Local conservancy seeks options to control burgeoning number of deer roaming around Catalina Island.
CATALINA ISLAND — Deer, like sea lions, are affectionately viewed as adorably cute mammals by a large contingency of humans. The human co-existence with deer, much like our relationship with the sea lion, can be tenuous at times. Such tensions between humans and deer appear to be unfolding on Catalina Island, where the local bovid population has reportedly experienced a dramatic rise in numbers.
Catalina Island Conservancy, which manages the island’s open spaces, recently broached the topic of the growing deer population on California’s most populous rock. The situation has reached a point where the Conservancy, according to its CEO, could consider implementing a form of population control segments of humans are certain to find appalling or cringe-worthy: deer hunting.
The island’s current deer population is almost five times what is sustainable, Catalina Conservancy CEO Tony Budrovich told council members at their June 19 City Council meeting.
Avalon city staff stated the management of Catalina’s deer population would, at least for now, be the responsibility of the Conservancy and City Hall.
“The deer on the island are at a higher level then we think is sustainable,” Budrovich told council members. “We’ve worked with a variety of people in the scientific community and they have established that the island would probably very easily carry 500 deer. That seems like the right number for 48,000 acres. We’re probably in excess of 2,300 deer on the island.
“There is a lot more munching going on than we think is sustainable for the plants and animals of the island,” Budrovich continued, adding he has met with California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife in search of a solution.
DFW staff apparently made three recommendations to Budrovich: the department remains hands off and local property owners bear the responsibilities of wildlife; increase hunting takes; or, birth control.
Budrovich stated the mandated hunting of deer isn’t necessarily a sustainable program, and birth control programs are complicated and difficult to execute. Approaching the management of deer as a property interest, meanwhile, could well be a financial burden to the Conservancy but, as of right now, probably the most sensible solution.
Allowing hunters to track down deer for sport – assuming deer hunting becomes the adopted strategy – has parallels to the possible implementation of a proposed population control strategy in the Pacific Northwest. The growing number of California sea lions near Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam, according to Oregon and Washington wildlife managers, are preying on endangered salmon species in the area.
An act of Congress is literally in the works to protect the endangered salmon from pinniped predation. Federal legislators are currently reviewing a proposal, which was recently introduced in the House of Representatives, to allow the limited killing of sea lions as a means to protect salmon runs in a stretch of Columbia River about 40 miles east of Portland, Oregon.
The proposal reportedly advanced out of the lower legislative branch; a companion bill is also on the Senate floor. A news report on the recent House vote stated conservation efforts helped restore the California sea lion population to about 300,000; the large concentration of pinnipeds now poses a threat to steelhead salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Federal officials would be granted a limited number of kill permits in an effort to manage the California sea lion population and protect the region’s salmon.
Whether a similar act of Congress is required to manage the deer population on Catalina Island remains unclear, but the Conservancy certainly wants to get ahead of the issue.
“We’re open to other options,” Budrovich said. “We’re looking at the long-term fix. There’s no immediate fix.”
Budrovich added management of deer populations is not just a Catalina Island issue; mountain communities across the country are dealing with a proliferation of deer, and Budrovich said it’s definitely a problem.
The optics of managing deer is also an issue to factor into discussions of population management.
“There’s … that balance of people who just love the look of a deer compared to the people who just want to worry about the conservation side of it. When it gets passed healthy that’s when the Conservancy feels it’s necessary to do something,” Budrovich said.