Updated: Nov 1
The island faces backlash after a bill was introduced to hunt and kill every mule deer on the island by helicopter.
Catalina Island is a tourist’s dream tropical vacation destination. Just off the coast of southern California, the island is home to beautiful beaches, warm weather, and stunning mountains for adventurers to conquer. The tiny city of Avalon hosts over one million tourists a year (Love, Catalina Island, 2023) who come from all over the world to experience all of the beauty that the island has to offer. Besides the tourists, the island is also home to several incredible species, including the San Catalina island fox and American Bison. However, the island’s increasing mule deer population is decimating the local plant life and vegetation on the island, posing a risk to the natural ecosystem. According to a report by The Los Angeles Times, the island’s nature conservancy, The Catalina Conservancy, has proposed a bill to eradicate every deer on the island by hiring sharpshooters to kill them all from helicopters using AR-15s through the company, White Buffalo. The residents of Catalina Island are protesting this proposal, even signing a petition that has over 10,000 signatures, 2,300 of them being Catalina residents, which is over half of the island’s population.
What is the Situation with the Mule Deer?
According to the Los Angeles Times, the mule deer were introduced to the island in the 1930s for commercial hunting purposes. Unfortunately, there are no natural predators on the island so they have been able to reproduce rapidly, with numbers rising near the 2000s. Because the population has gotten out of control, the deer have decimated the natural vegetation on the island. The Catalina Conservancy hopes that eradicating the deer can save the island’s natural habitat. The Conservancy proposed the bill to the California Fish and Wildlife, but residents of Catalina are trying to stop the bill—residents such as Leslie Dinkle and Dianne Stone are fighting to save the deer.
Opposing the Slaughter
Dinkle is a part of the Coalition Against the Slaughter of Catalina Deer: a large team protesting the island deer eradication. They believe that the strategy taken by the Catalina Conservancy is “extreme and unhinged” as well as dangerous to the residents. Dinkle references past efforts that eliminated the pigs on the island over 20 years ago. In 2003, a phone call to the Avalon police department was made by a Boy Scouts leader: “Hey, I got people shooting from helicopters and a hundred Boy Scouts down here. What do I do?” Dinkle refers to this to emphasize her belief that this strategy is unsafe. The Coalition states that “The Conservancy’s decision to slaughter every deer on the Island without any legitimate community engagement is being imposed by edict on a community still traumatized by the Conservancy’s last sloppy slaughter.”
Dianne Stone from the Catalina Humane Society is also against hunting the
deer. “This is our backyard,” she says, with concerns about the safety of the animals as well as the residents. “We are not against hunting … it’s why the deer are here in the first place.” This is a common theme among the residents of Catalina, many residents hope that the conservancy can find another, less extreme solution to the situation.
The Residents Speak Up
The residents of Catalina have come together to support the efforts of the coalition. On October 17th, 2023, over 200 people protested the bill. They then showed up to a town hall meeting to discuss their concerns. After the town hall, Leslie Dinkle made a statement to the city council. She wrote, “Given that more
than half of island residents are opposed to the Conservancy’s plan, you simply cannot permit any Conservancy attempt to use a loophole in the existing ordinance to circumvent your authority to prevent the harassment or killing of animals within City limits, including by transporting or by luring them outside of city limits to be harmed or killed.”
If the bill is approved by California Fish and Wildlife, White Buffalo will be granted permission to eradicate the deer from the island next Fall in 2024.
Attempts were made to contact the Catalina Conservancy, but they did not respond.
Shagún, Louis. “Desperate to Rid Catalina of Invasive Deer, Officials Propose Bold Helicopter Hunt.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 1 Oct. 2023, www.latimes.com/environment/story/2023-10-01/sharpshooters-in-helicopters-to-hunt-california-deer.
Callaghan, Ryan. “Why California Is Planning to Kill Catalina Mule Deer.” MeatEater Conservation, MeatEater, 10 Oct. 2023, www.themeateater.com/conservation/wildlife-management/why-california-is-planning-to-kill-catalina-mule-deer.
“Catalina Island Visitor Statistics: Visit Catalina Island.” Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, www.lovecatalina.com/community-information/visitor-statistics/#:~:text=Catalina%20Island%20welcomes%20over%201,in%20Avalon%20are%20tracked%20below. Accessed 29 Oct. 2023.
“Plants & Animals of Catalina - Catalina Island Conservancy.” Catalina Island Conservancy -, 13 Sept. 2023, catalinaconservancy.org/conservation/catalina-plants-animals/.
Morrow, Nick. Catalina Deer Protests, 2023. 17 Oct. 2023. Avalon.