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