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Channel Island Foxes Could be Removed from Endangered Species List

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service credits speed of historic turnaround to removal of non-native golden eagle predators, other restoration efforts

Three species of foxes native to the Channel Islands could be removed from the Endangered Species List after a population turnaround that was helped by removing golden eagles and vaccinating the foxes against canine distemper.
Three species of foxes native to the Channel Islands could be removed from the Endangered Species List after a population turnaround that was helped by removing golden eagles and vaccinating the foxes against canine distemper. (Chuck Graham photo via the Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Three fox subspecies native to the Channel Islands could be removed from the federal endangered species list 12 years after recovery efforts began — a historic first, according to wildlife officials.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on Friday announced its proposal to remove three subspecies of island fox from the federal list of threatened and endangered wildlife: the San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Island fox.

Officials also hope to move island foxes on Santa Catalina Island ​to a “threatened” listing under the Endangered Species Act, an improvement from “endangered” status.

Those four fox subspecies have been endangered since March 2004 due to predation, disease and low population numbers, but making this much headway so quickly would be the fastest successful recovery for any listed mammal in the country.

The fourth fox subspecies can’t be removed from the list entirely — there’s potential for a disease outbreak — even though officials agree those populations have increased to historic levels.

“The remarkable recovery efforts of land managers and conservation partners over the past two decades on behalf of the Channel Island fox is the reason for this historic recovery success,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe said in a statement.

“The speed at which these subspecies have recovered points to the strength of the ESA in focusing conservation attention and catalyzing recovery actions, and demonstrates what we can achieve together.”

Relocating non-native golden eagles from the northern Channel Islands, removing the non-native species on which the eagles preyed and vaccinating foxes against canine distemper were key population recovery actions, according to the wildlife service.

A partnership with the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy and the Catalina Island Conservancy also bred foxes in captivity before re-establishing them in the wild, and re-introduced bald eagles back into their historic territories. 

Now that research demonstrates that the foxes have recovered to self-sustaining levels, the wildlife service is requesting the change in listing along with a monitoring plan for the future.

The proposal launches a 60-day public comment period Tuesday, in addition to a peer-review by academia in the field of conservation biology.

A Santa Cruz Island fox explores the terrain. Click to view larger
A Santa Cruz Island fox explores the terrain. (Dan Richards NPS photo via the Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The good news was celebrated by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, who championed the cause of getting the foxes on the endangered list in the first place.

“I am elated to hear that the Channel Islands fox populations have made such a successful comeback that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing delisting three subspecies from the Endangered Species List,” she said.

“This is a remarkable example of how effective our conservation efforts can be when we work together to protect indigenous species. I look forward to working with stakeholders to ensure that these indigenous fox populations continue to thrive.”

Those wishing to comment on the proposal can do so through April 18.

Comments can be emailed to [email protected] or mailed to Field Supervisor; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; Ventura Fish & Wildlife Office; 2493 Portola Road, Suite B; Ventura 93003.

Click here to read the proposed rule.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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