Invasive mule deer are devastating the natural habitat of a small island off the coast of southern California, and a local conservation group wants to eradicate the non-native invaders once and for all. In order to achieve that goal, the Catalina Island Conservancy has announced plans to employ trained shooters to gun the mulies down from helicopters, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Santa Catalina Island is a land mass of nearly 48,000 acres in the Pacific Ocean, about 48 miles from Los Angeles as the crow flies. According to Insider, millions of tourists visit Catalina annually, but only about 4,000 people live on the landscape year round. The mule deer were introduced in the late 1920s.

“The island and the deer are both fighting for survival, and neither one is winning,” Whitney Latorre, Catalina Island Conservancy chief executive 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 deer are eating native plants and grasses in a time of increased heat, which leads to a forage shortage that then forces hungry deer into conflict with people. The animals resort to backyard gardens when the natural backcountry food supply dries up. 

“We understand that this is a bold and ambitious project, and it will take courage to see it through, no doubt about it,” Latorre said. “The right things to do aren’t easy.”

There’s a petition listing two thousand signatures from people opposed to culling the herd with sharpshooters in helicopters. Many of them just like the presence of deer, others don’t like the reduction method. 

“We are completely against the slaughter of innocent mule deer on Catalina Island,” Catalina Island Human Society vice president Dianne Stone told the LA Times. “The Conservancy’s solution is violent and ugly.”

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There’s already a mule deer hunting season on the island that allows for the harvest of about 200 deer annually. The more aggressive operation by chopper to cull 2,000 deer is planned for the fall of 2024. Aerial gunners will use AR-15s loaded with non-lead bullets because the dead deer will be left on the ground for other animals to eat.