Plan to use helicopter sharpshooters to take out deer on Catalina Island sparks protests

The Catalina Island Conservancy says its deer-hunting plan is necessary to replenish the native vegetation on the island.

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Thursday, November 2, 2023
Deer-hunting plan on Catalina Island facing criticism
The Catalina Island Conservancy says its deer-hunting plan is necessary to replenish the native vegetation on the island. However, as one might expect, the plan is facing criticism.

CATALINA ISLAND, Calif. (KABC) -- The Catalina Island Conservancy says there are about 2,000 deer on the island, and part of its restoration plan to replenish the native vegetation includes removing the animals.

However, the plan, as one might expect, is facing criticism.

Deer on the island

The conservancy said the deer on Catalina Island are an introduced species and have no natural predators, which has allowed their population to grow unchecked.

They also eat large amounts of vegetation, which officials say leads to overgrazing, depletion of plant species, erosion, and could possibly pose a threat to several endangered plants.

The conservancy is asking the California Department of Fish and Wildlife if it can hire a company and use their sharpshooters to shoot the deer from a helicopter. The deer removal method would take a few years to complete, according to officials.

You can learn more about the restoration project's deer removal plan here.

"Nobody, especially me, I don't want to kill animals, but at the end of the day, you have so many things that are suffering," said Catalina Island Conservancy Senior Director of Conservation Dr. Lauren Dennhardt. "You can't ship them off the island. You can't administer birth control to solitary animals on a rugged island. What we're trying to do here is make a safe, resilient island so that our unique wildlife and plant species can thrive and make sure the deer stop suffering."

According to Dennhardt, what the deer don't eat are grasses that are pretty flammable.

Catalina Island hasn't fully recovered from a 2007 wildfire burned nearly 5,000 acres. The town of Avalon, however, survived. The conservancy is producing seed to replenish what was burned in the fire and to replenish what the deer have eaten.

Dennhardt showed Eyewitness News an enclosed area that's been allowed to grow naturally without any threats from deer. Allowing that vegetation to spread throughout island will help reduce wildfire threats, Dennhardt said.

"Fire is a natural part of these ecosystem, but when you don't have this and you have deer present, what you have is a lot more of this invasive annual grasses," she said. "These cause much more frequent fires versus this. You can intuitively see this. If I were to take a lighter and put it to this, this would start on fire immediately."

Catalina Island Conservancy Senior Director of Conservation Dr. Lauren Dennhardt shows dry grass on Catalina Island.

"Not a necessary step"

The deer removal plan is facing strong criticism from animal activists and some residents. Protests have been held and an online petition titled "Stop the Slaughter of Mule Deer on Catalina Island" has already garnered more than 12,000 signatures.

"I understand their restoration plan, and we applaud what the conservancy is doing, but we do not feel that removing every single deer from this island ... they've been here for a hundred years. We do not see that as a necessary step to take," said Dianne Stone with the Catalina Island Humane Society.

While the permit process continues, the Humane Society and some locals are hoping they can work with the conservancy to come up with a different way to lower the deer population on the island.