Catalina Culling Conflict

By John Vogel

Hell hath no fury like a crazy cat lady.

Catalina Island sits 26 miles off the coast of Southern California. Surrounded on all sides by crystal clear Pacific ocean, it is an incredibly popular destination for tourists, fishermen, and boaters. There is a resident bison herd of about 150, left behind after a 1930’s movie shoot, five native animal species, one Zane Grey Hotel, 4000 human residents, and 1800 deer, all shoved into 76 square miles.

The Catalina Island Conservancy, which oversees 48,000 acres of land, has reported that the isolated environment is in serious trouble, as native flora and fauna are getting absolutely decimated by the pesky and overbearing deer population. The deer were originally brought over to encourage an ideal hunting opportunity for Southern Californians in the 1930’s, but with no natural predators on the island, and California hunters dwindling, things got out of hand and the population exploded well over the 500 deer carrying capacity.

The goal is to maintain native fauna, replant the flora, and further prevent erosion caused by record rains the past year. First, they will need to begin a more aggressive deer management strategy to bring the population to an appropriate number. The Conservancy is proposing using a contractor, White Buffalo Inc, to utilize helicopters and riflemen to efficiently target and remove portions of the deer population—i.e. they are going to shoot and kill the deer. Aerial operations have proven effective in combating runaway populations of species throughout the world, including California’s Channel Islands, resulting in faster, ethical solutions.

Seems reasonable right?

Not to the local cat ladies. The Catalina Island Humane Society is the island’s only animal rescue shelter, and as of right now, only advertises cat adoption (no cats listed as of this writing), but they are raising hell. As soon as the Conservancy posted their plans to restore the island, the cat ladies declared war. A petition started making the rounds that told readers that the Conservancy planned to slaughter deer that belong to residents, whatever the hell that means. As of Monday morning there are 3500 signers of the petition and are pleading with State Fish and Wildlife (who helped plan this) to step in and “save” the deer. Irony so thick you could cut it with a knife.

Up until now, the island has had a set management plan in place in the form of 200 deer tags issued a year to members, but with the island’s capacity of 500 deer, there are about 1300 too many. With the record rains that hit the island this past year, the population is expected to boom, and planning ahead for massive drought, this won’t go well for the large population.

The Conservancy is faced with a very steep uphill battle. Not only will a group with “humane” and “society” in its title dredge up the usual army of online keyboard conservationists, but this being California, they will most likely gain the attention of every desperate politician wanting to virtue signal their way into reelection. Don’t be shocked to see an ensemble cast of Hollywood actors supporting non-science based conservation when they begin defending deer they will never see. The idea of AR-15 wielding hunters flying in on helicopters like Apocalypse Now (with or without “The Ride of the Valkyries” blaring) slaying Bambi’s mom will attract every group from PETA to Moms Against Braincells, or whatever they’re called.

The fact of the matter is, the Conservancy and Cal Fish and Wildlife have agreed on a solid plan to restore equilibrium. They understand that as stewards of the island, the habitat must be properly managed—not just for the wildlife, but for the inhabitants too. What the cat ladies are proposing is a plan made of make believe, where the deer will magically leave the island and everything will go back to normal. Culling, while not necessarily PR friendly, is a proven method of containment and control whether in South Africa, Texas, or California. In order to save the island and its native populations, the plan needs to be enacted fast, as winter storms will only prove more devastating, and next year’s drought will certainly make it worse.

Usually, we can assume that scientific-based conservation will win, but with this being California, don’t be shocked when cat ladies and public opinion dominate. This will be an interesting story to follow. 




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