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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Island Fox Removed from Endangered Status!

courtesy Kevin Schafer
Today, August 11, 2016, Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Jon Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service, stood together at Channel Islands National Park to officially make the historic announcement: 

Island foxes from the northern Channel Islands are being removed from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife!

It is hard to believe that from just 15 surviving individuals in the year 2000, there are over 800 island foxes on Santa Rosa Island in 2016. The current Santa Cruz population is estimated at over 1500 adults and the small island of San Miguel has rebounded from a low of 15 to a stable population over 500.

The Santa Catalina Island fox is downlisted to 'Threatened' because of the challenges this population faces in its daily life sharing an island with a human population and their pets.

Friends of the Island Fox celebrates this day with all of our friends at Channel Islands National Park, Catalina Island Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, CA Fish & Wildlife, Santa Barbara Zoo, and all of our Island Fox Ambassadors and dedicated supporters.

And we applaud the on-going work of the Island Fox Conservation Working Group. (We'll have an updated island fox status report from the June meeting, soon.)

Island foxes have recovered from the brink of extinction because of protection from the Endangered Species Act and the caring hard work of many people.

Let's Make August 11th Island Fox Day!

May we always remember that extinction can happen quickly, but species can be saved if caring people work together. 

The work continues–Monitoring is vital to maintaining this recovery success.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Restoring native Habitat for Island Foxes Part 2

What are these families doing on Santa Cruz Island?

They were part of a second trip underwritten by LUSH Cosmetics that brought Friends of the Island Fox together with Channel Islands Restoration to remove invasive oyster plant (Tragopogon) from the Channel Island fox's habitat. Our June crew consisted of families, teachers, and inspired individuals. 

We split into two groups. The main group headed up onto the hillside to cut the seed heads off this invasive plant to stop its reseeding in the fall.

The smaller group continued our work in Scorpion Canyon. 

Did we make a difference? The oyster plant was looking drier in June than it had in May but it was still producing seed heads. The dry dark stalks are the oyster plant. 

This is before.

This is after we removed the seed heads and cut down the stalks. 

It was a job well done. We removed bags of oyster plant seed heads.

Invasive plants reduce the success of native plants that provide food and shelter for island animals. An added benefit - seeing island foxes.

Thank you to our photographers: Keri Dearborn, Jessica Martin, and Bonnie Ferron.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Friends of the Island Fox Celebrates with LUSH Cosmetics

Come Join Friends of the Island Fox as we celebrate the unveiling of the hand and body lotion with a Channel Island fox on the lid!

Saturday, June 25, 2016
2 - 6 PM at
LUSH Fresh Made Cosmetics
Westfield Topanga Mall
6600 Topanga Canyon Blvd, Canoga Park

LUSH cosmetic's Charity Pot lotion raises funds for grass-roots non-profits around the world. In 2016 our grant from LUSH Charity Pot has enabled FIF to:

The Topanga store will have small and large Charity Pot lotions with the Channel Island fox on the lid!

Come help us thank LUSH for their support of a local endangered California species.

Join the celebration of island fox recovery and recommit your support to continue conservation efforts to keep Channel Island foxes safe and healthy into the future.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Restoring Native Habitat for Island Foxes

Last Saturday, Friends of the Island Fox and Channel Islands Restoration (a native plant restoration group) partnered up to remove invasive plants on Santa Cruz Island. 

Island foxes depend on a healthy native plant community for food and shelter. To survive, they have evolved to be highly omnivorous–eating a range of native fruit, insects, and other small prey

The island deer mouse may be food for the island fox, but in turn it depends on seeds from buckwheat, giant coreopsis, and other native island plants. Island foxes are directly and indirectly impacted when the native plant community is compromised.

Introduced species like this oyster plant (Tragopogon) can quickly invade hillsides pushing out native plants. Though the dandelion-like globe of seeds may look beautiful in the sunlight, it does not provide food or shelter for island wildlife and it is about to spread seed far and wide with the next good breeze.

On a mission to help restore the island's natural habitat and with grant support from LUSH Cosmetics, volunteers headed out to make a positive difference.

We learned about native plants on a hike to Cavern Point, then snipped our way through a quarter-mile section of Scorpion Canyon. 

We filled trash bags with the seed heads, to decrease the invasive plant's reproduction this spring/summer. It was amazing how heavy just the seed heads were as we filled our bags.

And of course, we were thanked by visits from several island foxes during the course of the day.

Smiling faces and black bags filled with invasive-plant seed heads being removed from the Channel Island ecosystem. It feels good to make a positive difference. If you're interested in participating in a plant restoration trip send us an e-mail at We hope to go out on a second trip sometime this year.
Thanks to a great day of team work! More bags behind us!

Monday, May 09, 2016

"Fox-Saver Bins" Saving Channel Island Foxes on Catalina

What's so special about this trash bin?

As Channel Island foxes recovered on Santa Catalina Island, their growing numbers brought a new challenge. Old and open trash cans were posing a double threat to fox survival

Island foxes attracted to available trash were being hit by cars on their way to trash cans and also becoming trapped inside, sometimes with lethal consequences.

The solution was "Fox-Saver" bins, sealed receptacles built to only be opened by human hands. In 2015, Friends of the Island Fox donors raised $6,000 to fund three of these special trash bins. One student created an entire T-shirt campaign to support the effort and raised nearly $1,000.

New "Fox-Saver" bin in Bird Park, photo courtesy of CIC
The trash bins have been install just in time for the summer season, when Catalina's parks and open areas are visited by over a million tourists. This "Fox-Saver" bin has been placed in Bird Park (one of the locations which had claimed the most island fox lives). You can see the two open trash cans that were then removed, on the left side of the photo. The two additional "Fox-Saver" bins, plus a fourth sponsored by island efforts, have also been put in place in the park, ready to secure trash and protect island foxes.

This was a joint effort of island fox supporters of all ages from across the country. Protecting this rare species requires all of us working together. If you visit Catalina this summer, take a look at the positive change that can be accomplished with group effort. Thank You to our friends at the Catalina Island Conservancy, the Island Company, the City of Avalon, and everyone helping make Catalina a safer home for island foxes.

Why were Catalina's island foxes faced with near extinction?
Challenges faced by island foxes on Catalina Island:

Monday, April 04, 2016

Meet an Island Fox Ambassador - Tigran Nahabedian

While Channel Island foxes have made a remarkable recovery from near extinction (US Fish and Wildlife Announces Recovery of Island Fox), they continue to be rare animals living in small island ecosystems. To survive into the future island foxes need all of us looking out for them.

Tigran Nahabedian has become an active Island Fox Ambassador, helping to spread information about the island fox and working to restore island habitat. Tigran, how did you get interested in the island fox?

Tigran Nahabedian and parents

photo courtesy of Kevin Schafer
I first met the Channel Island fox when I was 5 years old. I took an Island Packers boat to Santa Cruz Island; that will always be a special trip for me because it was on that trip I earned my first Junior Ranger Badge. Very soon after we arrived I saw an island fox resting among some old farming machinery. I thought he was so small and really cute. The island fox is my favorite animal in the National Parks.
The Channel Island fox lives on six of the eight California Islands and it is the only carnivore that occurs only in California and nowhere else. The island fox evolved from the grey fox, but it has fewer tail vertebrae, a shorter tail and is much smaller than the grey fox. They are significantly smaller than most house cats! 
The island fox subspecies on the Northern Channel Islands and Catalina are [currently] listed as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. (Why the island fox became endangered) ...This is the fastest recovery of a mammal under the Endangered Species Act, but it is not all good news because there has been a significant population decline on San Nicholas because of long term drought conditions and frail health of the foxes and the island vegetation.
Tigran and his mother showing an eagle radio transmitter to other children.
I got to help the island fox by working at a booth with the Friends of the Island Fox at the Santa Barbara Zoo for Channel Islands Fox Awareness Day. I spoke to almost 500 people about the fox. I answered questions about the island fox, the Channel Islands, Junior Ranger Badges, Buddy Bison and the eagles at the Channel Islands. This was really special to me because I was able to speak to many children about the fox and the Channel Islands. 
Very few of the children I spoke to have been to the Channel Islands so the zoo was a great place for them to connect to the island fox. If you are near Santa Barbara or coming for a visit you can meet Beau at the Santa Barbara Zoo, he was abandoned as a pup and the US Navy rescued him and brought him to the zoo. He is so cute!
 You can help the Channel Island fox too. You can write reports on the Channel Island fox for your school projects to raise awareness of the fox. You can also donate funds to help the Channel Island fox recovery. You could sell Valentine's Day grams, used books, have a bake sale or lemonade sale, wash cars or you could use some of your allowance from chores and donate the money at or You can also visit the Santa Barbara Zoo, the Channel Islands National Park or another event put on by the Friends of the Island Fox and buy one of the really cool Friends of the Island Fox T-shirts. - TIGRAN

Friends of the Island Fox T-shirts come in adult sizes small - extra large and cost $15 + postage. For information on T-shirts contact Pat Meyer at

Island Fox Ambassadors come in all sizes. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Insight on Channel Island Fox Territory Size & Habitat Use

A newly published study on Home-Range Size and Habitat Selection by Male Island Foxes (Urocyon littoralis) in a Low-Density Population by Elizabeth M. Drake, et al. reveals the largest documented territory ranges for male island foxes and new information regarding use of habitat at specific times of day. 

Prior to the catastrophic decline of island foxes on Santa Rosa (1996-2000), the population numbered over 1,700 individuals with a density of ~4 adult foxes per square km. Recovery on Santa Rosa was a slower process than on the other islands and this provided an opportunity to study territory size as the population recovered. The new study was carried out on Santa Rosa Island from 2009-2010, when the population was under 400 individuals and the density of adult foxes was less than 1 per square km. 

Santa Rosa Island
Drake found that in this period of low-density, male Santa Rosa Island foxes averaged territories of 3.39 square km in size. This is considerably larger than the less than .5 square km territories documented both on San Clemente (Sanchez, 2012) and on Santa Cruz prior to the population decline (Roemer et al., 2001). It is also much larger than the ~1 square km territories found on Santa Catalina when the population was well into recovery (King et al., 2014). 

While it is not surprising that island foxes expand territory size when there is less population density, the need for resources does not appear to be the driving force. During this period of fewer foxes, resources were plentiful. Therefore less territory was actually needed to provide adequate food for an individual island fox.

Drake found little overlap of territory between the individual males. In most cases, only minor overlap occurred at territorial borders, suggesting vigorous protection of territory.

Since Drake's data collection the population on Santa Rosa has more than doubled. As the density increases will the lack of territory overlap remain constant and will territory size decrease? Additional study is needed to answer these and other questions.

The study also looked at use of specific habitat. Surprisingly, there did not seem to be habitat types that were more desirable. But they did find significant data on use of habitat type at different times. 

The researchers found island foxes avoided bare landscape and grasslands during the day, but spent a significant amount of time in these areas at night. This use of specific terrain at night may suggest nocturnal hunting for deer mice and insects. Daylight hours were more typically spent in scrub and woodland areas. 

Link to Full Paper

Referenced papers above:
King, J. L., C. L. Duncan, and D. K. Garcelon. 2014. Status of the Santa Catalina Island fox 13 years after its decline. Western North American Naturalist. 7:382396.

Roemer, G. W., D. A. Smith, D. K. Garcelon, R. K. Wayne. 2001. The behavioural ecology of the island fox (Urocyon littoralis). Journal of Zoology London 255:114.

Sanchez, J. N. 2012. Spatial ecology of disease spread in the island fox. M.S. thesis, Humboldt State University, Arcata, California 

Friday, February 12, 2016

USFWS Announces Recovery of Channel Island Fox

photo courtesy of Kim Michaels
Today is a banner day for island foxes and for those who have worked so long for their recovery and long-term conservation, including Friends of the Island FoxThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service(USFWS) proposed today that the three subspecies of island foxes on the northern Channel Islands be delisted; that is, that they be taken off the Federal list of "threatened" and "endangered" species, because they are recovered. The USFWS  has determined that those subspecies meet the criteria for complete delisting, as set forth in their island fox recovery plan. The  USFWS also proposed that island foxes on Santa Catalina Island be downlisted, meaning that their status would change from "endangered" to "threatened."

photo courtesy of Channel Islands National Park
Four island fox subspecies were listed as "endangered" in 2004 because of impacts from an unexpected predator (golden eagles) on the northern Channel Islands and canine distemper virus on Santa Catalina Island. More than a decade of recovery actions conducted by a host of organizations and individuals, in a cooperative conservation effort that now serves as model for species conservation, has resulted in one of the quickest recoveries, ever, of an endangered species.  Most species stay on the list for about 25 years and the island fox will exit after a mere 12 years on the list. The quick recovery is a testament to the effectiveness of the recovery actions, which included captive breeding and reintroduction of island foxes, capture and relocation of golden eagles, vaccination of foxes against distemper, and larger ecosystem recovery actions of bald eagle restoration and nonnative ungulate removal (pigs, deer and elk).

photo courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy
What happens next? Today’s action by the  USFWS is a proposed rule; after a period of public comment, the  USFWS will publish a final rule which actually takes the three northern island fox subspecies (in Channel Islands National Park) off the list, and upgrades the status of the Santa Catalina Island fox from "endangered" to "threatened." That final rule will likely be published later in 2016, perhaps as soon as several months from now. We’ll keep you posted on the progress of this momentous action! 

We at Friends of the Island Fox (a program of the Channel Islands Park Foundation), with your help and support, have been working toward this goal of island fox recovery since our inception in 2005. After official recovery, we will still work for the long-term conservation of this special species. Its small population size and restricted range make it vulnerable to catastrophic mortality causes such as canine disease, and it faces unknown impacts from global climate change; island foxes will always need to be monitored closely to detect and mitigate future mortality causes. With your help, we’ll continue to be on the job!

Tim Coonan, Island Fox Program Director 

photo courtesy of Melissa Baffa
Link to USFWS Official Press Release regarding Delisting of the Channel Island Fox

Link to USFWS Island Fox Recovery Plan  

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Channel Island Fox Awareness Day at Santa Barbara Zoo

Take your valentine to see a Channel Island fox!

February 14, 2016
11 AM - 3 PM

Come Celebrate
Channel Island Fox Awareness Day
at the Santa Barbara Zoo

Friends of the Island Fox will have two booth locations during the Santa Barbara Zoo's celebration.

  • Challenge yourself to put the island fox's ecosystem in balance
  • Compare a Channel Island fox to an African fennec
  • Participate in our Discovering Science activity to answer a question regarding the human sense of smell 
  • Create in fox-themed crafts
  • Discover information about the island fox's home in Channel Islands National Park  
  • Support Channel Island fox conservation: Friends of the Island Fox T-shirts & pins will be available for purchase
Channel Island fox at Santa Barbara Zoo
 SEE LIVE FOXES (the following events are planned for the day)
  • 11:30 AM - Keeper Talk at Fennec Exhibit
  • 12:30 PM - Meet "Beau" the Channel Island Fox on Amphitheater Stage
  • 1:30  PM - Training Session at Channel Island Fox Exhibit
  • 2:00 PM - Enrichment for the Island Fox, at Exhibit
  • 2:30 PM - Keeper Talk at Channel Island Fox Exhibit
Fennecs at Santa Barbara Zoo

Make it a sweet day with the Channel Island fox.

All activities and programs are included with regular admission.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Support for Channel Island Fox Conservation

Carpenteria Family School Island Fox Ambassadors
The successful recovery of  Channel Island foxes from near extinction has been supported by the efforts of a broad range of people. 

When we open the mail and find a letter like this, we take heart that island foxes and the natural world have a future.

It just takes determination and action to become an Island Fox Ambassador.
Every effort helps to support healthy populations of Channel Island foxes. How will you help in 2016?