Puddicome v.s. National Park Service
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2003–
SANTA BARBARA, Calif.– To the National Park Service, Santa
Barbara bus driver and Channel Islands Animal Protection Association
founder Rob Puddicombe, 52, is an eco-terrorist. Puddicome is
expected to go to trial soon for allegedly illegally feeding wildlife
and interfering with the functions of a federal agency. If
convicted, he faces up to one year in prison.
Puddicome, according to the Park Service, sailed an 11-foot
inflatable boat to Anacapa Island in October 2001 with Robert
Crawford, 40, of Goleta, and distributed at least five pounds of
Vitamin K pellets as an intended antidote to the poison the Park
Service dumped from helicopters repeatedly during 2002 to kill black
Crawford pleaded guilty, paid a fine of $200, and was
placed on probation for two years.
Puddicome wants his day in court–and one of the points he
hopes to make in court is that the National Park Service action, not
his own, is the act of eco-terrorism.
His view is endorsed by the Santa Barbara Surfrider
Foundation and the Fund for Animals.
Puddicome has credentials as an environmentalist going back
to his days as an Eagle Scout. His appreciation of nature increased
while working as a diver on offshore oil platforms in the North Sea
and the Gulf of Mexico. He arrived in Santa Barbara to become an
abalone diver, but found a different avocation as a seabird
rehabilitator and advocate for the designation of a proposed “Gaviota
Coast National Seashore.”
He is also known as a keen observer of the regional ecology.
Just a few weeks after Puddicombe was charged for trying to save the
rats of Anacapa Island, he and fellow activist Scarlet Newton were
first to recognize a seabird kill in progress for which the
California Department of Fish and Game had no explanation. Puddicome
and Newton found a pelican, two grebes, two cormorants, and a
western gull in the same area where a fish kill two weeks earlier was
attributed to oxygen depletion of the water caused by rotting kelp.
The Park Service rat poisoning was only one of many
exterminations undertaken in the Channel Islands during a effort of
more than 30 years so far to restore the habitat to pre-Columbian
conditions. Horses, pigs, goats, sheep, and even golden eagles
have previously been killed or otherwise removed.
Rescuing some of the animals slated for massacre was among
the first activities of the Fund for Animals, and led to the
acquisition of the Fund’s Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, as a new
habitat for the rescuees. More recently, In Defense of Animals
removed goats from one of the islands to keep the Park Service from
But for every animal taken off the islands alive, dozens
have been poisoned or shot. Pig-shooting, still underway on Santa
Catalina and Santa Cruz Islands, is expected to continue for another
five to seven years.
“How far do they want to go back? To the Chumash? The
pre-Chumash? The Cretaceous era?” Puddicome rhetorically asked David
Kelly of the Los Angeles Times in December 2002, pointing out that
the ecology of the Channel Islands has been in flux for as long as
they have existed, with many changes over the years as result of new
species drifting over from the mainland.
“I want to save them all”
“I want to save the rats, and I want to save the Xantus
murrelet and the Anacapa deer mouse too. I want to save them all,”
Puddicome later explained to Washington Post staff writer William
Booth, citing the species that the rats are accused of harming
through egg theft and predation. Xantus murrelets only started to
breed on Anacapa after the rats were poisoned, but the poisoning
also killed deer mice.
The golden eagles, however, perhaps best exemplify how the
effort to “restore” the Channel Islands ecology is upsetting the
ecological balance. When the massacres of “non-native” wildlife
began, the regional population of native bald eagles and turkey
vultures was markedly down due to the effects of DDT. Golden eagles
meanwhile found and scavenged the remains of the animals killed and
left to rot by the Park Service gunners. The “native” Channel Island
foxes also thrived on the carrion. When the carrion ran out,
however, the fox population crashed–and the golden eagles turned to
Therefore, since 1999 the Park Service has been trapping and
removing golden eagles, while trying to increase the numbers of
foxes through captive breeding.