The fox population figures for Santa Rosa Island tell the whole story: 1,780 in 1994, 15 in 1999, and 1,354 in 2012. Yup, not a typo there, only 15 foxes in 1999-2000. The small island fox (Urocyon littoralis) — standing 12 inches at the shoulder and weighing 3-6 pounds – has now come back so far from catastrophe that federal Fish & Wildlife has written a Final Recovery Plan with an eye to delisting it from federal endangered species status.
The island foxes faced tremendous declines on Santa Cruz, San Miguel, and Santa Rosa islands due to golden eagle predation, and from a canine distemper outbreak on Catalina. Beginning in 1999, a multidisciplinary island fox recovery team began to remove the predators by trapping golden eagles on the islands and releasing them in Northern California – very few returned. An on-island captive breeding program was also started, with such good results that all the captive foxes were successfully reintroduced to the wild by 2008. On Catalina, the foxes were vaccinated. And on islands where dozens of foxes were being killed by cars every year, speeds were reduced.
While the island fox status remains under review, Ventura’s Fish & Wildlife office is accepting new information regarding species biology, habitat conditions, conservation measures, threat status and trends, and other new data through May 8.