Plan to Turn Island Over to Military on Hold
By Erica Werner, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, temporarily abandoned a plan to give the military recreational use of an island off California, after senators warned him on December 16 that the provision could trip up a major defense bill.
Instead, Hunter, R-Calif., agreed to pursue the idea as stand-alone legislation after Congress reconvenes this month.
Santa Rosa Island, 40 miles off Santa Barbara, is the second-largest of the five islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park. It is accessible to the public by boat and draws about 5,500 visitors a year.
Hunter wants to turn the 53,000-acre island into a hunting destination for disabled veterans and others. His proposal would allow the hunting of nonnative elk and deer on the island to continue indefinitely, even though a court-ordered settlement calls for it to end in 2011.
Opponents to Hunter's proposal say the animals are harming the island's environment, and also were concerned that his plan would amount to putting the island under military control and keeping the public out.
Several senators were opp-osed, including California Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
"I will be following this matter closely because I believe that the nature of the land and its ruggedness makes it very difficult to be used for the purposes that the congressman intended," Feinstein said. "The people of California should continue to have access to this land."
Hunter's proposal, if passed, "could have restricted access
to this land and ostensibly turned it into a private reserve for members of the armed services and veterans," Feinstein said.
National Park Service officials also oppose Hunter's plan.
The Vail family that owns the hunting concession - and that owned the island itself before selling it to the federal government for $30 million in 1986 - had not been consulted, acc-ording to a family spokeswoman.
"Our idea is instead of slau-ghtering and exterminating the elk and deer down to the last fawn, you allow the herd to remain in a healthy state and you allow paralyzed veterans to hunt there for free," Hunter said.