The official Student News Site of Dublin High School.

The Dublin Shield

The official Student News Site of Dublin High School.

The Dublin Shield

The official Student News Site of Dublin High School.

The Dublin Shield

Deer culling proposition on Catalina Island sparks controversy

Deer culling proposition on Catalina Island sparks controversy

The Catalina Island Conservancy has proposed a radical new plan to deal with the population of invasive mule deer, which numbers just over 2000, on Catalina Island: completely eradicate it. 

Santa Catalina Island is a small island in California’s little-known Channel Islands archipelago, also known as “the Galapagos of North America.” The mule deer, which were introduced to the island in the 1920s for recreational hunting, mostly roam freely in the hard-to-access interior portion of the island, making intervention difficult. However, despite this obstacle, the Conservancy has decided that they cannot wait any longer.

 “Catalina’s deer population, which is at 8x – 10x the density of the mainland, is suffering while also devastating our fragile ecosystem,” stated the Conservancy.

Part of the problem is the lack of large predators, such as coyotes, wolves, and cougars, that maintain deer population levels on the mainland. Another problem is the ineffectiveness of the island’s hunting program, which restricts deer kills to 200 per year. Thus, the Conservancy plans to hire hunters to shoot the deer down from helicopters, fulfilling their predators’ ecological niche and compensating for the shortcomings of the hunting program.

Most importantly, the unchecked growth of the Catalina mule deer population has serious ecological implications. Since mule deer are not picky eaters, and have been recorded eating as many as 780 different species of plants, including trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers, the dense deer population overgrazes the island. This overgrazing causes the deer population to increase and the amount of vegetation to decrease,  posing a problem for the balance of the island’s ecosystem.

However, this is not the first time that Catalina Island has faced the problem of invasive species. Previously, when the feral goat population got to similar levels, a mass culling plan was enacted, an initiative that ultimately saw success as the goat population is now noticeably absent from the island. The Catalina Island Conservancy, which owns and manages most of the island, hopes to find similar success with its new plan. 

However, the Conservancy’s plan has been met with widespread backlash from residents and animal welfare groups alike.“Where is the dignity in slaughtering these innocent animals which are beloved by so many?” wrote Dianne Stone, a spokesperson for the Catalina Island Humane Society.

Instead of eliminating the deer population entirely, the Catalina Island Humane Society is taking inspiration from a different plan that worked for another invasive species in the past: the bison. Specifically, the society favors a different approach using a contraceptive method called porcine zona pellucida, or PZP. This vaccine creates antibodies that stick to the membrane around eggs and thus prevent fertilization, a method credited for the reduction of the Catalina buffalo population from 400 to 100 in the past 30 years.

The residents have not been idle in making their voices heard, either. They have petitioned the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), stating, “There are several areas of concern that we, as citizens of the State of California, urge the CDFW to consider sufficient to deny the current application by the Catalina Island Conservancy to slaughter the deer.”

Though the island’s population only numbers about 4,000 people, the petition already has over 3,500 signatures. It remains to be seen who will prevail in this battle for the fate of the mule deer.

About the Contributor
Sophia Henningsen, Quarterly Columnist
Sophia Henningsen is a current sophomore at Dublin High School. She enjoys competitive math and physics. In her free time she likes to read and play piano.