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Channel Islands National Park ex-chief
hits cruelty of killing invasive species
SANTA BARBARADenouncing systematic biologic genocide
committed by the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy in Channel
Islands National Park, off the California coast, retired park superintendent
Tim J. Setnicka has affirmed almost every criticism of the cruelty of
invasive species eradication that animal advocates have issued
since the killing in the islands began circa 1970.
Setnicka published his 3,500-word confession in the March 25, 2005 edition
of the Santa Barbara News Press.
A globally recognized search-and-rescue expert, Setnicka developed his
skills during approximately 30 years of killing non-native species in
the Channel Islands. The Park Service reassigned him to other duties
before his retirement. He lives in Ojai, on the nearby mainland,
the News Press said.
Setnicka was apparently brought to catharsis after viewing a slide show
of the history of Channel Islands National Park at a celebration of the
25th anniversary of the official park opening.
A large portion of the parks history revolved around killing
one species to save another, Setnicka saw.
Efforts to eradicate non-native animals from the California coastal islands
appear to have begun on San Clemente Island, south of Channel Islands
National Park, in 1972. There the U.S. Navy shot 27,000 goats before killing
the last one in 1990.
Critical of the slow pace of the Navy extermination program, the National
Park Service and Nature Conservancy were much more aggressive in the Channel
Even before the park was established, park staff began shooting
all the abandoned mules and donkeys on San Miguel Island, Setnicka
recalled. In 1976, then-Superintendent Bill Ehorn personally finished
the eradication program by shooting the last pregnant jenny. On Santa
Barbara Island, Bill and staff quietly shot the last hare in 1979. In
the 1980s, Mac Shaver, Ehorns successor, completed the
Santa Rosa Island pig eradication program, Setnicka continued.
More than 1,200 pigs were killed, first by shotgunning from a helicopter,
then by hunting them on the ground using vehicles and dogs. Some opposition
developed, Setnicka said, mentioning the late Fund for Animals founder
Cleveland Amory, but a couple of controlled five-hour media trips
to the island to look at pig-damaged vegetation took media interest away
from the issue.
Amory in 1981 started the Black Beauty Ranch sanctuary near Tyler, Texas,
to take in about 4,000 animals evacuated from San Clemente and Santa Rosa
Islands, plus feral burros whom the National Park Service was shooting
at the Grand Canyon.
Amory evacuated animals for three years, but could not muster his
troops in time to intercede and challenge the program, Setnicka
remembered, largely because no film existed of the massacres.
We never allowed the media to film the hunting. Safety reasons were
always given as the reason for denial of their requests, Setnicka
stated. The real reason was that we wanted to avoid images of the
ugliness of the hunt.
Setnicka admitted his own role in concealing animal massacres.
Unknown to the public, in about 1998 I authorized the clandestine
intermittent killing of problem pigs [on Santa Cruz Island] by signing
a National Environmental Policy Act document called a Categorical Exclusion,
explained Setnicka. Pigs were either individually shot when no one
was around, or were trapped first, and shot or knifed in the trap. This
program probably continues, he said. But we wanted to remove
all pigs on an island-wide basis. How to do that?
Even without film, word of the killing generated upset whenever it leaked
Because of the National Park Service record of shooting mules, rabbits
and pigs, plus The Nature Conservancys program of shooting more
than 36,000 sheep on their portion of Santa Cruz Island in the 1980s,
Setinicka recounted, rumors quickly spread [in the early 1990s]
that the Park Service was going to shoot the remaining 9,000 sheep and
30 abandoned horses. If we could have gotten away with shooting all the
sheep and horses, we would have, Setnicka admitted. Opposition
quickly erased thoughts of such action. We changed plans and began trapping
About 2,500 sheep, poultry, horses, and burros were sent to the mainland
We had to fight off legislation, Setnicka recalled, which
might have allowed a Heritage Horse Herd on Santa Cruz Island.
Channel Islands killings of hooved stock have always been unpopular with
rare breed conservators. Some of the Channel Islands hooved species had
survived there since 1720, representing genetic lines that long ago vanished
from commercial agriculture. But rare breed conservators are few, and
allowing them to take some specimen animals largely quelled their criticism.
By 1999 the policy of exterminating non-native animals could also be recognized
as a threat to endangered and threatened wildlifeif anyone looked.
In the late 1980s, Setnicka wrote, seeing an island
fox was a daily occurrence, easier than seeing a pig on Santa Rosa Island.
Feasting on the carcasses of hooved animals massacred by the National
Park Service and Nature Conservancy, the fox population soared to a probably
But their numbers mysteriously declined, Setnicka recounted.
In the mid-1990s it was learned their decline was due to an influx
of golden eagles.
Setnicka did not acknowledge that the carrion-eating golden eagles were
in effect baited into proximity to the foxes by the practice of leaving
the dead hooved animals where they fell. To date, no one from either the
National Park Service or the Nature Conservancy has admitted this.
But Setnicka did admit that, To help sell the fox restoration program,
for which we had no money, we came up with the media spin that one of
the main reasons golden eagles reside on park islands was because of pigs.
This would help vilify the pigs and help support the pig removal project.
We didnt really remind folks that by 1991 we had shot all
the pigs on Santa Rosa Island, so there were no pigs for eagles to eat,
Setnicka continued. Of course the golden eagles eat pigs, but
as the carrion supply dwindled, they eat many more foxes, which
are easier for them to catch.
A successful fox plan also requires the removal of golden
eagles, Setnicka acknowledged. We proposed doing this first
by capturing them and then, if we couldnt capture them all, by shooting
them. Shooting them was not emphasized in the media spin. We anticipated
the huge amount of public heat that shooting eagles would cause. Unfortunately,
golden eagles were much smarter and more elusive than we first thought.
So the final plan was to shoot golden eagles from the ground, and with
approval, from a helicopter. As far as I know [this] never was really
tried, but who knows for sure?
The Channel Islands fox is now officially recognized as endangered.
Though ANIMAL PEOPLE repeatedly exposed the role of the hooved animal
exterminations in jeopardizing the foxes, beginning in May 1999, mainstream
media merely noted the conflict between the foxes and the eagles, who
are also a protected species. Once again the National Park Service avoided
being called to account.
public scrutiny most intensified when the Park Service tried to kill all
the rats on Anacapa Island. After conventional trapping and poisoning
at bait stations failed, Setnicka wrote, the parks chief of
natural resources management developed a plan to use a helicopter to sprinkle
poison bait all over the island.
We didnt think we would have much problem in the media with
this project. Who could love a rat? As it turned out, lots of people,
After other tactics failed to stop the indiscriminate poison distribution,
Channel Islands Animal Protection Association founder Rob Puddicome and
volunteer Robert Crawford sailed an inflatable raft to Anacapa Island
and distributed at least five pounds of Vitamin K pellets as an intended
antidote to protect the rats.
Puddicome and Channel Islands Animal Protection Association cofounder
Scarlet Newton had particularly long and strong records of activism on
behalf of wildlife of all sorts. Their criticism was not easily dismissed.
Crawford pleaded guilty, was fined $200, and was placed on probation for
two years. Puddicome demanded his day in court.
Most embarrassingly, Setnicka recalled, the prosecution made
a poor case, and [Puddi-come] was found not guilty by a Santa Barbara
The Channel Islands Animal Protection Association almost got the
rat poisoning stopped, but was too late in mobilizing, Setnicka
Nature Conservancy and National Park Service on January 27, 2005 announced
that they will jointly spend $5 million to try to kill all 2,000 pigs
remaining on Santa Cruz Island within the next 18 months. Of that amount,
$3.9 million will be paid to ProHunt New Zealand Ltd., a company which
specializes in shooting feral animals. Dead pigs are again to be left
where they drop.
The current plan calls for fencing the island into units and then
using aerial gunnery, followed by horse, dog, and ATV hunting, Setnicka
said. Once aerial shooting is complete, ground hunting begins. In
the case of Santa Cruz Island, the vast majority of the hunting will be
on foot, in thick vegetation.
I participated in 10 or so of these eradication hunts both on Santa
Rosa and Santa Cruz, Setnicka recalled. In thick vegetation,
clean kill shots are hard to make. We frequently gut-shot and wounded
pigs who escaped. When sows were shot, their piglets were caught by dogs,
or we chased them down on foot. The dogs frequently chased down and cornered
pigs. They would often mangle the smaller pigs. The larger pigs would
fight the dogs, occasionally injuring or killing one. The pigs were caught
by their hind legs and then knifed or beaten to death.
Later phases of pig hunting include widespread spraying of poison,
Setnicka continued, which kills native as well as non-native vegetation.
But killing native plants is acceptable as collateral damage to many scientists.
To clear the dead vegetation, fire will be used. Not well-known,
Setnicka confessed, is that in the 1990s a Park Service-prescribed
fire on Santa Cruz Island escaped and burned hundreds of acres. We escaped
much criticism. This occurred before the disastrous NPS Los Alamos fire
in New Mexico.
In certain areas, widespread spraying of herbicide over large areas
of the exotic fennel plant will occur at least twice, Setnicka added.
The pig extermination will take a minimum of six years to accomplish,
Setnicka forecast, and will not eradicate fennel, which will
quickly grow back.
Even though a large portion of the hunting will take place on private
and closed lands, I predict that somehow opponents will get video or photos
of the hunting activities, Setnicka said, and these activities
are very graphic and ugly. Regardless of how the NPS tries to spin this
eradication effort, images of what eradication truly means
will go to the media and the general public will go nuts.
Setnicka, Each year, as a park superintendent, playing God in your
national park gets harder and harder to do. Hiding controversial projects
from the public, minimizing and denying their adverse impacts, and then
outliving or litigating the opposition worked in the last century, but
likely wont succeed in todays society. Opposition groups are
wise to this technique, and the public is more aware of what the Park
Service is up to.
There is a solution to this dilemma, Setnicka suggested. A
Channel Islands National Park advisory board needs to be established.
Until this board is in place, the pig hunting project should temporarily
stop, along with the herbicide and burning activities.
The first goal of the advisory board, Setnicka recommended,
should be to introduce new concepts into how pigs and alien plants
can be removed, such as using injectible immunocontraceptives and
Delaying the start of hunting, poisoning and burning until establishment
of an advisory board to review and consider alternatives does not jeopardize
the removal. Rather, it will ensure its success, Setnicka finished.
Responded Puddicome, Were delighted that an insider is finally
telling the truth about the cruelty and deceit of so-called
restoration. Setnicka confirms CHIAPAs message that theres
something for everyone to hate about these projects.
Added Newton, This is a miracle. Were immensely grateful that
Mr. Setnicka had the courage to speak up. Perhaps now Congress will finally
grant our request for an investigation.
the Channel Islands Animal Protection Association c/o 805-882-2008 or