Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pentagon may capture Santa Rosa Island park rights

Pentagon may capture Santa Rosa Island park rights
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Southern California would become a recreation enclave for the military under a proposal for a pending defense bill.

The measure was being circulated by Republican aides for the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, according to Democratic congressional aides who made it public Friday.

Hunter proposed a similar measure in May only to drop it amid objections from Democrats and environmentalists. His committee spokesman, Josh Holly, declined comment Friday.

'This is a bad idea and that's why it's being pushed in secret negotiations behind closed doors and out of public view,' said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., whose district includes the 53,000-acre island off Santa Barbara.

'All Americans should have access to the Channel Islands National Park, not just top military brass, members of Congress and folks who can pay thousands of dollars to go on private hunting trips,' Capps said.

The issue has become part of the negotiations on a wide-ranging defense bill that many lawmakers want to use to outlaw cruel or inhumane treatment of terrorism-related detainees. Congressional leaders hope to get final votes on that bill in the House and Senate next week and send it to President George W. Bush.

The measure would require the secretary of defense to develop a plan to establish and operate a 'morale, welfare and recreation operation' on Santa Rosa Island for members

of the armed forces, dependents, veterans, guests and others. The island also would be available for use as a training area for special-operations forces.

The plan must be submitted to the Interior Department and defense committees in Congress by May 30, 2006. The proposal envisions the Pentagon taking over the island from the National Park Service before 2009.

Critics contend that the measure does not provide for continued public access to the island, its rare plants and diverse landscape.

Opponents also are concerned that the measure would allow a commercial deer and elk hunting operation now on Santa Rosa Island to continue indefinitely. Under a lease agreement, the family that runs the hunting operation must end it and remove the game from the island by 2011.

'It is our belief that what's likely going on here is that the aim of this whole proposal is to allow this operation to continue,' said Ron Sundergill, director of the National Parks Conservation Association's Pacific region."

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