Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 12, 2016

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681,

Endangered Species Act Success: Channel Islands Foxes Determined Recovered

Three Subspecies of Island Fox Proposed for Delisting,
Fourth Proposed for Downlisting to Threatened

VENTURA, Calif.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to remove three subspecies of the island fox from the endangered list and to downlist a fourth from “endangered” to “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act. The four subspecies of California's Channel Islands foxes were protected under the Act in 2004 following severe declines related to predation by golden eagles and disease. Populations of the foxes have increased following captive breeding and successful efforts to control golden eagles and repopulate the islands with bald eagles.

Island Fox graph
Island fox photos are available for media use.

"These special foxes were on the brink of extinction just 12 years ago when they were protected under the Endangered Species Act," said Tierra Curry, senior scientist at the Center. "Now, thanks to successful recovery efforts under the Endangered Species Act, numbers of foxes are way up and threats have been reduced."

In a classic story of unintended consequences, island fox numbers plummeted in the late 1990s largely due to a sudden invasion of nonnative golden eagles to the islands. Golden eagles were able to colonize the islands because the now-banned chemical DDT wiped out the islands’ native bald eagles — which eat fish, not foxes. The introduction of nonnative pigs, deer and elk to the islands provided additional prey for the invading golden eagles. The National Park Service, Nature Conservancy and U.S. Navy have successfully removed the nonnative species from the islands. That, and the banning of DDT in 1972, have led to the return of bald eagles to the islands and to the recovery of the island foxes.

"The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of more than 99 percent of species under its protection and put hundreds more on the road to recovery," said Curry. "Thanks to its remarkable power, we can celebrate the successful recovery of the island foxes."       

The three subspecies found to be recovered are the San Miguel island fox, Santa Rosa island fox and Santa Cruz island fox. The Santa Catalina island fox is retaining protection as a threatened species because it still faces the ongoing threat of introduction of disease from stowaway raccoons or visitors letting their dogs off leash. As a result, canine distemper has caused declines in foxes on Santa Catalina Island, this fox’s home.   

Many other species have benefited from efforts to remove nonnative herbivores from the Islands. In 2014 the island night lizard was also removed from the endangered list thanks to the protections provided by the Endangered Species Act and the Navy's efforts to remove feral goats. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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