Now we all know about duck-hunting season, but open season on goats? The Catalina Island Conservancy’s board of directors is expected to vote this week to kill off the last remaining wild goats on the famous tourist island 26 miles across the sea. As early as this week, hunters from the Institute of Wildlife Studies will begin dog-tracking and shooting 100 to 150 goats remaining along the island’s rocky coastline.
Introduced by European explorers in the early 1800s, the goats have been blamed for destroying hundreds of acres of Catalina’s native habitat and for driving plant species such as the Santa Cruz Island rock cress and the Catalina mahogany to the verge of extinction. Officials previously resorted to helicopter hunts to eradicate the voracious mammals; aerial shoots will be banned this time.
The goats have their fans, however, including In Defense of Animals, a rights group that arranged and funded a $25,000 goat-relocation program last fall. The program, which saw 121 goats moved off island by Goats R Us professional herders, was considered a breakthrough because no goats died. Previous relocations of the notoriously stress-sensitive Billys resulted in a 90 percent death rate.
"We proved to them [the Catalina Island Conservancy] that there was a more humane way to solve the problem," said IDA spokesman Bill Dyer. "It is inconceivable to me that they would turn their back on this."
Catalina official Bill Bushing said the conservancy moved toward a goat kill only after Goats R Us reneged on its original commitment to work through December. Their early abandonment of the project allowed the goats to enter mating season — and raised the prospect of another island goat glut.
"If this is allowed to continue, the population could quickly increase to 150 animals, for a net gain of 30 animals over the course of a year, instead of a decline, which is the goal of the conservancy," Bushing said. "I certainly applauded the effort, but the problem is, it is not achieving our goal of reducing the population . . . One goat can eat a ton of plant life in one year."
Dyer, who said he could get the relocation back up by March, thinks the conservancy was just looking for excuses to restore goat-killing fields. "We are talking about little babies," fumed Dyer. "Why does the conservancy want to kill them if they can be saved?"