MEDIA RELEASE: Catalina Island Conservancy Ditches Death-by-Helicopter Deer-Killing Plan

MEDIA RELEASE: Catalina Island Conservancy Ditches Death-by-Helicopter Deer-Killing Plan

CATALINA ISLAND, Calif. (May 31, 2024) — In Defense of Animals is delighted that Catalina Island Conservancy has finally buckled to relentless public outrage by both Catalina Island residents and tourists, by withdrawing its plan to exterminate the island’s entire mule deer population with AR-15-style rifles from hovering helicopters. Over 13,600 In Defense of Animals supporters wrote to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Fish and Game Commission, and Catalina Island’s District 42 Congressional Representative Robert Garcia asking them to publicly oppose the misguided and brutal plan. 

The conservancy is still determined to kill all the deer on this California Channel Island, but is withdrawing the aerial killing proposal, and reconsidering previously dismissed alternative methods for exterminating all the island's hundreds of gentle mule deer, including chemical sterilization and hunting permits.

One big reason for the conservancy’s change in method was a letter it received from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on April 23. The board unanimously opposed the brutal aerial killing plan on the island which is just 30 miles off the Los Angeles coast. Supervisor Janice Hahn led that effort, drafting the letter, and convincing the entire board to sign on, showing yet another indication of the public’s disgust with the plan to kill deer by any method, let alone by spending millions on noisy, dangerous, and polluting helicopters.

Jack Gescheidt, an In Defense of Animals consultant on wildlife extermination projects like this one, welcomed the news but maintained a broad, blistering criticism of the plan. “We’re pleased that the misleadingly-named Catalina Island Conservancy has dropped plans to shoot down deer from a helicopter, but it is still hell-bent on exterminating the island’s entire population of hundreds of wild mule deer. This plan is a sad product of the restoration industry which takes huge sums of public money to exterminate entire species under the guise of ‘conservation.’ The mule deer integrated into Catalina Island’s ecosystem decades ago, and there’s no scientific validation for harming a single one. Just leave the deer alone.”

The conservancy aims to protect “native” vegetation; yet a few hundred deer have lived peacefully on Catalina Island for over 100 years, and show no signs of suddenly threatening the entire ecosystem. No third-party scientific studies have validated any of the group’s claims.

Catalina Island Conservancy has made wild, inaccurate estimates of the mule deer population as part of its proposal. Its gross overestimate of 1,700-2,000 deer was made using a survey by flashlight at night to reflect light off deer’s eyes and then extrapolating that subset number of deer counted to the entire island. This unscientific estimate was made three years ago, in 2021, and is made even less reliable owing to the natural annual rise and fall of wild animal populations, due to many environmental factors, including available food and water. Islanders, who live nearest the deer, estimate the population is between 400 and 800 deer. 

In Defense of Animals and the island’s citizen group, The Coalition to Save Catalina Island Deer, are countering the conservancy with the aim of protecting the deer from any killing or interference, including hunting or sterilization. 

The organizations are calling for a moratorium on harming any deer until two scientific studies have been conducted. First, a scientifically accurate count of the 2024 and 2025 mule deer population. The groups want the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Service to make the count to deter bias in the conservancy’s extermination agenda. The Service previously denied the conservancy’s confidential application to eradicate all deer on the island in 2016.

In addition, members of the public and groups opposing the conservancy want a first-ever, thorough, 3-5 year study of mule deer effects on the island’s vegetation. There is no scientific evidence to show that the deer are having any negative effect on the environment; they are far more likely to be playing a vital role in the island’s ecosystem. 

“It’s madness to tout wildly expensive, bloody, extensive animal extermination campaigns for an alleged problem lacking scientific corroboration. Catalina Island Conservancy’s ideologically-driven extermination would have cost taxpayers ten million dollars before even conducting sound biological scientific surveys. Thousands of people, including islanders and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, prefer to continue enjoying Catalina Island’s wonderful mule deer.”



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Contact: Jack Gescheidt, In Defense of Animals,, 415-488-4200 (no texts)

In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization based in Marin County, California, with over 250,000 supporters and a 40-year history of fighting for animals, people, and the environment through education and campaigns, as well as hands-on rescue facilities in India, South Korea, California, and rural Mississippi.



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