Preparing to write the last chapter of a controversy over wild horses, National Park Service officials Wednesday evacuated activists and other campers from one of the Channel Islands out of concern that they would hamper efforts to remove the animals.
Six horses were loaded into a boat and shipped to the mainland and the remaining 10 are scheduled to be evicted from Santa Cruz Island today and Friday. Officials at Channel Island National Park successfully fought a months-long legal battle to remove the herd, which they say posed a threat to the island’s ecology.
Meanwhile, the eastern end of Santa Cruz Island under Park Service management remains closed to the public until noon Friday. The extraordinary action is necessary to prevent the corralled horses from being spooked and to shield the handlers from public scrutiny, Park Service officials say.
Without warning, park rangers descended on a campground in the Scorpion area of Santa Cruz Island, awakened half a dozen campers and ejected them from the island shortly after dawn Wednesday.
Although plans had been in the works for the horse removal since Sept. 11, when a ruling from the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals cleared the way, Park Service officials chose not to notify the public and throughout Wednesday blocked media access to the operation.
“They woke us up at 7:15 a.m. and said we need to get ready and leave the island because a vet was coming over and we had to leave for our own safety--but it made no sense because the horses were all corralled,” said Tippy McKinsey, a camper from Santa Barbara.
“This is unreasonable. This is public land and our tax dollars pay for this national park.”
Tim Setnicka, Channel Islands National Park superintendent, said he decided to evict the campers because their presence made a veterinarian and horse wranglers nervous. Two campers, he added, allegedly belong to Friends of Horses and Other Animals, the Santa Barbara-based group that sued the Park Service to block removal of the horses.
After a 30-day quarantine, the horses are to be released to a wild horse sanctuary near Red Bluff.