Catalina Island Restoration Project

Frequently Asked Questions

You Ask, Our Scientists Answer

The Catalina Island Restoration Project (CIRP) is a complex initiative with many moving parts. We’ve put together some commonly asked questions and their answers to give you more information. If you do not see your question here, please contact us.

Along with the FAQs below, the following presentation also answers a lot of common questions.

Restoration Presentation


General Questions

Q: What does a plan for conservation look like?

A: A comprehensive conservation plan for the Catalina Island Conservancy will entail implementing strategies for habitat regeneration, plant restoration, and species management, aiming to restore the Island’s ecosystems, protect endangered species, and maintain a sustainable environment for future generations.

Q: Who is involved in the planning process and who makes the decisions?

A: The Conservancy is leading the effort, but we see it as a partnership between everyone that has a stake in the Island’s future. We are actively listening to all viewpoints and utilizing that feedback to develop a scientifically sound, ecologically responsible plan.

Science, Data & Methodologies

Q: Why is this Project urgent?

A: The restoration plan for Catalina Island is crucial as it aims to preserve and enhance the Island’s natural ecosystems, protect endangered species, and promote sustainable practices, ensuring the long-term ecological health and biodiversity of the Island. As the world experiences the ever-increasing effects of climate change, this revitalization plan is especially important as it helps to build resilience against changes and extremes in the climate, allowing Catalina to continue to serve as a refuge for species as it has in the past.

Biodiversity Questions

Q: How does biodiversity help mitigate risk and damage from fire?

A: A landscape filled with native plants – in Catalina’s case, chaparral – burns less often and less quickly than one made of nonnative annual grasses, which is the habitat taking hold on Catalina Island due to deer preferring to eat native plants.

Q: What is a seed farm and why is it important?

A: A seed farm is a facility that preserves and stores seeds of various plant species. Its primary purpose is to conserve genetic diversity and ensure the long-term survival of plants, especially those that are rare or endangered.

Catalina Island has plant species that are found nowhere else in the world. These species are called endemics, and they are particularly vulnerable to extinction because they have a limited distribution and small populations. By collecting and storing seeds from these unique plants, our seed farm will help protect their genetic diversity and ensure their survival in case of natural disasters or human-induced threats. It is a critical tool for restoration.

Q: How many plants on Catalina Island are facing extinction?

native plant species to Catalina Island

A: There are at least 60 plant and animal species on Catalina that are endemic, meaning that they exist only on Catalina. More than 42 plant species on Catalina Island are currently facing extinction if nothing is done to protect them.

Q: Why are these plants facing extinction?

A: Several endemic plant species on Catalina Island are facing extinction due to factors such as habitat loss, invasive species, climate change, and human activities, which have disrupted their natural ecosystems and survival conditions.

Q: Why does it matter if they go extinct?

A: Preventing the extinction of endemic plant species on Catalina Island matters because these species play unique roles in the Island’s ecosystem and contribute to its biodiversity, which can have cascading effects on other flora and fauna, potentially leading to reduced resilience to environmental changes.

Q: How long will it take for these plants to recover?

A: The time it will take for the endangered plants on Catalina Island to recover significantly with conservation measures taken today is highly dependent on the specific species and the success of the conservation efforts. The full restoration will be gradual but early results should be noticeable within a few years.

Q: What's at risk if we do nothing?

A: If the Catalina Island Restoration Project doesn’t take place, the Island becomes less resilient to the effects of climate change and more vulnerable to fire risk. Additionally, the Island’s flora, the native plant species, could be threatened or lost, leading to additional disruptions in the ecosystem, potential extinctions, and reduced biodiversity on the Island.

Invasive Species Questions

Q: Are there any invasive plant species that the Restoration Plan is addressing?

A: There are over 200 species of non-native plants that live on the Island of which 35 species are considered a threat to the ecosystem. Not all introduced plants are invasive and some are less likely to outcompete native species. Those considered invasive are ranked according to the magnitude of the problems they present, including how widespread they are, how fast they can spread and how damaging to the local native species they are. Invasive plant species are removed, monitored on an ongoing basis and managed to restore balance to the native ecosystem.

Q: What problem are the mule deer causing on Catalina Island?

A: The deer have over-browsed the land – destroying natural habitats along with the vegetation that’s needed to help reduce wildfire risk and soil erosion. While the deer are present, ecosystems that should be lush and forested are converted to invasive annuals grasslands which, when dry, can easily catch fire.

Q: The deer appear happy and healthy. Why must they be removed from the Island?

A: The roughly 2,000 introduced mule deer on Catalina are devastating the fragile ecosystem. They are also suffering from a relentless boom and bust cycle dependent on the amount of annual rainfall. Ongoing challenges such as drought, disease, overpopulation due to a lack of natural predators, and habitat fragmentation have negatively impacted the long-term health of the deer.

Q: What is the plan for managing the deer?

A: We are working with a team of world-renowned scientists who have helped develop the most scientific, respectful deer management plan possible. With the help of such experts as California Department of Fish & Wildlife, Tongva/Gabrielino tribal leaders, animal welfare groups, and other stakeholders including Catalina Islanders, hunters, politicians, etc. we are in the process of developing a strategy which manages the deer in the most humane way possible.

Q: What are some potential options for managing the deer population?

A: The Conservancy has welcomed hunters as conservation partners in managing the Island’s introduced mule deer populations for 20 years; however, this has not resulted in enough deer being removed from the Island to make a meaningful change in the population. Instead, we must look at other options and make the hard decisions that will ultimately help to ensure the Island’s future.

Q: How has the Conservancy tried to boost the number of hunters and number of deer taken in recent years?

A: In addition to partnering with Wildlife West to offer guided hunts on Catalina Island, the Conservancy migrated all hunting program information online to increase visibility and access to the program. Also, California Department of Fish & Wildlife authorized the Conservancy to add 19 full days to our hunting season compared to 2022.

Q: How many deer are removed hunting:

A: In 2021, the Conservancy purchased 414 tags, issued 385 tags, with hunters harvesting 245 deer.  In 2022, the Conservancy purchased 445 tags, issued 437 tags, with hunters harvesting 207 deer.  In 2023, the Conservancy purchased 500 tags, issued 500 tags, with hunters harvesting 320 deer.

Q: Why is hunting expensive?

A: Hunting on an island can increase difficulty and expense due to the rugged nature of the landscape, logistics and costs of travel. The Conservancy charges very little mark-up on our hunting tags from CDFW. In fact, the Conservancy purchases tags for $89.10 each and sells them for $100, as well as offers the first tag to locals for free (locals still must purchase a CDFW tag and exchange it with the Conservancy to get their free PLM tag). Any deposit collected is fully returned as long as the hunter returns the tag, as required by CDFW, regardless of whether they harvest a deer or not.

Q: Why can’t the deer remain on Island?

A: The deer can’t stay on the Island because they are an invasive species, overgrazing native plants, and disrupting the ecosystem balance.

Q: What is the difference in impact to the Island between the bison and deer?

A: The deer pose a threat to the Island’s ecosystem due to their browsing behavior, which targets vegetation vital to sustaining the Island, whereas bison graze on invasive grasses and have a less disruptive impact on native vegetation.

Q: Are we able to feed the deer if they are hungry?

A: Because the deer are managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, there are strict laws in place (Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 251.3) that prevent the Conservancy from being able to provide additional food or water to the deer because it could cause disease transmission. In addition, feeding the deer is not a viable solution as it would only exacerbate their overpopulation and further harm the Island’s delicate ecosystem.

Q: Does CDFW support deer removal?

A: CDFW (California Department of Fish and Wildlife) is heavily involved in the decision-making process regarding the deer management on the Island.

Q: Are you using helicopters to remove the deer?

A: We are evaluating all options, but helicopters will likely be used for the majority of deer management due to the Island’s rugged terrain and the need for quick and efficient population control.

Q: Can we ship the deer off Island?

A: Shipping the deer off the Island is not feasible as it traumatizes the deer, leading to “capture myopathy,” a non-infectious disease of wild and domestic animals in which muscle damage results from extreme exertion, struggle, or stress. It could also introduce diseases and parasites to the mainland, causing ecological issues elsewhere.

Science, Data & Methodologies

Q: Can you control them with birth control?

A: Controlling deer with birth control is impractical due to the difficulty of administering it to free-ranging deer effectively since they are solitary animals. Protocols would dictate multiple rounds of treatment, which would necessitate capture and tagging that would further traumatize the animals.

Q: Can the deer be fenced in and contained?

A: Fencing or containment is not a viable solution as it is cruel to contain the deer to a small area and they are likely to breach the fences continuously, a situation the Catalina Island Conservancy would not be able to manage on an ongoing basis.

Q: How is this considered the most humane option?

A: While the decision to kill the deer is difficult, it is considered more humane than allowing them to suffer from starvation and ecological imbalances caused by their overpopulation. Using helicopters for invasive species management has been proven to be the quickest, most humane option in the case of mule deer.

Science, Data & Methodologies