May 15 2007
Washington, DC - At a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks today, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) urged support for a measure she and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced earlier this year to restore full public access to Santa Rosa Island. The island is part of the Channel Islands National Park, located off the coast of Santa Barbara, California.
Specifically, the bill offered by Senators Feinstein and Boxer would repeal a provision sponsored last year by Representative Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) that could limit public access to Santa Rosa Island. The provision was included in the FY 2007 Defense Authorization bill.
Currently, privately-organized expeditions to hunt non-native deer and elk require the closure of about 90 percent of the island to the general public for about four to five months each year. Representative Hunter’s measure also would complicate the National Park Service’s efforts to carry out a court-approved settlement to remove the non-native deer and elk from Santa Rosa Island by 2011. According to the National Park Service, the private hunting of the deer and elk herds pose a threat to the island’s 11 endangered species, including the bald eagle, rare plants, and native birds and fox.
The Feinstein-Boxer legislation would reaffirm that Santa Rosa Island is to be managed under existing authorities for the National Park Service.
The following is the prepared text of Senator Feinstein’s testimony before the Subcommittee today:
“Chairman Akaka, Senator Thomas (Ranking Member), and Members of the Subcommittee – Let me thank you for the opportunity to testify before you on S. 1209, the ‘Channel Islands National Park Management Act.’
My cosponsor Senator Boxer sends her strong support for the bill and her regrets that she can’t be here due to her responsibilities for managing the WRDA legislation on the floor.
This legislation protects the spectacular, rugged, and truly unique habitat of Santa Rosa Island for the enjoyment of the public by clarifying the future use and management of the Park.
For those who may not know, Santa Rosa Island is approximately 53,000 acres and lies 50 miles west of Ventura Harbor. It is the second largest of the five islands making up the Channel Islands National Park.
It is unspoiled and ecologically sensitive with terrain ranging from grassy hills to steep, wind-carved canyons to white sandy beaches.
In 1986, the taxpayers paid the Vail and Vickers Company approximately $30 million to acquire Santa Rosa Island in order to restore its native ecology and provide public access.
Later, in 1997, a court-approved settlement agreement stipulated that Vail and Vickers had to remove the non-native deer and elk herds from Santa Rosa by 2011.
This is because from mid-August through mid-November, about 90 percent of the island is closed to the public so that trophy hunts targeting non-native deer and elk can take place.
I believe the continued limitation of public access to the island would be a mistake. This is the public’s land. It’s a national park, and the public should be able to visit it and enjoy its breath-taking beauty and remoteness year round. That is why we introduced this legislation -- to clarify that the settlement agreement restoring full public access to the island by 2011 can be implemented without ambiguity or complication.
Late last year, Congressman Hunter added a provision to the FY07 Defense Authorization bill that states the following:
The Secretary of the Interior shall immediately cease the plan, approved in the settlement agreement for case number 96-7412 WJR and case number 97-4098 WJR, to exterminate the deer and elk on Santa Rosa Island, Channel Islands, by helicopter and shall not exterminate or nearly exterminate the deer and elk.
The goal of my legislation is simply to repeal this provision -- no more and no less.
Let me clarify some misconceptions about my bill. First of all, the National Rifle Association and a number of other groups have contended that the bill would seek to end hunting on Santa Rosa Island by 2011, hunting that would otherwise continue.
This is incorrect. The court-approved settlement agreement requires the hunting to end by 2011, and the Duncan Hunter provision that I just read does nothing to alter this end date for the hunting. This is not just my view – this is the interpretation of National Park Service Director Mary Bomar in an April 2007 letter to Congressman Capps, which I ask be included in the record.
Instead of altering the 2011 end date for hunting on the island, Congressman Hunter’s provision addresses the question of how the existing deer and elk on the island are to be removed.
These animals are the ‘private personal property’ of the Vail and Vickers Company, and it is up to the company to remove them from Santa Rosa Island per the settlement agreement.
The National Park Service has made it clear that no plan for the ‘extermination’ of the deer and elk has been presented to them or internally generated.
And while the Settlement Agreement seems to suggest that the Park Service might help in sharing ‘unusual costs’ related to the removal, the provision in last year’s Defense Authorization bill may well prevent the Park Service from assisting in this process.
I have been informed by the National Park Service that should the Vail and Vickers Company request their assistance to remove the animals, they would be willing to provide guidance on removing the herds, including potential non-lethal options of transporting the deer and elk off the island. For my part, I stand ready to work with the National Park Service on this issue if its assistance is requested.
The settlement agreement declares the deer and elk to be the private property of Vail and Vickers and says the method of removal must be decided by the owners.
Thus, contrary to the suggestion of opponents of the bill, there is nothing in this legislation requiring the mass culling of the non-native deer and elk population on the island.
Originally Congressman Hunter said the goal of his language was to provide enhanced hunting opportunities for disabled Veterans.
While we all support providing hunting opportunities for our Veterans, it is clear that it is neither a practical nor viable option to use Santa Rosa Island as a hunting reserve for injured and disabled veterans.
This is not just my view, but also the view of the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
In July 2006, following an investigative visit to Santa Rosa, the Paralyzed Veterans of America reached the conclusion that the ‘numerous obstacles inherent to the island, including ingress and egress, logistics, personal safety and cost, far outweigh the possible, limited benefit it could provide.’
Additionally, I want to make clear that I fully support the settlement agreement. Nothing in this bill would prevent hunting on the island from continuing through 2011, as it is allowed to in the settlement agreement.
In conclusion, I strongly believe that the Park Service should continue managing this National Park for the benefit of the general public. This legislation would safeguard Santa Rosa Island in just this manner. To allow any less would be a waste of taxpayer dollars and wrongly limit the public’s access to this national treasure.
I thank the Committee and ask for your support for this bill.”