Representing the fastest successful recovery for any Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed mammal in the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced on Feb. 12 a proposal to delist three subspecies of island fox native to California’s Channel Islands and to downlist, or improve the status of, island foxes on Santa Catalina Island from endangered to threatened under the ESA.
The removal of the San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Island fox subspecies from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife would be an historic success for the multiple partners involved in recovery efforts.
Since the island foxes were listed under the ESA in 2004, the Service and its partners have worked to eliminate or greatly reduce the primary threats facing the subspecies, namely predation, disease and low population numbers. The best available scientific data now suggests that populations of these island fox subspecies have recovered to self-sustaining levels. To ensure that northern Channel Island fox populations remain secure well into the future, the Service is also proposing a monitoring plan.
While data suggest island fox populations on Catalina Island have also increased to historic levels, the potential for a disease outbreak remains an existing threat. Therefore, the Service recommends the subspecies’ status be reclassified from endangered to threatened, thus
retaining ESA protections.
On March 5, 2004, four of the six subspecies of island fox endemic to the California Channel Islands were listed as endangered following catastrophic population declines of more than 90 percent, due primarily to predation by golden eagles on the northern Channel Islands and a canine distemper outbreak on Santa Catalina Island.
To halt the downward spiral of island fox populations, the Service partnered with the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, and Catalina Island Conservancy to launch a series of recovery actions that included relocating non-native golden eagles from the northern
Channel Islands; removing the non-native species that provided prey for the eagles; vaccinating foxes against canine distemper; and breeding foxes in captivity and reestablishing them to the wild. The recovery effort also included monitoring wild island fox populations and reestablishing bald eagles to their historic territories on the Channel Islands. As a result of these strategies, the island fox subspecies on the four islands have shown dramatic improvement.
In March 2015, the Service released the final Recovery Plan for the four island fox subspecies, outlining proven methods for ensuring the subspecies’ long-term viability in the wild, including a golden eagle management strategy and disease epidemic response plan. In conjunction with the release of the final Recovery Plan, the Service also initiated status reviews of the four subspecies to determine if any of the subspecies warrant consideration for reclassification or removal from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife and accepted public comments.
The proposed rule is available at fws.gov/ventura. The Service will accept comments until April 18, 2016.