Monday, February 22, 2016

De-listing Proposed for Island Foxes

The Channel Islands off Southern California's coast are home to six subspecies of the island fox.  The US Fish & Wildlife Service, under pressure from conservative critics that it is not removing enough recovered species from the federal list of threatened and endangered wildlife, proposed to remove three fox subspecies from San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands while upgrading the status of Santa Catalina's fox from "endangered" to "threatened". The current administration has de-listed more species from the Act due to official recovery than any previous administration. The latest de-listing proposal is justified says the agency because the foxes have made "the fastest recovery for any [listed] animal in the United States."  In the nineties four of the subspecies suffered catastrophic population declines due mostly to golden eagle predation.  By 2000 only 15 remained on San Miguel and Santa Rosa island leading to their listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2004. 

The US Park Service, United States Navy, and Nature Conservancy launched a recovery program for the foxes in which feral pigs were removed, resident but non-native golden eagles replaced with fish-eating bald eagles, vaccinated them against distemper, and bred foxes in captivity for re-release on the islands.  Not surprisingly, the intensive management worked.  Now the foxes enjoy an 85% survival rate with more than 4000 foxes alive in 2011.  However, Santa Catalina foxes remain at risk from canine distemper introduced by dogs and raccoons.  The island populations will be monitored for their continued success.  The agency is accepting public comments of their proposal until April 18th. (FWS–R8–ES–2015–0170)