The foxes live on the Channel Islands, off the coast of California, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will now review the status of several subspecies to ascertain whether they should be reclassified or removed from the endangered species list, writes Bob Berwyn for the Summit County Citizens Voice.

Threatened Channel Island Foxes Make Comeback

Hugely successful recovery plan

“Due to the remarkable success of the Endangered Species Act, recovery actions by land managers and conservation partners have led to dramatic population increases on all four islands since listing, effectively bringing the species back from the brink of extinction,” stated Steve Henry, field supervisor of the USFWS  Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office. To date, it appears that this is the fastest population rebound due to recovery actions and ESA protections for any land mammal in the United States.”

The recovery plan for the foxes was the result of a partnership with the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy and the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy, while scientists, private organizations, and state and local governments were also involved.

Back in 2004, 4 out of 6 subspecies of the island fox, which are endemic to the California Channel Islands, were placed on the federal endangered species list. The population of foxes had suffered a rapid decline due to golden eagle predation and an outbreak of canine distemper disease.

“While the island fox still faces a multitude of threats on Catalina Island, we see this as an example of how a well-managed recovery effort can make a tremendous impact on an endangered or threatened species prospects for long-term survival,” said Julie King, of the Catalina Island Conservancy.

Multiple factors at work

A captive breeding program was a major factor in recovery efforts. The program began in 1999 and ended in 2008, when all captive foxes were released into the wild.

Golden eagles and their non-native prey were removed from the northern Channel Islands, while bald eagles were returned to their previous homes. The foxes were also vaccinated to guard against canine distemper.

“The collaboration that made this so successful is as much a model for other recovery efforts as the innovative and rigorous science foundation that underpinned the plan,” said Dr. Scott Morrison, The Nature Conservancy’s director of science in California.