The National Park Service purchased Santa Rosa Island from the Vail & Vickers cattle ranching company in 1986, but that didn’t automatically make it accessible to the public. One issue is location: As part of the Channel Islands located 100 miles from Los Angeles, California, Santa Rosa isn’t exactly on the beaten path. But even after the purchase, Vail & Vickers’ deer and elk hunts made 90 percent of the island off-limits to the public for up to five months a year. Even scientists were prevented from conducting research there during hunting season.
Not only that, but the NPS was issuing special use permits allowing Vail & Vickers to continue grazing 6,500 cattle, which were fouling waterways and destroying habitat used by native wildlife. In response, NPCA filed a lawsuit maintaining that the ranching and hunting operations were harming water quality (in violation of the Clean Water Act) and threatening endangered species (in violation of the Endangered Species Act). The suit’s 1998 settlement called for the end of grazing and hunting, but it wasn’t until 2011 that the last non-native deer and elk were removed from the island.
The removal of those non-native species is a major step towards restoring ecological health to the Channel Islands. Already, Santa Rosa’s oaks and riparian areas have begun to rebound, and other species are expected to regenerate as well: Known as North America’s Galapagos, the Channel Islands and their surrounding waters provide habitat for more than 2,000 species of plants and animals, including 150 endemic species uniquely adapted to their island ecosystems and found nowhere else in the world. This year’s victory allows for the full natural diversity of plants and wildlife to flourish, and at long last provide the public with unhindered access to this beautifully isolated place.
- Learn more about the accomplishments of NPCA's Pacific Regional Office
- Learn more about Channel Islands National Park