SAVING THE ISLAND FOX
Island foxes, the only carnivores endemic to California, have been distinguished from foxes on the mainland by 16,000 years of evolution — ever since they colonized the modern-day Channel Islands, which were then a single, big land mass. But though this little canine pre-dates the invention of the wheel, it’s now threatened by golden-eagle predation, diseases introduced by domestic dogs, diminished food supply, and habitat loss and fragmentation caused by development and nonnative animals like feral pigs.
To address all of these threats, in 2000 the Center and the Institute for Wildlife Studies petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Endangered Species Act protection for four of the six island fox subspecies: the San Miguel Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Cruz Island, and San Clemente Island foxes. Despite a Center lawsuit, the Service refused to process the petition until after a 2001 agreement to expedite protection for the fox and 28 other imperiled species. In 2004, after more Center litigation, the Service finally listed all four imperiled fox subspecies as endangered. But the next year it refused to designate critical habitat, stating that because the fox is a habitat generalist — using its entire island range as habitat — there isn’t any specific habitat meeting the criteria for designation.
Thanks to captive-breeding programs, golden-eagle relocations, and bald-eagle reintroductions, island fox populations were on the increase by 2005. Efforts to remove feral pigs from the Channel Islands are underway, and a vaccination program has been initiated to protect Santa Catalina Island foxes from canine distemper. Biologists are hopeful that numbers will continue to rise on all the islands. But without critical habitat, the island fox must be under constant and close supervision to counteract the ongoing threat of human encroachment on its home turf.
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2005 Rule denying critical habitat
2004 Federal Endangered Species Act listing
ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROFILE
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Golden State Biodiversity Initiative
The Endangered Species Act
Contact: Kierán Suckling