Group Fights Back Protesting Proposed Eradication Of Non-native Catalina Island Deer

Photos by Nick Morrow

It’s not surprising that there has been fierce pushback to a plan to eradicate Catalina Island’s perceived invasive deer population that the Catlina Island Conservancy has deemed a necessary option. Here’s what that organization explained the damage the non-native deer are doing to the island’s ecosystem:

About the Deer:

  • Habitat destruction: The deer on Catalina Island are an introduced species and have no natural predators, which has allowed their population to grow unchecked. As a result, they have caused significant damage to the Island’s ecosystem by over-browsing, trampling, and destroying native plants and habitats.
  • Vegetation destruction: The deer on Catalina Island consume large amounts of vegetation, which leads to overgrazing and depletion of plant species. They also alter the structure and composition of plant communities by preferring to browse on native and endemic plant species over common species, which in turn affects other animals that rely on those plants for food and shelter.
  • Soil erosion: The deer on Catalina Island feed on plants that help to stabilize the soil, which can lead to increased erosion and sedimentation in streams and coastal areas. This can have negative impacts on aquatic habitats and species.
  • Threat to unique and threatened species: The deer on Catalina Island also pose a threat to several endangered plant and unique animal species—including the Catalina Island Fox, Santa Catalina Island Ground Squirrel, Santa Catalina Island Shrew and Catalina California Quail—which rely on native plants for food and habitat.

Ongoing challenges such as drought, disease, and overpopulation have impacted the long-term health of the introduced mule deer population on Catalina Island. Catalina’s deer population, which is at 8x – 10x the density of the mainland, is suffering while also devastating our fragile ecosystem as they attempt to survive.

A group calling itself the The Coalition Against the Slaughter of Catalina Deer is pushing back against the plan and released the following statement:

(CATALINA ISLAND, CA) — The Catalina Island Conservancy has announced plans to slaughter all California mule deer (about 1000) on the island, primarily by sharpshooters in helicopters, pending permit approval from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), according to the Coalition Against the Slaughter of Catalina Deer. The deer have been an integral part of the 48,000-acre island’s culture, history and economy for nearly one hundred years. 

More than half of the island’s 3,700 registered voters publicly oppose the brutal tactics and are among the 11,994 (and counting) signatories of the “Stop the Slaughter of Mule Deer on Catalina Island” petition

Among the strong concerns and facts voiced by Coalition members are “the science does not support eradication;” there has been “no meaningful, formal process of public discourse;” the “unnecessarily brutal and extreme eradication methods” it aims to use; and “the permit could give the Conservancy the unilateral right to remove any other perceived threat to grasses and plants,” as well as possibly empower it to eliminate the island’s famed bison, which are central to the island’s economy. 

Petitioners also raise concerns that the Conservancy is in legal violation of the Open Space Easement, held by the County of Los Angeles, under which it stewards its land and which provides it an exemption against paying taxes on the land. 

The Conservancy has previously made at least two failed attempts for a Depredation Permit from the CDFW to eradicate the island’s deer, in 2012 and 2016. Both were rejected for lack of scientific evidence to support its ecological impact claims and for lack of the required public transparency and input. The new request, for a Scientific Collecting Permit, aims to circumvent the rigorous process required by the CDFW to obtain a Depredation Permit, the Coalition claims. 

Despite the Conservancy’s claim to the contrary, “The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) does not support the actions that the Conservancy is proposing,” according to Dianne Stone, vice president of the Catalina Island Humane Society (CIHS), referring to a recent conversation she had with Jenny Berg, California state director for the HSUS. Stone added, “The CIHS strongly opposes the decision to kill all the deer. We believe it lacks consideration for both the science and ethics of the situation and is entirely unnecessary.” 

Robert Kröger, a Ph.D. restoration ecologist and executive director of Blood Origins, has analyzed publicly available scientific studies from Catalina Island to justify the eradication of its deer. He concludes, “the science does not support that to protect native plants, and meet recovery objectives, the number of deer — a species that have social and recreational values on the island — should be zero.”  

In 1981, when it was sued by the California Board of Equalization for not providing sufficient recreational access to its lands and in danger of losing its tax-exempt status, the Conservancy lauded its hunting program and stated in court documents, that, “Hunting is considered to be the most effective means of wildlife management.”  

“Hunting could continue to be a successful part of the Conservancy’s management strategy if they would follow the process proposed by the CDFW to increase the number of deer individual hunters can take, increase the number of qualified outfitters from one, and allow qualified islanders to run hunts, among several possible solutions,” says Charles Whitwam, founding director, HOWL for Wildlife. 

The Coalition Against the Slaughter of Catalina Deer is a diverse, grass-roots group of concerned citizens spanning island residents, business owners, animal lovers, hunters, attorneys, visitors to the island and others who oppose the brutal eradication of California mule deer on Catalina Island and support humane management by responsible hunting.