Thousands of people signed a petition opposing a plan to use helicopter-mounted sharpshooters to curb the mule deer population that's wreaking havoc on a California island's ecosystem.
"Catalina’s deer population, which is at 8x – 10x the density of the mainland, is suffering while also devastating our fragile ecosystem as they attempt to survive," the Catalina Island Conservancy stated in its restoration plan.
Despite the herd of roughly 1,800 mule deer destroying habitats and vegetation, causing soil erosion and threatening other species, some residents say the hunt is cruel the Los Angeles Times reported.
"THEY ARE NOT TRYING TO KILL THEIR DEER, THEY ARE TRYING TO KILL YOUR DEER," reads a petition, "Stop the Slaughter of Mule Deer on Catalina Island," which had more than 3,500 signatures as of Monday morning.
The plan calls for hunters from the Connecticut-based nonprofit White Buffalo Inc. to use AR-15 style rifles from helicopters next fall to cull the mule deer roaming the island's inaccessible interior, according to the LA Times.
The mule deer, introduced to the southern California island in the 1930s, have surged in population due to the lack of natural predators. Visitors frequently and illegally feed the deer, which often roam in popular tourist spots.
Some alternatives have proven to be ineffective, including the current hunting program, which only allows 200 a year to be killed, the LA Times reported, and California laws prevent the conservancy from providing mule deer with additional food and water would increase the possibility of disease transfer.
"The island and the deer are both fighting for survival and neither one is winning," Catalina Island Conservancy CEO Whitney Latorre told the LA Times. "Unless we address the deer issue, the island will become more and more vulnerable to the devastating consequences brought on by rising temperatures and drought."
The conservancy consulted with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and determined a "strategic deer management program" was required to help the island ,which is "at a tipping point," according to the restoration plan.
However, the opponents are petitioning the same state agency to intervene.
"There are several areas of concern that we, as citizens of the State of California, urge the CDFW to consider sufficient to deny the current application by the Catalina Island Conservancy to slaughter the deer," the petition reads.
Catalina Island Humane Society Vice President Dianne Stone told the LA Times that the proposed hunt is "violent and ugly."
"We are completely against the slaughter of innocent mule deer on Catalina Island," she said.
The conservancy is a private land trust that manages about 88% of the island’s approximately 48,000 acres.
Many other animal populations have threatened the Catalina Island in the past including goats, bison and swine, according to the LA times.
Neither the Catalina Humane Society nor the Catalina Conservancy immediately responded to requests for comment.