By Julienne Dallara

Fairly recently I became aware of a little-noticed news story about an island off the California coast, near Santa Barbara, that was being proposed as a preserve for hunting excursions by disabled veterans. Being somewhat familiar with the rough but beautiful uninhabited islands off the coast of Southern California, my interest was piqued. Hunting opportunities for returning war veterans with the government picking up the tab? Score one for the good guys! But my idea of who the good guys were would change from one side to the other many times as I investigated this story.

My first questions were how are they going to get hunters in wheelchairs out to this remote island, and how will they be able to move around after they are there? Will they have to pave the island? Which led to a more sweeping question: How far should we go to provide recreational opportunities for those of us with disabilities?

Shooting Elk in a Barrel
Santa Rosa Island was purchased by Vail & Vickers, private cattle ranchers, in 1902. They brought over mule deer, Roosevelt elk, cattle, and even a few pigs, before selling the island to the National Park Service for $30 million in 1986. Traditionally, the public cannot hunt on National Park Service land. On SRI, though, there was this pesky little problem of the non-native animals grazing and degrading the environment. The soil, no longer anchored by plant life, eroded with the wind and water, and the once-crystal streams grew dirty brown with silt. Cattle waste polluted the already meager water supply. Marine life fell victim to the pollution. Eventually, a federal legal settlement stipulated that non-native elk and deer must be destroyed or transported off of the island by 2011. Or, as the court put it in their settlement agreement of 1997, “NPS will share the ‘unusual costs’ of the removal of those deer and elk. ‘Unusual costs’ is defined as the cost of using trained professionals and helicopters.”

Translated, this means sending up a helicopter with shooters equipped with automatic weapons and letting them wipe out the deer and elk. On this point the environmentalists and the hunters agree — shooting elk in a barrel is cruel, inhumane, and simply bad sportsmanship.

There are other places for hunters with disabilities to hunt, places like “Hunts of Hopes and Dreams,” a nonprofit organization established for people who “love the outdoors but have terminal illnesses or disabilities that prevent them from actively participating in these traditions.” They don’t hunt in national parks, and they have charities set up to handle the costs of hunting, which can be significant. A private elk hunt on Santa Rosa Island can cost upwards of $17,000. Private hunting trips have been a staple of the SRI economy since Vail & Vickers bought t