The Battle for the Channel Islands

I confessed in a previous post to being a fan of T. C. Boyle fiction so it is no surprise that I really like his latest novel.

When the Killing’s Done is the story of dedicated ecologists who ultimately win a suspenseful battle to exterminate invasive species from the Channel Islands National Park despite the best efforts of a well funded but inept group animal rights activists. The ecologists, working for the National Park Service (NPS) plan to restore two wildlife habitats on the Channel Islands. First, the NPS will eradicate thousands of Black Rats, species Ratus Ratus, from tiny Anacapa Island and then the NPS will join forces with the Nature Conservancy to hunt down and kill the entire feral pig population from the much larger Santa Cruz Island. The animal killings are historical facts behind this moving and evocative novel.

Shipwrecks have played an important role in the history of the Channel Islands and this novel begins with fictional accounts of two of these wrecks. First, in 1946 just after the end of WWII a veteran and his new wife go for a shakedown cruise of a restored speedboat and the boat crashes on the rocks of Anacapa Island in heavy weather. The woman in the boat is the grandmother of the protagonist for the ecologists: NPS biologist Alma Boyd Takesue, PhD. (to pronounce Takesue think of Chop Suey).

The second wreck is that of the SS Winfield Scott. In 1853, the side-wheel steamer, loaded with gold from the San Francisco Gold Rush, was on its way from San Francisco to Panama when it ran aground in heavy fog on Anacapa Island. Black Rats made it ashore from the debris of the wreck. The historical account does not say whether black rats survived the wreck, but they were most certainly aboard ship (they were aboard every ship of the era). Boyle’s account makes for great reading and offers a plausable explanation of how the prolific Ratus Ratus came to inhabit Anacapa Island; without those ugly critters there would be no larger story for Boyle to tell in this novel.

The bad guys in this story are a makeshift group of animal rights activists who sail under the banner of a fictitious organization called FPA (For the Protection of Animals). The founding members of FPA are Dave LaJoy, Anise Reed and Wilson Guitierrez (he proudly pronounces it Weel-son). This is as diverse group: Wilson is a carpenter and is the muscle for the FPA; Anise is a rock singer and love interest of FPA founder and moneybags Dave LaJoy. The wealthy LaJoy has an anger management problem that continually frustrates his efforts to sabotage the far reaching plans of the NPS for the Channel Islands.

If you are a friend of nature or just a fan of T.C. Boyle’s writing then When the Killing’s Done is a book that should be appealing to you. The battle is waged on land and at sea in and around the upscale coastal community of Santa Barbara. Much of the action takes place at sea in the beautiful but hazardous waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. The sea action carries over onto two of the Channel Islands: Anacapa and Santa Cruz. These islands, which are part of the Channel Islands National Park, are an ecologists dream.

Day 41: When the Killing’s Done (T.C. Boyle) (2011).

Channel Islands National Park

From the web site:

“Close to the California mainland, yet worlds apart, Channel Islands National Park encompasses five remarkable islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara) and their ocean environment, preserving and protecting a wealth of natural and cultural resources. Isolation over thousands of years has created unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth and helped preserve a place where visitors can experience coastal southern California as it once was.”

Feral Pig Eradication Begins on Santa Cruz Island

On March 15, 2005 the NPS posted the following on the web site:

The National Park Service (NPS) and The Nature Conservancy announced today the initiation of a long-anticipated program to eradicate feral pigs from Santa Cruz Island to save the endangered island fox and nine rare plants from extinction and protect archaeological sites.

Feral pigs—originally imported to the island as domestic farm animals in the 1850s—root up native vegetation, causing massive erosion, spreading invasive weeds, and destroying ancient Chumash archaeological sites. The pigs have also attracted a new predator to the island, the golden eagle, which has hunted the island fox to near extinction. Fewer than 100 foxes exist in the wild.

PS. The Golden Eagles were captured by NPS employees in nets using bait and relocated to the mainland. The indigenous, fish eating Bald Eagle has now (2011) returned to the island.


About carto

Retired software engineer who grew up in Montana, went to Montana State College in Bozeman, and moved to California to work at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Carto's Logbook is about photography, travel and adventure; Mt. Maurice Times is tall tales mostly biographical; Carto's Library is about books I've read and liked.
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