Island's pig problem pits animal-rights activists againstconservationists

 

An animal rights group is trying to stop the killing of thousands of feral pigs on Southern California’s Santa Cruz Island. But the National Park Service says the hunt, which started in April, is necessary to put an end to the pigs’ destruction of native plants and animals.

Channel Islands National Park occupies the eastern quarter of the 96-square-mile island, and The Nature Conservancy manages the west side, but the pigs, about 4,000 strong, inhabit both parts. So the national park and The Nature Conservancy have gone in together to hire a New Zealand company to shoot the pigs. For Prohunt, the terms are all or nothing: The hunting firm will be paid $3.9 million only if the entire pig population is eliminated by 2007.

"The need to eradicate the pigs has been clear for a long period of time," says Kate Faulkner, chief of natural resources at the national park. Ranchers first brought pigs to the island in the mid-1800s. Ever since, their rooting has eroded the soil, destroyed endemic plants, and damaged archaeological sites. Feral piglets have also indirectly reduced the endangered Santa Cruz Island fox population, Faulkner says, by attracting golden eagles, which prey on both species.

Animal rights activists, including the national group In Defense of Animals, filed suit to stop the hunt in July. A federal judge ruled against them, and they are now appealing the case.

Elliot Katz, president of In Defense of Animals, says the park should use chemical contraception and sterilization to control the population instead. But Faulkner says, "Trying to control pig numbers doesn’t do much for the protection of resources, because the pigs respond by reproducing."