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California Island Foxes No Longer Endangered, Says USFWS

Feb 14, 2016 03:03 PM EST
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Three fox species native to California's Channel Islands may soon be removed from the Endangered Species List. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials recently accounced the animals have made a historic recovery. 

The three fox subspecies -- including a fourth that FWS officials suggest downlisting from endangered to threatened -- live on the islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Santa Catalina. They animals first gained protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2004 after their populations took a hard hit from disease and increased predation. 

"The remarkable recovery efforts of land managers and conservation partners over the past two decades on behalf of the Channel Island fox is the reason for this historic recovery success," Dan Ashe, Director of the FWS, said in the agency's release. "The speed at which these subspecies have recovered points to the strength of the ESA in focusing conservation attention and catalyzing recovery actions, and demonstrates what we can achieve together." 

Remarkably, officials say the animals have made the fastest successful recovery of any mammal ever listed under the ESA in the U.S. To ensure the fox populations remain strong, the service has devised a monitoring plan. This includes relocating non-native golden eagles, killing off Santa Cruz's huge population of feral pigs that lured golden eagles, reintroducing bald eagles -- which don't prey on the foxes -- vaccinating the foxes against canine distemper disease and breeding foxes in captivity.

Golden eagles are of particular concern, as those that migrated to San Miguel and Santa Rosa nearly wiped out the foxes, leaving roughly 15 on each island by 2000. By 2002, the number of foxes on Santa Cruz Island dropped to a staggering 62. Today, that population has risen to 1,750. 

"We look forward to continuing our collaborations with land managers and conservation partners on Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Catalina Islands," Ashe added in the release. "Together, we will continue to monitor island fox populations to ensure their long-term survival in the wild."

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