by Brian McCombie - Monday, November 6, 2023
California’s Catalina Island Conservancy (CIC) recently announced a controversial plan to kill off hundreds of overpopulated Catalina Island mule deer next fall using helicopter-borne sharpshooters. The plan also calls for leaving the carcasses where the animals drop.
Located about 29 miles southwest of Long Beach, Calif., the rocky Catalina Island is home to an estimated 2,000 mule deer that the CIC says exceed carrying capacity. The CIC, a private land conservation organization, oversees 88 percent of Catalina Island’s landmass, or approximately 48,000 acres. While many residents want the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to intervene, the Los Angeles Times article says the state wildlife agency is “supportive of the habitat restoration project,” which entails hiring sharpshooters to eradicate as many deer as possible.
According to its website, the CIC’s mission is “to be an exemplary steward of Island resources through a balance of conservation, education and recreation. The Conservancy’s vision is for a beautifully functioning Island ecosystem for all to enjoy.”
That functioning ecosystem, it argues, is threatened by the hungry mule deer that are overgrazing habitat and are themselves, in many cases, starving. A conservancy spokesperson told FOX News the island is at “a tipping point” where any further environmental damage may not be reversible.
The mule deer are actually not native to the island, having been introduced from the California mainland in the 1930s. As such they are legally considered an invasive species and have no predators.
Native or not, the plan to deal with the deer has angered many people on and off Catalina Island. According to FOX News when it first reported on the controversy, “4,800 people signed a petition, ‘Stop the Slaughter of Mule Deer on Catalina Island’ … It aims to let state officials ‘know that the humane treatment of the mule deer on Catalina is essential.’" The number of signatures is now approaching 12,000.
The Conservancy does allow deer hunting on Catalina Island, and the Times article noted that about 200 mule deer are taken annually.
But with an examination of the conservancy’s hunting regulations, one has to wonder if it has put up barriers to hunting and, in the process, got in its own way of managing the mule deer population.
It is true, as a conservancy spokesperson told the media, that Catalina Island allows deer hunting over quite an extended time period, starting in mid-July and ending in late December. Depending on the hunting area, hunters can use bows, crossbows and rifles. There is also a hunting service offering guided deer hunts. Per California hunting regulations, firearm hunters must use non-lead ammunition.
According to Conservancy hunt regulations, anyone who wants to hunt the Island must first be a conservancy member at the “Explorer” level or above. A one-year Explorer membership costs $65. Not only must a hunter hold a valid California deer hunting license but he or she must have firearms liability insurance with minimum coverage of $500,000.
In addition, Catalina Island residents must hold a Public Lands Management (PLM) tag, which requires a $100 deposit. A pair of resident PLM tags runs $300 with $200 of that acting as a refundable deposit. For nonresident hunters, a single PLM tag requires $200 upfront with $100 of that acting as a deposit. For two PLM tags, the fee is $400, with half of that held as a deposit.
There is also a fee to use a vehicle and/or camper on Catalina Island, which is $45 per day per vehicle or camper. An Annual Permit Fee for using a car or truck on the island runs $428, while an Annual Fee for a Trailer or Camper is another $257.
This writer contacted the conservancy via its webpage, informing it of the forthcoming article for the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum website and asking if it would answer questions about the island and its mule deer hunt. Among those questions: Did the Conservancy first try to boost deer hunter numbers as the mule deer population climbed? If so, how was that attempted?
The conservancy’s senior manager of communications responded the same day via email. She asked me to email her my questions, adding, “I'll ensure you receive a response from the correct person.”
My questions were emailed promptly, but after five days with no response, and with me having emailed again on day No. 3, I was facing my deadline and wrote this story.
The conservancy’s hunting rules and regulations suggest that while Catalina Island’s hunting season technically may be long, the financial burden to actually hunt there is likely a real barrier to hunter recruitment and to benefitting from using hunting as a vital wildlife management tool. One has to wonder if more deer hunters and hunting could have kept the deer herd in check and avoided such a drastic response as helicopters and sharpshooters.
For example, a nonresident who wants to hunt a couple deer on Catalina Island over the course of three days and plans to bring a camper has to pay $270 for vehicle and camper permits ($45 per day for each); $400 upfront for the two PLM hunting tags; and $65 for a Conservancy membership. That’s more than $700—and doesn’t include whatever it costs to purchase a half-million-dollar firearm liability policy.
Maybe the lesson, once again, is that when you restrict regulated, conservation-based hunting you end up with extreme and unpopular ideas—like gunning down hundreds of deer from above and leaving their carcasses to rot on an otherwise beautiful countryside.
About the Author
Brian McCombie is a field editor for the NRA’s American Hunter and writes about firearms and gear for the NRA’s Shooting Illustrated. He is a member of the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Brian enjoys hunting hogs, shooting 1911s, watching the Chicago Bears and relaxing with his two cats, Peanut Morgan and MikaBear.
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