Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bison Hunting

Catalina Island is nearly 60 square miles – more than 18 from Land's End on the west tip to Jewfish Point on the east, and 7 miles across at its widest. It is owned and run mainly by the Catalina Island Conservancy (thanks Leslie for your comment below re Wrigley family ownership). Portions are leased out for recreation, boat mooring fields, and camps. A portion of the revenue from these goes to to the state of California in lieu of property taxes. This creates an interesting environment – a benevolent and apparently well run autocracy.

Water is precious on the island

The town of Two Harbours, off which we are currently anchored, is a company town run by one of the leasees who maintain 100's of mooring buoys in dozens of harbours, a general store, restaurant, snack bar, and dive concession. Only employees of the Santa Catalina Island Company may live in the sprawling and eclectic enclave of houses that lie between Isthmus and Catalina harbours. The small town atmosphere (only 200 people live here) means that everyone waves at you when they walk or drive past.

Catalina harbour

View back toward Catalina harbour from Silver Peak Trail

Hiking to Silver Peak

We are anchored under Catalina Head with mountains all around and cacti growing down to the water. Because we are outside the moorings, it is nearly a mile row to the jetty. When you land, a broad red dirt road lined with Eucalyptus runs across the peninsula to Two Harbours. Rani remarked it reminded her of Australia. Old VW vans, pickups, and jeeps repose at the head of the jetty and as we walk into town, we pass a high school bus that makes the 1.5 hour trip to Avalon each school day.

Looking at the west end of the island on the way to Little Harbour
The island has a unique flora and fauna, including bison and a type of silvery fox. We saw one of the foxes on our fist hike up to Silver peak the day after we arrived. A very bouncy little fellow who hopped away from us over prickly pears and Toyon bushes. From day one, I was keen on seeing a buffalo. These animals roam the island, a remnant of ranching operations early in the 20th century.
A thrilling video of our hike to Silver Peak and a good shot of buffalo dung can be seen here.

Bison dung - a big one!

And a bison hoof print - note quarter for scale
On our first hike, we found considerable bison spoor and tracks. The photos above show a particularly fine specimen of the former and a hoof print with a quarter to provide scale. A sailor anchored nearby told us he had seen a buffalo in the early morning grazing near the jetty. However the beasts proved elusive until yesterday.

Parson's Landing - a walk-in campground
We were on a hike to Little harbour to go snorkeling when Rani grabbed my arm and gestured at what looked like a large shaggy brown bush. The buffalo was a couple of hundred yards off the trail resting in a patch of tall grasses. As we approached, it lumbered to its feet and ambled very slowly past us and along a well worn track back toward the resevoir that sits on the hill overlooking Two Harbours.

Prickly pear with unusual hand-shaped fruit cluster

A bison - finally!
We were elated with our sighting but even happier when on the return trip we spied 4 bison on a ridge quite close to the place of our first encounter. We were careful this time to approach slowly and keep a reasonable distance (see sign below for why this is a good idea). The buffalo is not a very animated creature and the ones we watched were either sitting or swishing away the swarms of flies that must be very unpleasant in the intense heat. We felt sorry for the creatures with their thick pelts. Click here for a video of Chris and the bison.

More bison - we saw 5 in total

Swimming at Little Harbour after a hot 3 hour hike - a nice interlude on our bison quest.


Leslie Baer said...

Hello Chris. Sounds like you had a fabulous adventure on Catalina Island. Just wanted to correct some of your facts, easy to get wrong on a short visit:
1) The Island is not in fact owned by the Wrigley family, and hasn't been since 1972. 88% of the Island is owned and stewarded by the Catalina Island Conservancy, a non-profit organization; 11% is owned by the Santa Catalina Island Company, and 1% is privately owned.
2) The Conservancy has a full-time executive staff of five, and the organization has 70 employees.
3) All revenues from Conservancy properties go back to the Conservancy for conservation, education, and recreation projects -- not a cent to the Wrigley family, as a correction to your blog. In fact, several family members donate funds each year to the Conservancy to continue its important protection and restoration initiatives on the Island so it's a cost to the family, not a revenue source.
4) While there are certainly tax benefits when any of us make a generous donation of money or property to a non-profit organization, numerous historical documents chronicle the benevolent intent of the Wrigley family to preserve Catalina Island in its wild state for future generations to enjoy. Without Mr. Wrigley's vision, Catalina's shore's would likely look like Newport Beach.

We at the Conservancy were pleased to read about your adventure in our wildlands made possible by the vision of the Wrigley family, and hope you'll be back soon...

Leslie Baer
Executive Staff
Catalina Island Conservancy
P.S. We don't allow hunting of our bison! ;-}

Chris Bennett said...

Thanks for your comment, Leslie. I have corrected our blog to better reflect what you mention. We are very impressed by the way the island is run and this remarkable unspoilt beauty that lies so close to L.A. Our time in the Channel Ilands has driven home that we do indeed owe a debt of gratitude to the Wrigleys and other philanthropists like them.

Chris Bennett

ken said...

Hello from Ken and Faye. We are now around to point heading to La paz when Ken gets back.Beautiful weather. Faye and Ken