Channel Island Hunting Plan Clears Hurdle

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Posted by msblucow on September 29, 2006 at 17:33:46:

By Noam N. Levey, LA Times Staff Writer
3:34 PM PDT, September 29, 2006

WASHINGTON -- A controversial plan to turn an island in the Channel Islands National Park off the Southern California coast into a game-hunting reserve for veterans cleared an important hurdle today as congressional leaders agreed to insert the plan in a defense bill.

In a striking illustration of the power of a committee chairman, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), who heads the House Armed Services Committee, put the plan into the annual defense authorization bill over the objections of the National Park Service and many others.

The $533-billion authorization bill, which is critical to the operation of the military, breezed through the House by a vote of 398 to 23 and is expected to win easy approval in the Senate before Congress recesses this weekend for the Nov. 7 elections.

Hunter's proposal to open Santa Rosa Island to hunting by disabled veterans would mark the first time public access to a national park has been curtailed for the benefit of a single group of users. It would almost certainly face a court challenge.

"It's outrageous," said Blake Selzer, legislative director of the National Park Conservation Assn., which represents park users nationwide. Selzer said the association is evaluating its legal options.

Hunter's ability to push his proposal this far vividly demonstrates how a single member of Congress can muscle a pet project through the legislative process despite widespread opposition.

Hunter, whose congressional district stretches east from San Diego, hasn't visited Santa Rosa, an 83-square-mile patch of rock and grassland about 40 miles off the Santa Barbara coast that was purchased by the federal government 20 years ago and made a part of Channel Islands National Park.

Hunter told his colleagues on the House floor last year that he came up with the idea for a military hunting range while driving up the coast with several Marines who had recently returned from Iraq. He has said his legislation was meant to give veterans, particularly paralyzed ones, somewhere to go for hunting and recreation.

At least one veterans group has said it opposes the plan. So too have the National Park Service, California's two senators and Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), whose district includes the island.

"The inclusion of this ridiculous proposal in the defense bill is a travesty," Capps said in a statement today that was echoed by the Channel Islands park superintendent.

"What's most troubling is that [the Hunter proposal] appears to be taking a national park and saying it's more important to turn it into a game park instead of saving the rich native species," said superintendent Russell Gallipeau.

The park service has been working to restore the fragile ecosystem of the island, which had been used for cattle ranching for much of the last century. Today the island is home to non-native deer and elk, which are being hunted under the terms of a court settlement but are to be removed in 2011.

The Senate did not include the plan in its version of the military authorization bill, but Hunter made sure it survived in the final version of the bill agreed to by a House-Senate conference committee.

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