CATALINA ISLAND, Calif. (KABC) — The Catalina Island Conservancy says there are about 2,000 deer on the island, and part of its recovery plan to replenish native vegetation includes removing the animals.
However, as expected, the plan has met with criticism.
Deer on the island
The nature reserve said Deer on Catalina Island are an introduced species and have no natural enemies, which has allowed their population to grow unhindered.
They also eat large amounts of vegetation, which authorities say leads to overgrazing, plant species impoverishment and erosion and could potentially pose a threat to several endangered plants.
The preserve is asking the California Department of Fish and Wildlife if it can hire a company and use their snipers to shoot the deer from a helicopter. Officials say removing the deer would take several years.
Learn more about the restoration The project’s deer removal plan can be found here.
“Nobody, especially me, I don’t want to kill animals, but at the end of the day there are so many things that suffer,” Dr. Lauren Dennhardt, senior director of conservancy at Catalina Island Conservancy. “You can’t ship them off the island. You can’t give birth control to lonely animals on a rugged island. What we are trying to do here is create a safe, resilient island so that our unique wildlife and plant species can thrive and ensure that deer no longer suffer.”
What the deer don’t eat, according to Dennhardt, are grasses, which are quite flammable.
Catalina Island has not yet fully recovered from a 2007 wildfire that burned nearly 5,000 acres of land. However, the city of Avalon survived. The preserve produces seeds to replenish what was burned in the fire and what the deer ate.
Dennhardt showed Eyewitness News an enclosed area that was allowed to grow naturally without the threat of deer. Spreading vegetation across the island will help reduce the risk of wildfires, Dennhardt said.
“Fire is a natural part of this ecosystem, but when that doesn’t exist and deer are present, there are a lot more of these invasive annual grasses,” she said. “These cause fires at a much higher rate compared to this one. You can see this intuitively. If I took a lighter and stuck it on it, it would burn immediately.”
“Not a necessary step”
The deer removal plan has drawn strong criticism from animal rights activists and some residents. There were protests and one Online petition The campaign, titled “Stop the Slaughter of Mule Deer on Catalina Island,” has already garnered more than 12,000 signatures.
“I understand their recovery plan and we applaud what the conservancy is doing, but we don’t believe that removing every single deer from this island…they’ve been here for a hundred years. We don’t see it as necessary.” “It’s an important step,” said Dianne Stone of the Catalina Island Humane Society.
While the permitting process is ongoing, the Humane Society and some locals hope to work with the preserve to find another way to reduce the island’s deer population.