Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
VENTURA FWO:Survey on Santa Cruz Island Produces a Great Hike but No Island Fox Sightings
California-Nevada Offices , May 17, 2008
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Santa Cruz Island Fox

Photo by Christy Plumer, The Nature Conservancy
Santa Cruz Island Fox Photo by Christy Plumer, The Nature Conservancy - Photo Credit: n/a
Prisoner’s Harbor, Santa Cruz Island, California

Photo by Eric Morrissette, USFWS
Prisoner’s Harbor, Santa Cruz Island, California Photo by Eric Morrissette, USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a

Eric Morrissette, Ventura FWO
Early on the morning of May 17, 2008, survey teams from the National Park Service - Channel Islands National Park (NPS), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Service’s Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office (VFWO), and volunteers began their several-mile long treks on Santa Cruz Island surveying for the endangered Santa Cruz Island fox (Urocyon littoralis santacruzae) and checking for any sign of the feral pigs that had once roamed the island. Santa Cruz Island is part of a series of islands in Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Southern California. Island foxes are endemic to the Channel Islands.


The surveyors were looking for island foxes and checking to make sure that there were no recent signs of feral pigs, which were eradicated from the island between 2005 and 2007 to promote the recovery of the island’s native species.


As temperatures soared into the 90s as midday approached, most hikers were merely half-way along their off-trail routes marked solely by a fence covered in vegetation. They hiked along steep slopes through various canyons and up and over island ridge tops. As one survey team descended toward Prisoner’s Harbor, the waters of the cool Pacific beckoned.


At the end of the day, surveyors found no recent signs of pigs. Though they saw signs of island foxes, none were observed. Some surveyors speculated that the foxes sought the shade of underbrush and remained well away from open areas to escape the heat.


Partnering with the NPS and TNC, among others, the Ventura FWO has been actively working to promote the recovery of island foxes. The Santa Cruz Island fox was listed as endangered in 2004 as a result of catastrophic population declines. The Service also listed three other subspecies of island fox at the same time: the San Miguel Island fox (U. l. littoralis), Santa Rosa Island fox (U. l. santarosae), and Santa Catalina Island fox (U. l. catalinae). The two primary threats that resulted in the declines of the four subspecies were predation by golden eagles (Aquila crysaetos) (San Miguel Island fox, Santa Rosa Island fox, and Santa Cruz Island fox) and the transmission of disease (Santa Catalina Island fox).


Island fox recovery efforts have included: removing golden eagles from the northern Channel Islands; reducing the threat of disease; breeding island foxes in captivity and reintroducing them to the wild; monitoring wild island fox populations; restoring island habitat, including the removal of non-native species; and reintroducing bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) with the goal of deterring golden eagles from establishing territories on the Channel Islands. These efforts have increased the numbers of foxes on all islands and reduced the risk of extinction. The wild Santa Cruz Island fox population appears to be on the way to recovery and now numbers over 300 individuals in the wild.


Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov
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