Channel Islands National Park ex-chief hits cruelty of killing “invasive species”
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2005:
SANTA BARBARA–Denouncing “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
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 park’s 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 Islands.
“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,” Ehorn’s
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
“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 out.
“Because of the National Park Service record of shooting
mules, rabbits and pigs, plus The Nature Conservancy’s 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 and transporting.”
About 2,500 sheep, poultry, horses, and burros were sent
to the mainland by 1997.
“We had to fight off legislation,” Setnicka recalled,
“which might have allowed a Heritage Horse Herd on Santa Cruz Island.”
The 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 wildlife
–if anyone looked.
“In the late 1980s,” Setnicka wrote, “seeing an island fox
was a daily occurrence, easier than seeing a pig on Santa Rosa
Feasting on the carcasses of hooved animals massacred by the
National Park Service and Nature Conservancy, the fox population
soared to a probably all-time high.
“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
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 didn’t 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 couldn’t 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.
Rats rally opposition
Ironically, 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 park’s chief of natural resources management
developed a plan to use a helicopter to sprinkle poison bait all over
“We didn’t think we would have much problem in the media with
this project. Who could love a rat? As it turned out, lots of
people,” Setnicka learned.
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
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 [Puddicome] was found not guilty by a Santa
Barbara U.S. magistrate.
“The Channel Islands Animal Protection Association almost got
the rat poisoning stopped, but was too late in mobilizing,”
The 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,”
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.”
Seek new concepts
Concluded 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 won’t succeed in
today’s 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
“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 chemosterilants.
“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, “We’re delighted that an insider is
finally telling the truth about the cruelty and deceit of so-called
restoration. Setnicka confirms CHIAPA’s message that there’s
something for everyone to hate about these projects.”
Added Newton, “This is a miracle. We’re immensely grateful
that Mr. Setnicka had the courage to speak up. Perhaps now Congress
will finally grant our request for an investigation.”
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