A recent announcement that the nonprofit that owns nine-tenths of Santa Catalina Island plans to boost eco-tourism by adding bison to existing herds has recharged a debate over the environmental impacts of the shaggy, imported beasts.
Locals cherish the bison as living symbols of the island’s heritage. Homes in the island’s close-knit community of 4,000 permanent residents are festooned with painted images of bison. Gift shops sell furry bison figurines. Catalina’s marathons are advertised under colorful bison logos.
The descendants of 14 bison left here in 1924 by a movie crew are also a powerful attraction for eco-tourists, roaming Catalina’s 76 square miles of rugged mountains, sweeping valleys, and grasslands, where the largest predators are island foxes the size of housecats.
“The number one thing that tourists want to see when they come to Catalina is bison,” said Tony Budrovich, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Catalina Island Conservancy, “and people want to see them running wild rather in a fenced enclosure.”
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