SETNICKA, Timothy J.

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SETNICKA, Timothy J. (b. circa 1947), a 1970 graduate of Colorado State University in their College of Forestry and Natural Resources; law enforcement and management training, National Park Service. Setnicka began as a Seasonal Forest Service firefighter in 1965; summer ranger, Denali National park, Alaska, 1966-1970; ranger, Yosemite National Park, 1970-1980; chief ranger, Biscayne National Park, south Florida, 1980-1982; park law enforcement specialist and chief assistant to the chief park ranger, Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming, 1982-1984; chief ranger Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, 1984-1987;

  • chief ranger, assistant superintendent, Channel Islands National Park (1987-1996)
  • acting superintendent, Channel Islands National Park, (1989)
  • superintendent, Channel Islands National Park, (1996-2003)

Setnicka executed an extremely controversial and unpopular raid at Scorpion Ranch on the east end of Santa Cruz Island on January 14, 1997. Often criticized for his aggressive and unconventional personal management style, he was ultimately relieved of his position and given an opportunity for early retirement.


In the News~

November 20, 1996 [VCS]: “The closing of Santa Cruz. Bow hunters' dreams about to be dashed. Sheep Hunts: Island Adventures must clear off land by Feb. 10. The great bow hunt is almost over on Santa Cruz Island, where the National Park Service has given a private gaming operator 90 days to get off the island and take his 3,000 feral sheep with him. For Jaret Owens, who runs Island Adventures on the eastern tip, it's the end of his 12-year-old business. For the sheep that roam the rugged valleys, it's the end of the line. Owens says there is no cost-effective way to ship the wild animals off the island by Feb. 10, the day the park service takes full ownership of the eastern end, completing the Channel Islands National Park. Short of an extension that would allow hunters time to kill them for meat, Owens says, the sheep would have to be shot and left to rot. “We've got 1,000 baby lambs being born as we speak,” he said. “No sportsman wants to go out and slaughter them. They're the cutest things in the world.” Owens says he may opt to abandon the sheep on the island, leaving eradication up to the park service. If that happens, park officials say, they would have to come up with a plan and put it up for public review. “We're looking at all the various options,” said acting park Superintendent Tim Setnicka. “One is herding them up in some manner and shipping them off. The other is to destroy them.” Owens has asked for three extra months to invite bow and rifle hunters to come out with unlimited bag limits, saving the meat and giving the lambs time to grow older. But Setnicka said Owens must shut down all operations, including hunting and the bed-and-breakfast lodges, by Feb. 10. On that day, the Channel Islands National Park becomes sole owner of the eastern tip — a title officials have grudgingly shared with private landowner, Francis Gherini. Owens holds the lease on the property. Last week, the president signed legislation forcing Gherini to sell his 25 percent share of the land, about 6,500 acres. The land represents about 10 percent of Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. The other 90 percent is owned by the Nature Conservancy. There's no love lost between the park service and Gherini, who have bickered over the years about how the island should be managed. Park officials say the commercial activities have trashed the eastern end, damaging water quality, historical and archaeological resources and native vegetation. In addition, taxpayers have been unfairly charged $25 to camp on the island and $15 to land there, Setnicka said. But Owens says park officials are jealous he has attracted so many visitors. The hard feelings continue to influence their decisions, he said. “I'm just disgusted with the federal government,” he said. “If I had a couple more months, I could get rid of the animals, make them money and save the meat. But it's politics. They just want me off.” As soon as their ownership becomes official, park officials plan to implement a 1985 general management plan. The plan calls for eliminating camping and landing fees; restoring Smugglers Adobe and Scorpion Ranch, which now house the bed-and-breakfast operations; building a floating dock; and maintaining the dirt airstrip at Smugglers Cove but shutting down the one near Scorpion Ranch. “You'll have a sense of what the ranch looked like in the late 1800s,” Setnicka said...”


February 16, 1997 [LAT]: “After nearly three decades as a national park ranger, Tim J. Setnicka's steady climb through the ranks climaxed this month when he was named permanent superintendent of Channel Islands National Park. The timing of the appointment was no accident, coming amid a flurry of criticism after Setnicka ordered a commando-style raid on Santa Cruz Island hunting camps to cap a grave-robbing investigation—a decision that prompted questions by congressmen about whether such force was necessary. The answer from Setnicka's superiors was unequivocal. On Feb. 6, National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy made the acting superintendent the permanent top administrator of the Ventura-based national park. “We're showing Tim a vote of confidence,” said Holly Bundock, spokeswoman for the National Park Service office in San Francisco. “All good managers work under pressure and work with controversy, and Ti's don well under the pressure.” Setnicka won out over 12 other candidates to replace C. Mack Shaver, who retired as superintendent of the five-island Channel Islands park last March. The selection of Setnicka as the $71,000-a-year chief of a park staff of 63 was more than a simple closing of ranks, Bundock said. “He was the best qualified,” she said. “He has the experience at Channel Islands. And he understands the issues, which have been significant lately.” Indeed, as Setnicka takes over as permanent superintendent, the park is embroiled in several controversies and a federal lawsuit that claims the government has abdicated its responsibility to protect park-owned Santa Rosa Island from foraging cattle, deer and elk.

First, Setnicka must deal with the drumbeat of criticism resulting from the Jan. 14 Santa Cruz Island raid, in which 20 heavily armed federal and local officers descended on two sheep hunting camps in a Blackhawk helicopter to arrest three camp guides—one for alleged felony destruction of Chumash graves and two others on misdemeanor charges of guiding and serving food without a license. Five guests and guides were ordered to the muddy ground, where they were handcuffed. A 15-year-old female hunter was handcuffed on a muddy floor, and she said later that one of the officers told her she was lucky to be alive because something could have gone wrong during the arrests. Setnicka is drafting a report on the raid for review by director Kennedy, who will send it along to Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) and Walter Capps (D-Santa Barbara). The congressmen, citing concerned constituents, have asked for an explanation of raid tactics. Setnicka's superiors say the raid was conducted by the book. Setnicka was sharply criticized last week, as well, after the park service ferried riflemen to Santa Cruz Island for The Nature Conservancy, where they killed dozens of sheep that had strayed from park service to conservancy land. Setnicka has publicly embraced removal and adoption of the animals instead of slaughter. The superintendent is also overseeing government takeover of the historic east Santa Cruz ranch from which the targeted sheep migrated, a rare federal seizure of parkland from a private owner in an age of reduced federal spending. Seizure of the 6,300-acre Gherini Ranch a week ago completed the 17-year-old Channel Islands park.

And proceeding in federal court in Los Angeles is a lawsuit filed in October by the nation's largest non-profit agency dedicated to protecting the national parks—a task the plaintiff insists Setnicka and his predecessors have botched on Santa Rosa Island. “Those are business as usual in a growing and dynamic park,” said Setnicka last week, shrugging off the controversies. His biggest headache, Setnicka said, is the perpetual balancing act when overseeing a national park—how to preserve resources while still making them available to the public.

But to Setnicka's critics, the January raid and his lack of concern over the sheep-killing incident betray an arrogance that is not becoming, and an aggressiveness that was not necessary. The day after the raid, the president of the nonprofit Santa Cruz Island Foundation, Marla Daily, condemned it. She accused the park service of resorting to “Ruby Ridge tactics,” referring to the fatal FBI shooting during a 1992 standoff with militants in Idaho. More recently, former Rep. Robert Lagomarsino, considered the father of the Channel Islands park for writing the law that created it, said he is bothered by the force Setnicka ordered on the hunting camps. “I think it was overkill,” he daid. “It just seems to me that it was unnecessary to go as far and as fast as they did.” And Mark Connally, co-owner of Island Packers, the park service boating concessionaire that takes passengers to Santa Cruz, said of the raid: “Knowing the people who were involved in this, the caretakers and the rangers and the situation out there, it just seems like it could have been done with less fanfare, creating a better image for the park service.” “The reaction of people who come in here and call us and write letters to the editor [is negative],” he added. “Right or wrong, that incident has created an image of an overly aggressive federal government. And people like to look at the park service as Smokey the Bear, the friendly ranger that greets you when you arrive.”

Setnicka himself said the raid was not a mistake, and he would do the same thing over again. He dismissed assertions that the raid tarnished the image of the park service. “The situation out there merited the response that we put forward,” he said. “No one was hurt, no one was injured, no one came close to using a firearm on anyone. They were arrested effectively and safely. And the net results were that people were inconvenienced and the arrested folks had to wear handcuffs. The important thing is that protecting resources and the pubic trust encompass a lot of activities,” he said. “And it's important that we take steps to prevent further grave robbing of Chumash sites.”

As the events of the last month have played out, Setnicka has been portrayed more as a tough cop than a friendly ranger. Those who know him well say he is some of both. At age 50, the son of a candy salesman and a school secretary in Chicago stands ramrod straight in a snug grey-and-green uniform and carries himself with the muscular deliberateness of an athlete. A rock climber when he was a ranger at Yosemite in the 1970s, he still surfs, kayaks, scuba dives, snow skis, hikes, and swims three days a week at the Ojai Racquet Club to stay fit. His leathery face mirrors years in the wilds of parks in Alaska, Wyoming, Florida and Hawaii. And his demeanor indicates correctly that he was a law enforcement ranger—and author of a widely circulated search-and-rescue book before he moved into park service management... ”