The Wild Horses of Santa Cruz Island

Whatever happened to the “Wild Horses of Santa Cruz Island?” Back in the late 1990’s, the National Park Service “relocated” a band of wild horses from one of the Channel Islands off the coast of California.  Santa Cruz Island was home to 13 wild horses that lived roughly, but in relative harmony, with feral pigs, sheep and other remnants of “junk” and “crap” that constituted an “embarrassment” left on the island by the former owner, according to the National Park Service superintendent of the five-island Channel Islands National Park at the time, a man by the name of Tim Setnicka.

Setnicka, who retired from the Park Service months after he was “abruptly removed’ from his job as superintendent in 2002, ordered “a massive roundup of the sheep by surrounding them with folks on foot rattling coffee cans filled with rocks to direct the animals toward a corral,” according to a an Associated Press news report at the time

Once captured, the sheep will be shipped to the mainland and sent to either an Oregon farm or an auction house.

The Park Service, which already has shipped off about 1,000 sheep, unsuccessfully attempted to herd them with dogs.

“Because of the steep terrain, the dogs did not have the endurance and the sheep easily turned and ran up the hill,” said maintenance supervisor Kent Bullard.

Once the sheep are removed, the Park Service will shoot the pigs, most of which are afflicted with a rabies-like disease, Setnicka says..

The Park Service planned to kill the pigs, sell the sheep at auction and “relocate” the horses in order to “restore” the island to its state before the pigs, sheep and horses made their homes there.  

Setnicka re-surfaced in 2005, publishing a “confession” in the Santa Barbara News Press of his part in the “‘systematic biologic genocide‘ committed by the National Park Service in Channel Islands Park.

In 2007, Setnicka continued his mea culpa, testifying against a federal bill affecting another Channel Island, Santa Rosa.  The bill, entitled “The Resolution to Ensure Continued Public Access to Santa Rosa Island,” was co-sponsored by U.S. Representative Barbara Boxer and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, and ultimately passed on August 4, 2006.  

An environmental litigation group, the “National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA),” had filed a lawsuit in 1998, seeking to shut down a ranching and hunting business that operated on the island by agreement with the federal government, and that would require “removal” of “non-native” elk and deer.  The NPCA employed the handy little “snowy plover,” a favorite tool of environmentalist lawyers, to make the case for purification.  The Boxer/Feinstein bill was the last nail in the coffin for the “non-native” species on the island.  

Setnicka testified against the bill, saying that implementation of the Resolution, intended to open access to the island to the general public on a year-round basis, would require the removal (killing) of “non-native” elk and deer from Santa Rosa Island, a place that Setnicka described in testimony as a “fixer-upper.”  

Since when did the National Park Service pursue a policy of “flipping” public land?

What does “native” and “non-native” really mean in this context?  How far back in time should we go?  

If we are going to kill animals motivated by love (euthanasia) and survival (by hunting them or raising them in captivity and slaughtering them for meat and skins), does it make a difference if we kill them because of a lawsuit brought by “environmentalists” with a desire to “restore” a habitat to its “natural” condition?

What happened to the horses of Santa Cruz Island?


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