With the endangered island fox now thriving again on the Channel Islands, a captive breeding program is no longer needed and the remaining breeding facility, on Santa Rosa Island, will be shut down. Breeding operations on San Miguel and Santa Cruz islands were closed last October.

In all, 31 foxes are being released on Santa Rosa Island this fall, with the final pair to be set free Nov. 7. Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett participated in a small ceremony releasing a pair of foxes earlier this week.

The fox, one of America’s rarest mammals, had been hunted to near extinction by golden eagles, which had caused a 90 percent decline in the island fox population on Santa Rosa Island. Similar predation was reported on San Miguel and Santa Cruz islands. But since the fox was listed as a federally endangered species in 2004, the population on the northern Channel Islands has been rebounding by 20 percent to 30 percent a year, officials say.

The recovery was a result of an aggressive captive breeding program led by the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, the Institute for Wildlife Studies and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The organizations worked cooperatively to restore balance to the island ecosystems by relocating golden eagles, re-establishing bald eagles, and eradicating feral pigs that had overrun the islands and were easy prey for the eagles. The last of the non-native pigs was eradicated in 2007.

“This early and remarkable sign of recovery appears to be one of the quickest recoveries of an endangered species in the history of the Endangered Species Act,” Scarlett said. “We hope to see the fox population grow within a few years to a level sufficient to consider their removal from the list of endangered species.”

At the lowest point, in 1999, there were only 15 foxes each on San Miguel and Santa Rosa islands — a catastrophic drop in fox numbers from 450 and 1,500, respectively. In 2000, there were less than 70 foxes on Santa Cruz Island, the largest in Channel Islands National Park. Today there are more than 650 foxes thriving in the wild on the northern Channel Islands. In the last 10 years, 225 fox pups were born in captivity, and 254 foxes have been released to the wild.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com.

Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com, and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen. The opinions expressed are his own.